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Outsiders

Five Women Writers Who Changed the World

Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Olive Schreiner and Virginia Woolf: they all wrote dazzling books that forever changed the way we see history. In Outsiders, award-winning biographer Lyndall Gordon shows how these five novelists shared more than talent. In a time when a woman's reputation was her security, each of these women lost hers. They were unconstrained by convention, writing against the grain of their contemporaries, prophetically imagining a different future.

We have long known the individual greatness of each of these writers, but in linking their creativity to their lives as outcasts, Gordon throws new light on the genius they share. All five lost their mothers in childbirth or at a young age. With no female role model present, they learned from books—and sometimes from an enlightened mentor. Crucially, each had to imagine what a woman could be in order to invent a voice of her own. The passion in their own lives infused their fiction. Writing with passionate intelligence of her own, Gordon reveals that these renegade writers inspired a new breed of women who wished to change a world locked in war, violence, exploitation, and sexual abuse.

Gordon's biographies have always shown the indelible connection between life and art: an intuitive, exciting and revealing approach that has been highly praised. In Outsiders, she crafts nuanced portraits of Shelley, Brontë, Eliot, Schreiner and Woolf, naming each of these writers as prodigy, visionary, 'outlaw,' orator, and explorer, and shows how they came, they saw, and they left us changed. Today, following the tsunami of women's protest at widespread abuse, we do more than read them; we listen and live with their astonishing bravery and eloquence.

About the Author

Lyndall Gordon is the author of six biographies, including Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds and The Imperfect Life of T. S. Eliot, and two memoirs, Shared Lives: Growing up in 50s Cape Town and Divided Lives: Dreams of a Mother and Daughter. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford.

Reviewss

"Literary biographer Gordon (Lives Like Loaded Guns) brilliantly ties together the biographies of five women writers who bravely embraced outsider status... By addressing an almost inconceivably wide range of themes through the book's conceit—health, mores, politics, pregnancy, economics, sex, sexism, secrets, and silence—Gordon seduces readers interested in all that these fascinating women had to offer."

- Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Gordon maintains [a] level of engagement throughout... The result is a fascinating study that fully supports the author's thesis. Highly recommended for both academic and general readers interested in women's literature and history."

- Library Journal, starred review

"Gordon's voice is most lyrical and assured in her conclusions... Gordon narrates their deaths in understated yet powerful detail, stirring some of her most striking observations."

- The New York Times Book Review

"Woolf once said that the role of biography is to give us 'the fertile fact' of a life, and this is what Ms. Gordon, an Oxford academic and biographer, is so good at supplying here. All five of these women believed that their status as outsiders—pariahs, even—was worth the creative freedom it gave them."

- The Wall Street Journal

"There is much to instruct and delight in the delineation of the ways in which the lives of these unusual women are reflected in their work."

- Jane Hailé - New York Journal of Books
Johns Hopkins University Press
2017
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