We’re thrilled that Bloomsbury’s Outsider: A Life of David Garnett by Sarah Knights has been shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for best biography. Established in 1919, these are Britain’s oldest literary awards. Indeed, David ‘Bunny’ Garnett won the James Tait Black Prize for fiction in 1922 for his novel Lady into Fox which was also made into a Ballet Rambert.
‘Thoroughly accomplished…Sarah Knights has written the book David Garnett deserves’ – Evening Standard
Award-winning novelist and towering figure of the 20th century British literary landscape, David Garnett was a Bloomsbury insider ultimately pushed to the margins. In this, the first biography of Garnett, known as Bunny, author Sarah Knights – who has had unprecedented access to Garnett’s papers – goes beyond stereotype and myth to present a clear sighted account of this often contradictory figure.
In the First World War, he was a conscientious objector whereas in the Second he worked for British intelligence. A free love enthusiast, he nevertheless married. He loathed literary criticism but became a leading literary critic. Trained as a scientist, Garnett worked as a novelist and wrote exquisite prose. In addition to Lady into Fox, he wrote Aspects of Love which was made into an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. He was also helpful in launching the literary career of his friend H.E. Bates by recommending Bates’ first novel to his father, Edward Garnett, then a reader at Jonathan Cape.
‘…even by Bloomsbury standards, ‘Bunny’ Garnett’s ever-unfolding love life was astounding’ – New Zealand Listener
Born into the Victorian period, Garnett’s life spanned two World Wars, the Swinging Sixties and beyond. From pre-Revolutionary Russia, by way of Indian Nationalists in London and carefree Neo-Paganism, Garnett’s early life was packed with adventure. Propelled by a desire to be constantly in love, he dazzled men and women, believing the person mattered, irrespective of gender. An overnight literary sensation in the 1920s, he was at the centre of literary London. Confidante and mentor of many writers, T. E. Lawrence, Rupert Brooke, D. H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells, were among his friends. Garnett felt most at home with the Bloomsbury Group, in particular with Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, his lover, with whom he lived during the First World War. Their long friendship was threatened, however, when Garnett’s cradle-side prophecy to marry their daughter Angelica came true.
David ‘Bunny’ Garnett is brought to life by Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Jack Davenport in the 2015 BBC series Life In Squares. The complete screenplay of this fascinating dramatization of the Bloomsbury group by Amanda Coe is published by Bloomsbury Reader in May.
Congratulations Sarah for making this esteemed shortlist!
‘Sarah Knights’ biography is lucidly written and full of new material. Bloomsbury’s Outsider, A Life of David Garnett, is a most original guide to inner Bloomsbury. I strongly recommend it’ – Michael Holroyd
‘A delight to read…genial and proportionate’ Richard Davenport-Hines, Sunday Times
‘Sarah Knights’s Bloomsbury’s Outsider did full justice to this legendary figure’ – DJ Taylor, Times Literary Supplement ‘Books of the Year’
‘In between clear, elegant commentary, we get to hear David Garnett telling his own extraordinary tale of a life messily yet often joyfully entwined with Lytton Strachey, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant et al.’ – Claire Lowdon, The Sunday Times ‘finest books’ of 2015