While it may not be surprising, it was a little disappointing that the audience for acclaimed academic and biographer, Lyndall Gordon was a sea of creased linen, spectacles and what my neighbour called ‘Bertrand Russell hair,’ because what followed was an hour of curiosity, passion and fierce intelligence which should have been enjoyed by a wider and more diverse audience. Lyndall Gordon’s ambitious new five-way biography of Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Olive Schreiner, Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf, Outsiders, which aims to connect the authors’ creativity to their lives as social outsiders, is also a wonderful antidote to our increasingly populist times. For at its heart it is interested in those who work on the fringes, uninterested in following a crowd (at an often-high personal cost) and who question the structures and values imposed on them.
In true academic style, Gordon’s introduction to the book came from behind a lectern but it was no dry, dull and non-committal lecture but a full-throated treatise for why these women and their work remain important. A special mention to the opening where Gordon conjured the image of two star struck feminists of the time recognising George Eliot in the street. Representation has always mattered it seems.
The event was chaired capably and deftly by Jackie McGlone who has appeared many times with Lyndall Gordon at the festival and it was refreshing to see a relationship of mutual respect and debate that truly engaged with the material. Although the lack of a central grounding question meant the conversation sometimes meandered, this was actually strangely apt as it reflected the untameable and expansive authors’ themselves. It is is perhaps much better to have too much to say than to say nothing at all.
For more on the Edinburgh International Book Festival click here.