The True History of the First Mrs. Meredith and Other Lesser Lives

Diane Johnson (Author) Vivian Gornick (Introduction by)

Product Details

$17.95  $16.51
New York Review of Books
Publish Date
June 23, 2020
5.0 X 8.0 X 0.9 inches | 0.61 pounds
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About the Author

Diane Johnson is a novelist and critic. She is the author of Lulu in Marrakech and Le Divorce, among other novels, and of a memoir, Flyover Lives. She lives in Paris and San Francisco.

Vivian Gornick is a Manhattan essayist, memoirist, and critic. She is the author of some twelve books written in all of these genres. Her newest book (fortuitously) is Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader.


"This book, which I first knew decades ago under the title Lesser Lives, had an enormous impact on my thinking and career. The title alone projected so strongly the then-radical idea that there is always someone else in the room with the Famous Person who feels as intensely as the Famous Person but whose story is ignored. We learned from it that telling someone's story was a political act. A wave of superb feminist books was based on this insight which then entered the mainstream and can be seen in ways as diverse as the New York Times's 'Ignored No More' column and in Hamilton, when the Schuyler sisters wonder in song who will tell their story. Re-reading Diane Johnson's masterpiece now, I appreciate more than ever its wit and generosity--the sheer delight to be found in the prose. In Diane Johnson's hands, Mary Ellen Peacock turns out to be much more fun to read about than her Famous Husband." --Phyllis Rose

"This wonderful, ground-breaking biography looks not only at a Famous Victorian Writer, but at many of the even more interesting and sometimes much more likable people whose lives touched his. A real treat--even the notes are fun to read and often surprising." --Alison Lurie

"Johnson [has an] unusually wide-ranging skill as a writer . . . the striking originality of Lesser Lives no doubt explains the unusual vocabulary of compliments, not normally seen in reviews of nonfictional works." --Carolyn A. Durham

"[A] splendid biographical study . . . about figures on the fringes of the Romantic movement." --The New York Times

"Her originality and courage are evident in everything she writes . . . For Johnson, the most interesting person at the table was Mary Ellen Peacock Meredith, who died at 40 of renal disease after leaving her husband and being forcibly kept from seeing their son because of what her husband explained to the world as her immoral behavior . . . Lesser Lives freed up other writers to express [a] kind of democratic sympathy." --Constance Casey, Los Angeles Times