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About the book
  • Published: 2 November 2017
  • ISBN: 9781473547445
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 448

The Uncommon Reader

A Life of Edward Garnett

The absorbing portrait of a man who shaped the literary landscape as we know it


Over a career spanning nearly fifty years Edward Garnett – editor, critic and publisher’s reader – would become one of the most influential men in twentieth-century British literature. Famed for his incisive criticism and unwavering conviction in matters of taste, Garnett was responsible for spotting and nurturing the talents of a constellation of our greatest writers.

In The Uncommon Reader Helen Smith brings to life Garnett’s fascinating, often stormy, relationships with those writers – from Joseph Conrad to John Galsworthy, D.H. Lawrence to T.E. Lawrence, Henry Green to Edward Thomas. All turned to Garnett for advice and guidance at critical moments in their careers, and their letters and diaries offer an insight into their creative processes, their hopes and fears.

Addressing questions of culture, fame and success, this absorbing portrait of a man who shaped the literary landscape as we know it asks us to consider genius – what it is, where it comes from and to whom it belongs.

  • Pub date: 2 November 2017
  • ISBN: 9781473547445
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 448

About the Author

Helen Smith

Helen Smith lives in Norfolk and teaches non-fiction and modern literature at the University of East Anglia. The Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett is her first book; it received a RSL-Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction in 2011.

Praise for The Uncommon Reader

“Rich in anecdote and knowledge, this is an exceptional biography of an exceptional human being.”

John Carey, Sunday Times

“[I]t rescues from obscurity one of the great English literary taste-makers of the twentieth century, and in the process sheds new light on some important writers, paints a portrait of the London publishing scene that remained largely unchanged until the big corporate buy-ups of the 1980s and 90s, and presents a character -- Garnett himself -- who is interesting, charming and impressive.”

Andrew Motion, Times Literary Supplement

“Essential reading for anyone who cares about modernism.”

Claire Lowdon, Sunday Times **Literature Book of the Year 2017**

“Well-researched, neatly written and not above the occasional flash of sly humour.”

D.J. Taylor, Guardian

“A superb biography of Edward Garnett ... Smith has an eye for the telling detail ... and her book paints a textured picture of what life was like for people of Garnett’s milieu ... Readers will end up loving Garnett. With Smith’s fine sense of pacing and a fascinating subject, her book both delights and informs. ”

Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW

“A sensitive biography of an influential editor and critic ... In her assured literary debut, Smith ... draws on Garnett's copious correspondence, critical writings, and memoirs of those who knew him to create a finely etched portrait of a man who exerted a quiet, decisive influence on arts and letters. ”


“Helen Smith is to be congratulated on having written a masterly and highly readable biography of Edward Garnett ... The Uncommon Reader is required reading.”

Henrietta Garnett, granddaughter of Edward Garnett, Literary Review

“There is a nugget on every page of Smith’s biography. She spirits up the whole jealous, bitching, scribbling literary world of the age.”

Laura Freeman, The Times

“An alternative history of British modernism.”

D.J Taylor, The Tablet

“A very rounded and humane portrait.”

Diarmaid Ferriter, Irish Independent

“A lively and engrossing account.”

Choice Magazine

“A precision and eye for detail that constantly delights.”

Hugh MacDonald, Herald Scotland

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