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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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... talk with no authors ... On this plan I would be alone – would devote either to oblivion or to future generations the overflowings of [my] mind ...’ The passage is quoted both by Paul Dawson and ClaireTomalin, 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 ...

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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... her children. Sexual jealousy, which Shelley gave her cause for, must have played its part too; and 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 ...

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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... that he could come by. He also destroyed his diaries at the end of every year. One diary – that for 1867 – was lost or, more likely, stolen in America. It resurfaced in 1943. ‘Since then,’ as ClaireTomalin 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 ...


Sean French: Fortress Wapping

6 March 1986
... plague to see who survives. Most of the Features department remain, including Don Berry; several from the business pages; the whole ‘Screen’ department; the Literary department, which consists of ClaireTomalin (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 ...
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 ...
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 ...

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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... with the Duke of Clarence was edited and published by Arthur Aspinall, and in 1965 Brian Forthergill produced a lengthy and appreciative study of Mrs Jordan as an actress. Why, then, has ClaireTomalin, 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 ...
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 ...

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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... as he did. Long out of print, his life is now reissued by Cambridge University Press to mark Dickens’s bicentenary. John Sutherland has added them up: there have now been at least 90 biographies. ClaireTomalin’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 ...
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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... in the development of modern fiction, but also as a presence in and influence upon the lives and 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 ...

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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... speculation for himself (‘without anything in sight but yourself’), but no longer mobile and of interest in the same way or to the same degree to his readers as he had been fifteen years before. ClaireTomalin’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 ...

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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... But how else, Hardy said, laughing, could he have written it? (Lawrence, who took so much from Hardy, has ‘the dawn is wanly blueing’ in Sea and Sardinia.) It is one of the signal pleasures of ClaireTomalin’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 ...


Marilyn Butler: What Jane Austen Read

5 March 1998
Jane Austen: A Life 
by David Nokes.
Fourth Estate, 578 pp., £20, September 1997, 1 85702 419 2
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Jane Austen: A Life 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 341 pp., £20, October 1997, 0 670 86528 1
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... life do not, in the event, significantly change what is still a family record. How can the Nineties reader, so often resistant to history, gain access to this most secretive and parochial of writers? ClaireTomalin’s publishers credit her with discovering an Austen who is the heroine of a modern story, one of a family of meritocrats struggling to get ahead in a competitive, money-driven society. At it ...

Menagerie of Live Authors

Francesca Wade: Marys Shelley and Wollstonecraft

7 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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... the very fabric of decent society.’ Wollstonecraft was not reclaimed until the 1970s, when six biographies appeared in as many years. Charlotte Gordon relies on the work done at this time by ClaireTomalin, 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 ...

Stuck in Chicago

Linda Colley

12 November 1987
by Naim Attallah.
Quartet, 1165 pp., £15, October 1987, 0 7043 2625 6
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... employed as literary agents, literary editors, TV producers and writers to make a new girls network viable. Thus Victoria Glendinning pays tribute here to the imaginative patronage she received from ClaireTomalin, who consistently used her various editorships to advance talented women. Similarly, it is no accident that the most successful London club open to both sexes is Groucho’s, which caters ...

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