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The biographer's story

Books | October 2017


A Life of My Own By Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin – perhaps our leading literary biographer with lives of Dickens, Hardy, Pepys, Austen and Katharine Mansfield to her credit – was also a brilliant literary editor. ‘You do take culture seriously,’ teased a colleague, and she agreed. She is brave, honest, extraordinarily hard-working, with a formidable intelligence expressed in clear elegant prose. But does all this mean she will make an interesting subject? I never knew that she is half French. Her father, Émile Delavenay, came to England in 1921, loved it and became an expert on D H Lawrence. Her mother’s parents were teachers in Liverpool. The newlyweds called on Joyce in Paris; she sang him her settings of his poems and obtained his permission to publish them. All too soon, however, things went wrong. On a walking holiday on the Cornish cliff paths, Émile thought seriously of killing her. Claire was conceived that night and, ‘as...

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