Annal: 1998 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography

Results of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the year 1998.

Book:The Life of Thomas More

The Life of Thomas More

Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd’s The Life of Thomas More is a reconstruction of the life and imagination of one of the most remarkable figures of history—and arguably the most brilliant lawyer the English-speaking world has ever known. Thomas More was a renowned statesman, the author of a political fantasy that gave a name to a literary genre and a worldview (Utopia), and, most famously, a Catholic martyr and saint, who was beheaded when he refused to follow his sovereign, King Henry VIII, in severing England’s ties from the Catholic Church. Ackroyd shows dramatically how the clouds of Reformation that swarmed over the European continent unleashed the storm of the early modern period that swept away More’s world and took his life. He clarifies the whirl of dynastic, religious, and mercantile politics that brought the autocratic Henry VIII and the devout More into their fateful conflict. And he narrates the unrelenting drama of More’s final days—his detention, trial, and execution—with a novelist’s mastery of suspense.

Book:D.H. Lawrence: Dying Game, 1922-1930 (Volume 3 of The Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence)

D.H. Lawrence: Dying Game, 1922-1930 (Volume 3 of The Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence)

David Ellis

The final volume of the Cambridge Biography of D. H. Lawrence chronicles his progress from leaving Europe in 1922 to his death in Vence in 1930. Based on much new or unfamiliar material, it describes his travels in Ceylon, Australia, the USA and Mexico in an increasingly desperate search for an ideal community. With his return to Europe in 1925, there is a detailed account of his rediscovery of painting, his battle against censorship, and the vitality with which he resisted the debilitating effects of tuberculosis. Kangaroo, The Plumed Serpent and Lady Chatterley's Lover are usually seen as the literary landmarks of these years; but Lawrence also wrote remarkable novellas, essays, criticism, short stories and poems. Lawrence is revealed here not as the impotent and self-obsessed figure of popular legend, but as a man more complex, more humorous, and more exemplary in his resolute grappling with the central problems of life and death.

Book:The Hidden Wordsworth

The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy

Kenneth R. Johnston

A surprise-filled biography of the radical young poet whose fiery intellect revolutionized English poetry, The Hidden Wordsworth breaks through the carefully crafted but frequently misleading accounts of his youth that William Wordsworth created in his later years. In this enthralling narrative, the great Romantic poet emerges as a man of action during his youth and early manhood, when, in Wordsworth’s own words, “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was very heaven!”

Kenneth Johnston explores Wordsworth’s links with radical British reformists, French revolutionary leaders, and journalists, and, astonishingly, reveals Wordsworth as an agent for the British “Secret Service” on the Continent and at home. Deeply intertwined with his politics, Wordsworth’s emotional life has until now been even more deeply buried. Johnston illuminates and freshly interprets Wordsworth’s relations with his sister, Dorothy, with his French mistress, Annette Vallon, and with his sister-in-law,…[more]

Book:The Trials of Radclyffe Hall

The Trials of Radclyffe Hall

Diana Souhami

A fascinating figure of English literary and political history, Radclyffe Hall was born in 1880 in Bournemouth, England. Hall suffered through an exceedingly unhappy childhood until her father’s death. With her inheritance, Hall leased a house in Kensington and began to live the way she pleased. She started dressing in chappish clothes, called herself Peter, then John, and wrote her first collection of verse. She was a political reactionary, a reformed Catholic, a member of the Society for Psychical Research, fussy about food and obsessive about work. She got her pipes from Dunhill’s, wore brocade smoking jackets, spats in winter, and had her hair cropped off at the barber’s.

Hall is most famous today for her book, The Well of Loneliness, which she wrote in 1928. A novel about lesbian love, the book caused an enormous scandal on its publication and it was suppressed both in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, where…[more]

Book:Victor Hugo: A Biography

Victor Hugo: A Biography

Graham Robb

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]

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