STARRED REVIEW
December 12, 2017

Garnett’s golden touch

By Helen Smith
Review by

Edward Garnett, a reader with exquisite taste, a perceptive critic and a writer, played a crucial role in the literary history of Britain between 1887 and 1937. His unique talent for recognizing and promoting future noteworthy authors is legendary, and he became many writers’ devoted friend and editor.

Share this Article:

Edward Garnett, a reader with exquisite taste, a perceptive critic and a writer, played a crucial role in the literary history of Britain between 1887 and 1937. His unique talent for recognizing and promoting future noteworthy authors is legendary, and he became many writers’ devoted friend and editor. Those authors include Joseph Conrad, Robert Frost, D. H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, Stephen Crane, Sarah Orne Jewett and more. E. M. Forster noted: "[Garnett] has done more than any living writer to discover and encourage the genius of other writers, and he has done it all without any desire for personal prestige."

Helen Smith's absorbing An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett captures Garnett’s extraordinary life and times. Smith’s extensive research includes fascinating excerpts of letters and recollections of Garnett’s friends.

Garnett insisted he was an "outsider," by which he meant "outside all coteries and collections of people," as a reader and critic. But he was well connected in the literary world. His father was Keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum, and Garnett’s wife, Constance, was well known for her groundbreaking translations of Russian classics into English. She and Garnett led quite interesting and unorthodox lives, which Smith discusses in detail.

As an author himself, Garnett was often disappointed. His novels, poems and plays were not successful, although his reviews, essays and short author biographies were generally well received. The discovery of a writer was always the greatest pleasure of Garnett's professional life.

This enlightening and intimate biography looks behind the scenes to show how much time and effort went into the making and maintenance of promising , sometimes struggling, writers who became prominent authors.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.