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.
“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) Review
“Gordon rallies the reader to look to these five as the trailblazers and inspiration for our own lives.”
“The work and lives of Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Olive Schreiner and Virginia Woolf are well known. Gordon’s thesis sets out just how original and brave they were―and at what cost. We owe them much.”
(Joan Bakewell New Statesman)
“Lyndall Gordon’s empathetic commitment to the unfolding story in the lives of literary figures is central to her work.”
“Gordon’s book is a pertinent reminder of the risks each of them bravely faced in order to save themselves from the fate of a Maggie Tulliver or a Judith Shakespeare and leave posterity with their remarkable works.”
“The battle [by women] is still to be won. If you are looking for inspiration for the fight, this book will be your companion.”
(Erica Wagner New Statesman)
“As the role of women undergoes yet another convulsion, it’s good to read of five women who made a powerful contribution.”
(Joan Bakewell New Statesman)
“It was a relief, really exhilarating to read Outsiders. Gordon’s composite biography brings to light the overlaps between the lives of five visionary women in their quest to give expression to truths that their original natures allowed them to perceive.”
(Finuala Dowling Aerodrome)
“Gordon succeeds in showing not only the pain but ‘the possibilities of the outsider.’ While distinctive in their voices, these writers converge ‘in their hatred of our violent world,’ exposing domestic and systemic violence. Their strength of spirit shines from the pages and through the ages.”
(Anita Sethi Observer)
“Through sensitively recounted biographical details and literary readings, Gordon seeks to understand how these women became writers despite the obstacles in their way, and creates a web of connections, effected in part by their reading of each other’s works, and the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft.”
(Gail Marshall Times Higher Education)
“I love how Lyndall Gordon thinks and I love the clarity and reach of her writing, combining imaginative audacity with scholarly scruple. Her Outsiders builds into a lucid meditation on how certain writers become lighthouses for each other.”