Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World by Lyndall Gordon – review – The Guardian

“Like many as a child, I made friends with characters in books,” writes Lyndall Gordon, and the characters she was most drawn to were outsiders. This fascinating work explores the lives of five female novelists who were outsiders: Mary Shelley (the “prodigy”), Emily Brontë (the “visionary”), George Eliot (the “outlaw”), Olive Schreiner (the “orator”), and Virginia Woolf (“the explorer”). “I knew about pity for those set apart,” writes Gordon of her own childhood, growing up with an ill mother, but she succeeds in showing not only the pain but “the possibilities of the outsider” who uses their apartness to see the world afresh. While distinctive in their voices, these writers also converge “in their hatred of our violent world”, exposing both domestic and systemic violence. The strength of spirit of these outsiders shines from the pages and through the ages as Gordon takes us deep inside their minds, hearts, and books.

• Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World by Lyndall Gordon is published by Virago (£20). To order a copy for £17 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

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