Sophie and the Sibyl:Book Club with Patricia Duncker

Bloomsbury Institute
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Sophie and the Sibyl: 

Bloomsbury Book Club with Patricia Duncker

Interview by John Mullan

Wednesday 15th April

With London Book Fair's Book and Screen Week

To celebrate the London Book Fair and London Book and Screen Week, the Bloomsbury Institute invites you to spend an evening with John Mullan and Patricia Duncker as they explore the relationship between publishers and their authors, through Patricia’s entertaining new novel Sophie and the Sibyl – a lively imagining of the great, unconventional novelist George Eliot as well as a witty tale of love, literature and liberal thinking.

Sophie and the Sibyl has books and authorship at its heart. In Berlin, September 1872, Duncker brothers, Max and Wolfgang, own a thriving publishing business in the city. Max, fond of gambling, is a thorn in Wolfgang’s profit-loving side, and is sent to court a celebrity author – the enigmatic Sibyl, also known as George Eliot. 

As enthralling and intelligent as her books, she soon has Max bewitched. Yet Wolfgang has further plans – to settle Max in marriage with Countess Sophie von Hahn. Sophie is as stubborn as she is beautiful, and defying social convention, she contacts her heroine, George Eliot, beginning a series of events that overturn everybody’s expectations.

Together, John Mullan and Patricia Duncker will discuss the difficulties of using well-known figures from history to create a work of fiction – with particular emphasis on the mysterious relationship between the German publishers that share Patricia’s last name, and the inimitable George Eliot, an author renowned as much for her brilliant novels as for her unconventional life.

‘Patricia Duncker should be made a DBE, elected to the Academie Francaise and have a statue erected in the main square of her home town’ Louis de Bernières

‘Patricia Duncker writes beautifully with a flamboyant immediacy’ Sunday Telegraph

Patricia Duncker is the author of five previous novels: Hallucinating Foucault (winner of the Dillons First Fiction Award and the McKitterick Prize in 1996), James Miranda Barry, The Deadly Space Between, Miss Webster and Chérif (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2007) and The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge (shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger award for Best Crime Novel of the Year in 2010). She has written two books of short fiction, Monsieur Shoushana’s Lemon Trees (shortlisted for the Macmillan Silver Pen Award in 1997) and Seven Tales of Sex and Death, and a collection of essays on writing and contemporary literature, Writing on the Wall. She is Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of Manchester, and lives in Wales.

John Mullan is a professor in the English department at UCL. He writes the regular 'Guardian Book Club' column on fiction in the Guardian and frequently appears on the BBC's Review Show. He was a judge of the 'Best of the Booker Prize' in 2008 and a judge of the Man Booker Prize itself in 2009. He has lectured widely on Jane Austen in the UK and also in the US. 

Ticket Details

Book Club tickets are £20 including a copy of Sophie and the Sibyl posted to you in advance, or £10 without the book. Season membership costs £80. To join please email

Date: Wednesday 15th April
Time: Drinks from 6pm and talk from 6:30pm to 7.30pm
Place: Bloomsbury Publishing, 50 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DP
Tickets: £20 including a hardback book or £10 without the book


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