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Scandal’s Hostages

Claire Tomalin, 19 February 1981

The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Vol. 1 
edited by Betty Bennett.
Johns Hopkins, 591 pp., £18, July 1980, 0 8018 2275 0
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... on occasion the two griefs were connected, as in the case of little Clara’s death in Venice and Claire Clairmont, the ever-intrusive stepsister. Sadly, while Shelley saw all this and put on record his disappointment with Mary, he could not see her greatest gift to him, since it was posthumous: the collecting and annotation of his poems for the editions of ...

Gnawed by rats, burnt at Oxford

Claire Tomalin, 10 October 1991

G.H. Lewes: A Life 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Oxford, 369 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 19 812827 4
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... George Henry Lewes was a close contemporary of Dickens, born five years after him, in 1817, and dying eight years after him, in 1878. Both men worked themselves to the limits of their strength and endurance, and probably shortened their lives by doing so; both tend to be seen as prototypical Victorians, whereas they were formed by the Regency period and kept a certain flamboyance, together with a dislike of the insularity and hypocrisy to which they saw England succumbing ...

The Sage of Polygon Road

Claire Tomalin, 28 September 1989

The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Vols I-VII 
edited by Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler.
Pickering & Chatto, 2530 pp., £245, August 1989, 1 85196 006 6
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... Mary who? was the person I mostly seemed to be dealing with in the early Seventies, when I wrote a biography of the extraordinary woman whose works have now been collected for the first time, nearly two hundred years after her death. And ‘Mary Who?’ is still the common form of her name, outside a small circle of specialists and enthusiasts. People stumble over the three simple syllables; its awkwardness has stood in the way of her fame ...

Shelley in Season

Richard Holmes, 16 October 1980

The Unacknowledged Legislator: Shelley and Politics 
by P.M.S. Dawson.
Oxford, 312 pp., £16.50, June 1980, 0 19 812095 8
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Shelley and his World 
by Claire Tomalin.
Thames and Hudson, 128 pp., £5.95, July 1980, 9780500130681
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... generations the overflowings of [my] mind ...’ The passage is quoted both by Paul Dawson and Claire Tomalin, and I can give no better indication of the different styles and standpoints of their two books than by reproducing their comments on it. Dr Dawson, whose work is a detailed, scholarly study of Shelley’s political ideas, writes with ...

Nelly gets her due

John Sutherland, 8 November 1990

The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 317 pp., £16.99, October 1990, 0 670 82787 8
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The Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant 
edited by Elisabeth Jay.
Oxford, 184 pp., £16.95, October 1990, 0 19 818615 0
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... 1867 – was lost or, more likely, stolen in America. It resurfaced in 1943. ‘Since then,’ as Claire Tomalin puts it, ‘scholars have been squeezing it like a tiny sponge for every drop of information it can yield.’ Scholars justify their curiosity on the grounds that anything which throws light on Dickens’s art is justified, however faint that ...


Sean French: Fortress Wapping, 6 March 1986

... the business pages; the whole ‘Screen’ department; the Literary department, which consists of Claire Tomalin (editor), me (deputy) and Anne Boston; and the Arts Editor, John Whitley. (The Deputy Arts Editor, ex-Sun journalist Penny Perrick, and the arts sub-editor, Nigella Lawson, have gone to Wapping.) The first meeting of the ...

Odd Union

David Cannadine, 20 October 1994

Mrs Jordan’s Profession: The Story of a Great Actress and a Future King 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 415 pp., £18, October 1994, 0 670 84159 5
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... Forthergill produced a lengthy and appreciative study of Mrs Jordan as an actress. Why, then, has Claire Tomalin, a biographer who excels in the recovery of the lives of lost women, sought to tell again a story which has already been more than thrice-told? One clear reason is that, notwithstanding the more tolerant attitude of the 20th century, she still ...

I jolly well would have

Paul Foot, 20 August 1992

Claire clairmont and the Shelleys 
by Robert Gittings and Jo Manton.
Oxford, 281 pp., £20, April 1992, 0 19 818594 4
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Mab’s Daughters 
by Judith Chernaik.
Pan, 229 pp., £5.99, July 1992, 0 330 32379 2
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... Did Shelley have sex with Claire Clairmont? I first heard this central question debated with great solemnity at a meeting of the Byron Society in Albemarle Street way back in 1978. I went with three fellow Shelleyans, Geoffrey Matthews, Claire Tomalin and Judith Chernaik, to hear Marion Stocking talk about Claire ...

Rapture in Southend

Stefan Collini: H.G. Wells’s​ Egotism, 27 January 2022

The Young H.G. Wells: Changing the World 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 256 pp., £20, November 2021, 978 0 241 23997 1
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... in A Man of Parts (2011), while four fully annotated volumes of his letters came out in 1998. Claire Tomalin is one of the most highly acclaimed biographers of our time, with numerous prizes and accolades for her studies of Pepys, Dickens, Hardy and others. Her name on the title-page of a biography serves as a kitemark of quality, though in truth ...

His Friends Were Appalled

Deborah Friedell: Dickens, 5 January 2012

The Life of Charles Dickens 
by John Forster.
Cambridge, 1480 pp., £70, December 2011, 978 1 108 03934 5
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Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist 
by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.
Harvard, 389 pp., £20, October 2011, 978 0 674 05003 7
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Charles Dickens: A Life 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 527 pp., £30, October 2011, 978 0 670 91767 9
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... bicentenary. John Sutherland has added them up: there have now been at least 90 biographies. Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens comes just two years after Michael Slater’s excellent Charles Dickens, the first to benefit from the complete 12-volume British Academy Pilgrim Edition of Dickens’s letters and Slater’s own editions of Dickens’s ...

Mrs Bowdenhood

C.K. Stead, 26 November 1987

Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 292 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 670 81392 3
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... work of a number of major figures, most notably D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. In her foreword, Tomalin (who refers to Mansfield throughout as Katherine) points out that she is ‘of the same sex as my subject. It may be nonsense to believe that this gives me any advantage over a male biographer. Yet I can’t help feeling that any woman who fights her way ...


Blake Morrison: On the Independent on Sunday , 27 May 1993

... life of Sylvia Plath, Alison Lurie’s obituary of Mary McCarthy, Salman Rushdie on Graham Greene, Claire Tomalin on Coleridge, Anthony Burgess on Fielding, other reviews by Anita Brookner, Peter Conrad, Roy Foster and Hilary Mantel), and as the limits on the new paper’s resources became apparent I thought how hard it would be to put together pages of ...

Grit in the Oyster-Shell

Colin Burrow: Pepys, 14 November 2002

Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 499 pp., £20, October 2002, 0 670 88568 1
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... interest in the same way or to the same degree to his readers as he had been fifteen years before. Claire Tomalin’s biography is a splendid work. She likes Pepys, and she shares her subject’s fascination with detail. Her description of the operation to remove the ‘stone’ in his urinary tract which had plagued him throughout his early years is so ...

Anxious Pleasures

James Wood: Thomas Hardy, 4 January 2007

Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 486 pp., £25, October 2006, 0 670 91512 2
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... has ‘the dawn is wanly blueing’ in Sea and Sardinia.) It is one of the signal pleasures of Claire Tomalin’s superb new biography that she has an eye for this kind of thing in Hardy, and quotes so well from him. We know a good critic is at work from the start, when she mentions in her prologue the poem ‘The Voice’, which recalls the young ...

Menagerie of Live Authors

Francesca Wade: Marys Shelley and Wollstonecraft, 8 October 2015

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley 
by Charlotte Gordon.
Hutchinson, 649 pp., £25, April 2015, 978 0 09 195894 7
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... biographies appeared in as many years. Charlotte Gordon relies on the work done at this time by Claire Tomalin, Lyndall Gordon, Janet Todd and Miranda Seymour: her innovation is to narrate the lives in alternate chapters, which allows the two stories to echo each other (though the jumps in chronology are confusing). In 1885 the Athenaeum described ...

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