The Lady with the Borzoi : Blanche Knopf, Literary Tastemaker Extraordinaire
by Laura Claridge

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The untold story of Blanche Knopf, the singular woman who helped define American literature

Left off her company s fifth anniversary tribute but described by Thomas Mann as the soul of the firm, Blanche Knopf began her career when she founded Alfred A.  Read more...

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More About The Lady with the Borzoi by Laura Claridge

The untold story of Blanche Knopf, the singular woman who helped define American literature

Left off her company s fifth anniversary tribute but described by Thomas Mann as the soul of the firm, Blanche Knopf began her career when she founded Alfred A. Knopf with her husband in 1915. With her finger on the pulse of a rapidly changing culture, Blanche quickly became a driving force behind the firm.

A conduit to the literature of Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance, Blanche also legitimized the hard-boiled detective fiction of writers such as Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler; signed and nurtured literary authors like Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bowen, and Muriel Spark; acquired momentous works of journalism by John Hersey and William Shirer; and introduced American readers to Albert Camus, Andre Gide, and Simone de Beauvoir, giving these French writers the benefit of her consummate editorial taste.

As Knopf celebrates its centennial, Laura Claridge looks back at the firm s beginnings and the dynamic woman who helped to define American letters for the twentieth century. Drawing on a vast cache of papers, Claridge also captures Blanche s witty, loyal, and amusing personality, and her charged yet oddly loving relationship with her husband. An intimate and often surprising biography, The Lady with the Borzoi is the story of an ambitious, seductive, and impossibly hardworking woman who was determined not to be overlooked or easily categorized.


  • ISBN-13: 9780374114251
  • ISBN-10: 0374114250
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publish Date: April 2016
  • Page Count: 416
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Literary
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Editors, Journalists, Publishers
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Women

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2015-12-21
  • Reviewer: Staff

Blanche Knopf was a full partner in the esteemed publishing company Alfred A. Knopf (named for her husband) from its founding in 1915 until her death in 1966. The case made here by biographer Claridge (Emily Post) is that, of the two partners, Blanche led the more interesting life. Shortly after marrying, Blanche and Alfred settled into a somewhat distant relationship and lived apart much of the time. Their lives revolved around books, with Blanches many prestigious acquisitions including works by multiple Nobel Prize winners, Khalil Gibran, Dashiell Hammett, Willa Cather, Sigmund Freud, and countless other prominent authors. Claridge recounts Blanches struggles with depression, intense love of dogs, and affairs with other men. Blanches marriage was often fraught, but her friendship with writers H.L. Mencken and Carl Van Vechten helped sustain her emotionally. Claridges storytelling is mostly clear and linear, but she occasionally omits narrative transitions, which can cause confusion for the reader. However, she manages to synthesize an enormous amount of research and biographical information to paint a complete picture of a complex figure. Packed with interesting literary anecdotes, this biography reveals a powerful woman who played an integral role in 20th-century publishing. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency. (Apr.)

BookPage Reviews

A publishing titan finally gets her due

The remarkable life story of Blanche Knopf, who co-founded Alfred A. Knopf publishers in 1915, encompasses the history of 20th-century literature. Many of Knopf’s most distinguished authors—including Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir—were brought into the firm by Blanche’s wide-ranging literary interests. Inevitably, however, this is also a story about gender in the workplace: Although Blanche was an equal partner in shaping the company, she owned less of it than did her husband and his father. 

Blanche’s marriage to Alfred Knopf lies at the heart of Laura Claridge’s capacious and engaging biography. Although the Knopfs shared a passionate commitment to literature, they were not well-matched intimately and quickly settled into a “open” marriage. Blanche mainly lived in an apartment in Manhattan, while Alfred preferred to settle in the nearby suburbs. Despite the distance between them, they had two children: their son, Pat, and the publishing company, which is still thriving today.

One especially timely and tragic theme in Blanche’s life concerns her lifelong drive to be thin. Beginning in the 1920s, when fashionable women pursued a skinny flapper’s body, Blanche spent an inordinate amount of time and energy dieting. Living on a menu of cocktails and olives, supplemented by a popular diet pill that damaged her eyes, Blanche seems to have channeled the stresses of the workplace into a lifelong eating disorder. 

Despite her rocky personal life, Blanche’s true passion was finding and signing new authors. She was personally responsible for bringing to Knopf popular hard-boiled detective novelists like Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler, and her immersion in the Harlem Renaissance led her to authors Langston Hughes and Nella Larsen. 

In The Lady with the Borzoi, Claridge triumphantly restores Blanche Knopf’s central place in 20th-century publishing history.


This article was originally published in the April 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews