Thanks to the cooperation of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) and The School of Writing at The New School, as well as the tireless efforts of our students and faculty, we are able to provide interviews with each of the NBCC Awards Finalists for the publishing year 2013.
Tolly Wright, on behalf of the School of Writing at The New School and the NBCC, interviewed Leo Damrosch, via video conference, about his book Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (Yale University Press), which won the NBCC award for Biography.
From the Publisher: Jonathan Swift is best remembered today as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, the satiric fantasy that quickly became a classic and has remained in print for nearly three centuries. Yet Swift also wrote many other influential works, was a major political and religious figure in his time, and became a national hero, beloved for his fierce protest against English exploitation of his native Ireland. What is really known today about the enigmatic man behind these accomplishments? Can the facts of his life be separated from the fictions? In this deeply researched biography, Leo Damrosch draws on discoveries made over the past thirty years to tell the story of Swift’s life anew. Probing holes in the existing evidence, he takes seriously some daring speculations about Swift’s parentage, love life, and various personal relationships and shows how Swift’s public version of his life—the one accepted until recently—was deliberately misleading. Swift concealed aspects of himself and his relationships, and other people in his life helped to keep his secrets. Assembling suggestive clues, Damrosch re-narrates the events of Swift’s life while making vivid the sights, sounds, and smells of his English and Irish surroundings.Through his own words and those of a wide circle of friends, a complex Swift emerges: a restless, combative, empathetic figure, a man of biting wit and powerful mind, and a major figure in the history of world letters.
Leo Damrosch is Ernest Bernbaum Research Professor of Literature at Harvard University. He is the author of nine books, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, a National Book Award Finalist, and Tocqueville’s Discovery of America. He lives in Newton, MA.
Tolly Wright is a theater critic, editor and sometimes-poet. She is currently writing her thesis about renaissance festival performers. She is a student in the New School’s Riggio Honors Program for Writing and Democracy, class of 2014.