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Gerzina, Gretchen Holbrook 1950-

Gerzina, Gretchen Holbrook 1950-
(Gretchen Aletha Holbrook Gerzina)


Born September 6, 1950, in Ann Arbor, MI; daughter of Joseph Mathias (a factory worker) and Joyce Aletha (a social worker) Holbrook; married Anthony Gerzina (an account manager), February 9, 1973; children: Simon Alexander, Daniel Joseph. Education: Marlboro College, Marlboro, VT, B.A., 1972; Simmons College, Boston, MA, A.M., 1979; Stanford University, Ph.D., 1984. Politics: Democrat.


Home—Clifton Park, NY. Agent—Caroline Dawnay, PFD, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.


Educator, writer, and editor. Stanford University, Stanford, CA, assistant director of Center for Teaching and Learning, 1984-85; State University of New York at Albany, lecturer, 1985-86; Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY, assistant professor of English, 1986-89; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, humanities fellow, 1989-90; Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, assistant professor of English, beginning 1989; Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, NY, professor of English. The Book Show, nationally syndicated radio program, host; has appeared on British radio and television. University of Exeter, England, honorary fellow.


National Endowment for the Humanities grants (two); Fulbright Distinguished Scholar to Great Britain.


Carrington: A Life, Norton (New York, NY), 1989, published as Carrington: A Life of Dora Carrington, 1893-1932, John Murray (London, England), 1989.

Black London: Life before Emancipation, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1995, published as Black England: Life before Emancipation, John Murray (London, England), 1995.

(Editor) Black Victorians—Black Victoriana, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 2003.

Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of "The Secret Garden," Rutgers University Press (Piscataway, NJ), 2004.

(Editor) The Secret Garden: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Frances Hodgson Burnett in the Press, Criticism, Norton (New York, NY), 2005.


In 1989, Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina published her study of Dora Carrington, a peripheral member of the famed Bloomsbury group of artists and literati in post-World War I England. While having achieved a certain amount of success as a painter, Carrington has remained best known for her personal relationships and colorful correspondences with other important figures. The most notable of Carrington's numerous romantic involvements with both men and women was her approximately fifteen-year affair with homosexual writer Lytton Strachey, which ended with his death by cancer and her subsequent suicide in 1932. In their apparently platonic years together, the devoted Carrington kept house for Strachey, who gave her emotional and artistic support. Carrington's iconoclastic views on sexual freedom and emotional commitment have made her an important historical figure in some circles. In her review of Carrington: A Life for the London Times, Fiona MacCarthy noted that since the late 1960s, "Carrington has become a curious cult figure. Her negative views on marriage and motherhood have been seized on as prophetic pronouncements of women's liberation."

Reviewers of Carrington lauded Gerzina's scholarly approach and ability to avoid mythologizing her subject. MacCarthy deemed Gerzina's study to be "likably well-balanced." While disappointed in the author's prose style, Richard Shone acknowledged in his Spectator assessment that "Carrington emerges in all her siren-like complexity" in Gerzina's book. New York Times Book Review critic Andrea Barnet expressed concern that some of Gerzina's claims about Carrington's artistic importance were "exaggerated," but stated that "Carrington's interest as a character" would hold readers' attention. Evelyn Toynton in the Washington Post Book World preferred the romantic aspects of Carrington to its academic analyses, declaring: "It is actually a very touching love story, and at times this biography reads like a novel, with two thoroughly engaging main characters."

Gerzina told CA: "I am most committed to contextualizing people's lives and literary works and to producing scholarship that is readable. No people lived and no literary works were produced in social and cultural vacuums. Hopefully I will continue to write books that bring sexual, social, and racial issues to mainstream as well as academic audiences."

Gerzina has continued to write about people's lives within their society and culture in books such as Black London: Life before Emancipation, published in England as Black England: Life before Emancipation. In Black London, Gerzina presents her case that dating back to the late sixteenth century England and especially London was a society that included people of many diverse African ethnicities. She delves into the day-to-day lives of Africans living in London and explores London's antislavery movement, largely focusing on the efforts of Granville Sharp, a British Evangelical who established the Society for the Abolition of Slavery. To highlight the antislavery movement in Great Britain, Gerzina explores in depth a court case in which it was decided that the slave James Somerset could not be forced to leave London with his master. Nevertheless, the author points out that there were still many efforts to remove blacks and Africans from London and also provides vignettes of specific instances of racism.

In a review of Black London in the African American Review, Anthony G. Barthelemy noted the author's "combination of skills from storyteller to historian" and also commented that the author "produces much new and interesting material" concerning the daily lives of black Londoners. English Historical Review contributor Marcus Wood wrote that the author uses "an impressive array of source materials which includes letters, diary entries, contemporary biography, trial reports, trial publicity, newspaper articles, committee reports and proceedings." Wood also commented: "Gerzina is at her most impressive when dealing with the detailed analysis of specific issues or the lives of individuals." Paula Burnett, writing in the New Statesman & Society, noted: "This is a book for the general reader rather than the historian."

Gerzina also served as editor for Black Victorians—Black Victoriana. This collection of essays focuses on blacks living in England during the Victorian Era and largely discusses how blacks fit into and affected the society of the day. An M2 Best Books contributor noted that "it is clear that Gerzina has assembled a group of authors who's passion for their subject matter is matched by their expert knowledge."

Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of "The Secret Garden," follows Burnett's life beginning with her birth to a relatively poor family in Manchester, England. Gerzina then recounts Burnett's move to Tennessee following the Civil War and her subsequent turn of fortunes as her books became a publishing phenomenon. Gerzina relates how Burnett's writing talents enabled her at the age of seventeen to start supporting her first husband and family and eventually led her to write more than fifty books and thirteen plays. The author also delves into Burnett's personal life, including her marriages and affairs, a move back to England, and her subsequent retirement on Long Island with her sister.

A contributor to the Economist noted that Frances Hodgson Burnett does not delve into Burnett's creative process and should be "read as the story of an independent working mother struggling to make her fortune in a world that had not seen her kind before," adding that "it can be gripping stuff indeed." Another reviewer writing in Bookwatch called the book "a welcome and much appreciated contribution to literary biographies."



African American Review, fall, 1997, Anthony G. Barthelemy, review of Black London: Life before Emancipation, p. 508.

Bookwatch, September 2004, review of Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of "The Secret Garden," p. 4.

Economist, May 15, 2004, review of Frances Hodgson Burnett.

English Historical Review, November, 1997, Marcus Wood, review of Black England, p. 1293.

M2 Best Books, July 17, 2003, review of Black Victorians—Black Victoriana.

New Statesman & Society, November 3, 1995, Paula Burnett, review of Black England, p. 39.

New York Times Book Review, October 22, 1989, Andrea Barnet, review of Carrington: A Life, p. 23.

Spectator, July 1, 1989, Richard Shone, review of Carrington.

Times (London, England), June 17, 1989, Fiona MacCarthy, review of Carrington.

Washington Post Book World, January 14, 1990, Evelyn Toynton, review of Carrington, p. 7.


PFD Web site, (May 23, 2006), agent's profile of author and works.

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