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Lyndall Gordon

Lyndall Gordon is the prize-winning author of six biographies, whose subjects hold in common an almost mythic fascination for contemporary readers. They include the 18th-century proto-feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and the Modernist poet T.S. Eliot, as well as Charlotte Brontë and Virginia Woolf, whose works dramatically changed the way women were seen in the 19th and 20th centuries. Gordon’s Henry James explores the impact two women had on the seminal American novelist’s work, while Lives Like Loaded Guns approaches the poet Emily Dickinson by way of the feuds within her family.

Each of Gordon’s biographies, she says, “has been a different experiment with the genre—and subjects were chosen in part because they had something to teach about our life-span, the shapes it can take, its silent spaces and invisible presences.” She has spoken of striving toward “a new form of biography” that rejects the fact-laden tomes of a “definitive” life in favor of a novelistic approach that gives weight to all that goes unrecorded, to “the gaps, the non-events, the apparently vacant waiting as a life unravels.” “A narrative can’t be seamless if it claims to be true,” Gordon says. “Imaginative truth must coexist with documentary truth if we want to bring a subject to life and avoid a dead shell, the compendium of fact.”

Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, Gordon emigrated at 22 to the United States, where she earned a doctorate at Columbia University. She traveled to Oxford on a Rhodes Fellowship and remains in England today, where she is a senior research fellow at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her many honors include the Cheltenham Prize for Literature and the James Tait Black prize for biography.

Online Resources

‘T.S. Eliot’s Search for Perfection’
Gordon’s review of ‘The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft’
On the over-emphasis of Virginia Woolf’s suicide
On Biography and Emily Dickinson

Selected Bibliography

The Imperfect Life of T.S. Eliot (2012, revised reissue)
Henry James: His Women and His Art (2012, revised reissue)
Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson & Her Family’s Feuds. (2010)
Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft (2005)
Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life (1994)
Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Life (1984)