Edward Garnett (1868 to 1837, London) was a highly regarded publisher, editor, critic who helped bring out the best in some of the highest regarded English language writers of the first half of the 20th century. Among his clients were Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, Stephen Crane, Ford Madox Ford, Henry Green and T. E. Lawrence. Garnett was much more than a literary editor to his clients, he was a friend and when needed a mentor. He was very involved in the early career of Joseph Conrad, he well might have given up trying to write in English without the encouragement of Edward Garnett. Smith devotes a lot of time to letting us get a strong feel for the business side of publishing. Edward Garnett had his own financial and personal struggles and Smith gives us a very sensitive account of his turbulent marriage to the famous translator of the Russians, Constance Garnett (1861 to 1946) and his relationship to his son David ( known in Bloomsbury Circles as “Bunny”, the nickname derives from a childhood stuffed animal.)
Both Edward and Constante had long term romances with others. We get a look at how Constance began her translations, I admit I was surprised to learn of her affairs. Her trips to Russia were fascinatingly treated. There was a lot more drama in the lives of the Garnetts than I expected.
He helped several American writers become established in England. Among them were Sarah Jewett, Robert Frost, and Sherwood Anderson. He seemed to have greatly admired Stephen Crane and did his best to help him professionally and personally. One of his most difficult clients was T. E. Lawrence, Edward Garnett was overwhelmed with the power of his The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Smith brings Edward Garnett, his clients, his affairs, his fatherhood, and his marriage vividly to life. An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett by Helen Smith will be a pleasure to read for anyone interested in 20th century English literature, as an art and as a business. I’m very glad I Read this book. There is a lot more in it than I have mentioned.
Helen Smith is British writer and scholar. She earned her PhD in literature from the University of East Anglia, where she is a lecturer in modern literature and the director of the master's program in biography and creative nonfiction. She has won the Biographers' Club Prize and the RSL Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction, and lives in South Norfolk with her husband. The Uncommon Reader is her first book.