Annal: 1996 Whitbread Book Award for Biography

Results of the Whitbread Book Award in the year 1996.

Book:Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer: A Life

Diarmaid MacCulloch

Thomas Cranmer was the architect of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. He was the Archbishop who guided England through the early Reformation, and Henry VIII through the minefields of divorce. This is the first major biography for more than three decades, and the first for a century to exploit rich new manuscript sources in Britain and elsewhere.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, one of the foremost scholars of the English Reformation, traces Cranmer from his east-midland roots to early Tudor Cambridge, into the household of the family of Anne Boleyn, and through the political labyrinth of the Henrician court. By then a major English statesman, living the life of a medieval prince-bishop, Cranmer navigated the church through the king’s vacillations and finalized two successive English Prayer Books. MacCulloch skillfully reconstruction the crises which Cranmer negotiated, from his compromising association with three of Henry’s divorces, the plot by religious conservatives to oust him,…[more]

Book:Damned to Fame

Damned to Fame

James Knowlson

Damned to Fame is the brilliant and insightful portrait of Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel Beckett, the renowned yet reclusive master of twentieth-century literature. Professor James Knowlson, Beckett’s chosen biographer and a leading authority on Beckett, vividly recreates Beckett’s life from his birth in a rural suburb of Dublin in 1906 to his death in Paris in 1989, revealing the real man behind the literary giant. Scrupulously researched and filled with previously unknown information garnered from interviews with the author and his friends, family, and contemporaries, Knowlson’s unparalleled work is the definitive Beckett biography of our time.

Book:George Eliot: A Life

George Eliot: A Life

Rosemary Ashton

There were other women writers in the 19th century, but Eliot alone left the family circle to follow her own devices at a time when unmarried women generally kept house for others. What is more, she moved in unconventional and Bohemian circles. Her long and loving relationship with the previously married G. H. Lewes scandalized even her closest friends. She was generally admired but shunned socially, except by the boldest radicals and feminists.

Rosemary Ashton examines Adam Bede, Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss, Felix Holt and the unsurpassed Middlemarch, which all explore the tension between the urge to conform and the imperatives of both the heart and the mind - a paradox which is reflected in George Eliot’s life. This magnificent biography is a detailed examination of the life and the writing of George Eliot. Rosemary Ashton illuminates our understanding of both and reveals the choices and originality of a most remarkable woman.

Book:The Unruly Queen

The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline

Flora Fraser

At the tawdry, extravagant heart of England’s Regency period—1811 to 1820—the bitter mismatch between the Prince and Princess of Wales. When the Prince Regent (later King George IV) separated privately from Princess Caroline in 1796, they had been together for less than a year. Their disastrous (and probably bigamous) marriage—mercilessly ridiculed by the satirists and caricaturists of the day—had profound political consequences and eventually led to the greatest scandal in British royal history: the trial of Queen Caroline for adultery. Caroline of Brunswick was a curious mixture of gravity and exuberance, wit and vulgarity, whose impact on society and public opinion was enormous. Barred from the Regent’s court, she travelled through Europe with a small court of her own, her outrageous behavior leading to the flight of her English ladies-in-waiting and chamberlains and her employment of highly questionable Italian servants to replace them. The tragic death of her daughter—her only child—found Caroline…[more]

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