Lyndall Gordon, Biographer

Lyndall Gordon

Lyndall Gordon left South Africa for New York where she was a student at Columbia at the time Women’s Liberation took off there in 1970. Afterwards she moved to Oxford through the Rhodes Trust. She is a Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford and the Royal Society of Literature.

Virago has published her seven biographies and two memoirs, including The Imperfect Life of TS Eliot and Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her Family’s Feuds. In the U.S. she is published by Norton and Johns Hopkins Press; in China largely by Shanghai Literature & Art.

Awards: The British Academy’s Rose Mary Crawshay Prize; Cheltenham Prize for Literature; Southern Arts Prize; James Tait Black prize for biography

Shortlisted: Duff Cooper Prize and Italy’s Comisso Prize for biography

Outsiders: Five Women Writers who changed the world

Outsiders US book cover

NEW 2019: From Johns Hopkins University Press

"Literary biographer Gordon 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

" fascinating... Highly recommended for both academic and general readers interested in women's literature and history."
Library Journal, starred 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…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."
Elizabeth Lowry, The Wall Street Journal

"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

"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

Outsiders book cover

UK edition from Virago

Outsiders tells the stories of five novelists: Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Olive Schreiner, Virginia Woolf. We have long known their greatness, but by linking their lives as outsiders to their imaginative lives, this group biography looks afresh at their genius and, at the same time, their evolving alternative to the mess the dominant group has made of our world: a turn to women’s history of non-violence, nurture and listening.

Gordon is a natural storyteller, and the lives stir us and fascinate us no matter how well we already know them . . . full of novelistic insight, pushing into the biographical material to substantiate her hunches, tracing patterns and repetitions in these writers' emotional lives and in their work.
Tessa Hadley, Guardian

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

‘As the role of women undergoes yet another convulsion, it’s good to read… of five women who made a powerful contribution.’
Joan Bakewell, books of the year New Statesman

‘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.
Joseph O’Connor, books of the year, Irish Times

‘Each woman refused “to make terms with our violent world”, and this is what makes their voices so modern. .. A biographer of the imagination’.
Frances Wilson, Mail on Sunday

‘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

‘the visionary, beautiful Outsiders’
Karina Szczurek, best reads of the year, South African Sunday Times

‘impeccably researched… An excellent read’
The Lady

‘stunning portrait of Woolf…one of the most sophisticated explorations of Woolf available and a perfect introduction for students and general readers alike.’
The Virginia Woolf Bulletin

‘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.’
Fenuala Dowling, Aerodrome

Literary Festival Interview on Outsiders