Edward Garnett, radical, pacifist, freethinker, Russophile man of letters, was from the 1890s onwards for many years the pre-eminent fixer of English literature. D.H. Lawrence’s widow Frieda hailed him as ‘the midwife’ of Lawrence’s ‘genius’. And so he was; while he also nurtured Joseph Conrad, T.E. Lawrence, Edward Thomas, Liam O’Flaherty, H.E. Bates and Henry Green. He presided as ‘reader’ over the shoals of expectant manuscripts piling up daily at the publishers — starting out at Fisher Unwin, doing the business for Heinemann and Duckworth, putting in long stints at Dent and ending up at Cape.
Jonathan Cape headhunted Garnett for his new firm in 1921 as ‘the best reader’ in the land. Garnett was by then famous as the main man with an eye and a nose for literary promise and — even more valuable for publishers — for promise’s opposite.