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The Lives of the Novelists: a history of…

The Lives of the Novelists: a history of fiction in 294 lives (2011)

by John Sutherland

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Admittedly I haven't read every page of this very long book, but what I have read I absolutely love! Sutherland's brief bios of well-known as well as obscure authors had me downloading their works right and left off of Amazon. Covering four centuries and 294 lives makes for a massive tome and one you would think would be dry and boring, but this is anything but!
This is extremely readable and entertaining, and I plan on buying my own copy of this book so I can peruse it at my leisure, and highlight all the titles I must read! ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
The title makes this book unapproachable. At 818 pages, its length makes this book unapproachable.

Don’t let these things stop you from reading this book. It has to be the most readable book about authors I’ve ever read. You are certain to find some of your favorites. (Caution: Don’t be surprised if you don’t find all your favorites, and if you see lots of authors included that aren’t familiar to you, though.) A worthy read. ( )
1 vote debnance | Jan 18, 2015 |
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For Sutherland, an Englishman who lived and taught for many years in Southern California, America seems particularly rife in trauma, hence ripe for novels. Like many non-natives, he views this country as the land of Buffalo Bill (see the entry on Prentiss Ingraham) and Bonnie and Clyde (see Elmore Leonard). The appropriate vehicle for what he melodramatically calls “the ineradicable violence in the American soul,” a notion borrowed from D. H. Lawrence that Sutherland applies to Michael Crichton, of all writers, is the thriller in its various incarnations.

“Lives of the Novelists” is much too whimsically selective to serve as a reliable reference, although the attentive reader will no longer confuse Alistair Maclean (“The Guns of Navarone”) with Alistair MacLeod (“No Great Mischief”). The book appears to be more a compendium of reviews, of writers “who have come my way over a long reading career,” than a rigorously conceived assessment of the rise of the novel from Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” (“about a man that left his family, it didn’t say why,” in Huck Finn’s summary) and Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” to its current shifting shapes at the hands of Salman Rushdie and Alice Sebold.
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Robert Bage (1730-1801) was born near Derby, the son of a paper maker ... his life's course lay in making paper, and he wa apprenticed to the family trade. Paper, at the time, was made out of rags. The process was filthy, but required considerable skill. The finished material was subject to complicated excise demands; one of the many taxes on knowledge which Bage -- like other self-improved men -- loathed.
... His wife's money enabled him to set up in the paper and cardboard business independently. ... In his mid-twenties he set up an arrangement with his fellow businessman and lifelong friend, William Hutton, to wholesale paper for distribution via Hutton's warehouse. This supplied an ample fortune' (£500) for both entrepreneurs.
... In the early 1780s a slitting mill failed, resulting in a loss of some £1,500. ... In June 1799 he pronounced: `Everything looks black and malignant upon me. Men clamouring for wages which I cannot give -- women threatening to pull down my mill -- rags raised by freight and insuranc -- excise-officers depriving me of paper! Say, if thou canst, whether these gentlemen of the excise-office can seize paper after it has left the maker's possession? -- after it has been marked? -- stamped? -- signed with the oifficer's name? -- excise duty paid? -- Do they these things? -- Am I to hang myself?'
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300179472, Hardcover)

No previous author has attempted a book such as this: a complete history of novels written in the English language, from the genre's seventeenth-century origins to the present day. In the spirit of Dr. Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, acclaimed critic and scholar John Sutherland selects 294 writers whose works illustrate the best of every kind of fiction—from gothic, penny dreadful, and pornography to fantasy, romance, and high literature. Each author was chosen, Professor Sutherland explains, because his or her books are well worth reading and are likely to remain so for at least another century. Sutherland presents these authors in chronological order, in each case deftly combining a lively and informative biographical sketch with an opinionated assessment of the writer's work. Taken together, these novelists provide both a history of the novel and a guide to its rich variety. Always entertaining, and sometimes shocking, Sutherland considers writers as diverse as Daniel Defoe, Henry James, James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Michael Crichton, Jeffrey Archer, and Jacqueline Susann.

Written for all lovers of fiction, Lives of the Novelists succeeds both as introduction and re-introduction, as Sutherland presents favorite and familiar novelists in new ways and transforms the less favored and less familiar through his relentlessly fascinating readings.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:19 -0400)

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An acclaimed scholar selects 294 writers whose works illustrate the best of every kind of fiction--from gothic and penny dreadful to fantasy and romance--and provides a biographical sketch of each with an opinionated assessment of the writer's work.

» see all 2 descriptions

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