Results of the Whitbread Book Award in the year 1997.
The life of a writer whose books were such powerful social and political statements that he lived in exile from both France and England. Victor Hugo was the most important writer of the nineteenth century in France: founder and destroyer of the Romantic movement, revolutionary playwright, seminal poet, epic novelist, author of the last universally accessible masterpieces in the European tradition, among them Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He was also a radical political thinker (and eventual exile); a gifted painter and architect; a visionary and mystic who conversed with Virgil, Shakespeare, and Jesus Christ—in short, a tantalizing, protean personality who dominated, distracted, and maddened his contemporaries.
Attempts to explain Hugo’s bewildering complexity have generated a literature of memorable paradoxes. If there were a being higher than God, wrote Ford Madox Ford, one would have to say that it was Victor Hugo. Andr Gide, asked who the greatest French…[more]
From personal letters and other sources, Stella Tillyard has re-created the life of a headstrong young aristocrat who died a martyred rebel for the cause of Irish independence. Lord Edward Fitzgerald joined the British army as a teenager, but radical sentiments soon prevailed over loyalty to the Crown. In North America in 1787, he spent time with the Iroquois; back in Europe, he became a disciple of Thomas Paine and joined the Irish underground. Even his love life was political-from his tragic affair with the wife of Richard Brinsley Sheridan to his marriage to the daughter of a French republican. Lord Edward was plotting for Ireland’s independence when, as the bloody rebellion of 1798 raged around him, he was mortally wounded by British soldiers.
William Hogarth (1697-1764) was perhaps London’s greatest and best-known chronicler. The exuberant expansion and upheavals of city life furnished him with the subjects of the elaborate prints that made him famous, and that remain our finest and most fantastic visual record of eighteenth-century England.
Evoking Hogarth’s fierce nationalism, his philanthropic vision, and his antagonistic dance with London’s artists and patrons, Jenny Uglow’s acclaimed biography “crackles with vitality and sparkles with insights” (Michael Holroyd). In the company of his friends and peers—Swift, Gay, Pope, and the rest—Hogarth burned to expose hypocrisy and yearned to be recognized as a painter in the grand old tradition. In decoding his work’s details and damning references—to craven leaders and corrupt institutions, and the beloved, tragicomic tribulations of rakes, harlots, and common citizens—Uglow breathes life into his accomplishment and his thwarted ambition, showing herself at every turn “in sympathetic rapport with Hogarth the man” (P.N. Furbank, The New York Review of Books).
When Marion “Joe” Carstairs died in 1993 at the age of ninety-three, she was largely forgotten. During the 1920s she held the world record as the fastest female speedboat racer. But as journalist Kate Summerscale discovered, when researching an obituary for the Daily Telegraph, Carstairs was also a notorious cross-dresser who favored women and smoked cheroots. Supremely self-confident, she inherited a Standard Oil fortune and knew how to spend her money—on fast boats and cars, female lovers, and a Caribbean island, Whale Cay, where she reigned over a colony of Bahamians. There, far from her bohemian past in London and Paris, she hosted a succession of girlfriends and celebrities, including Marlene Dietrich and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Through it all, she remained devoted to Lord Tod Wadley, a little doll who became her bosom companion.
Steeped in music from a very early age, by the time she was seven Violet was already showing a precocious talent. By the age of sixteen she was studying with Oscar Beringer, one of the most notable piano scholars of the day. Violet’s extraordinary ear for tone and phrasing, her instinctual interpretation of the music, and her exciting performances made her salon a cult, a magnet to many of the most important artists of her age-Picasso, Diaghileve, and Delius. Violet’s musical genius was equalled by her evident physical allure. She had a horror of convention and lived in a scandalous menage a cinq with her husband (the marriage remained unconsumated) and three “superhusbands”. An utterly compelling story, Violet’s life was studded with unexpected sub-plots, the most fascinating a double murder which forms the bizarre center of an extraordinary life.