Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779-1781) is a classic work of literary biography, covering 52 poets whom the author felt had the most influence on the English language. Now, John Sutherland follows in this great tradition with his sweeping and ambitious book, Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives. Published earlier this year to critical acclaim from Alan Massie at the Wall Street Journal and Michael Dirda at the Washington Post, who found it to be a “tremendously exhilarating…catalogue of pleasures.”
Spanning the genre’s seventeenth-century origins to the present, Lives of the Novelists presents Sutherland’s selection of writers whose works illustrate the best of every kind of fiction; from John Bunyan to Mary Shelley, Mrs Gaskell and George Eliot to Margaret Atwood and Chinua Achebe, ranging from gothic, penny dreadful, and pornography to fantasy, romance, and high literature. Unlike Johnson’s Lives, Christopher Benfrey notes for the New York Times Book Review: “For Sutherland, what makes life and work ‘inseparable’ for many novelists is early trauma that spurs the creative imagination,” and in the author’s own words:
The reader may be shocked by encounters with a number of writers not normally granted entry to the sacred grove. I confess that I do value a range of fiction that literary history has often, in my view, wrongly undervalued. And the writers who have produced it often have the more interesting lives.
A chance to form your own opinions of Sutherland’s writing and selections now exists in the form of a Goodreads giveaway. The contest is open until the end of the month, and in the meantime, we’ll bring you short excerpts of writers’ lives from the book itself. Sign up today on www.goodreads.com for your chance to win a copy of this witty, entertaining, and hugely informative volume!