edward garnett: mentor to genius

9780374281120Michael Dirda at the Washington Post:

In 1893 the young John Galsworthy booked passage on the clipper Torrens, then sailing from the South Seas to England. During this voyage the future author of “The Forsyte Saga” happened to become friendly with the ship’s first mate. In a letter home he described this “capital chap”— of Polish origin — as “a man of travel and experience in many parts of the world,” with “a fund of yarns.” Seven years after their shipboard conversations, Joseph Conrad — who else could it have been? — would dedicate his most famous novel, “Lord Jim,” to Galsworthy. In 1932 Galsworthy would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; Conrad, of course, is now universally regarded as one of the greatest novelists of all time.

Both these writers counted themselves proteges of Edward Garnett (1868-1937), the subject of Helen Smith’s prizeworthy literary biography, “An Uncommon Reader.” No ordinary acquisitions editor or publisher’s reader, Garnett devoted his life to fostering, with tough love, the work of many young, and now famous, authors. Besides Galsworthy and Conrad, who became his close friends, he championed Stephen Crane, helped D.H. Lawrence reconfigure “Sons and Lovers,” urged T.E. Lawrence to publish “Seven Pillars of Wisdom,”lent moral and financial support to Edward Thomas — “the finest poet of his generation” — and produced the first major essay on Thomas’s American friend Robert Frost.

more here.