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Claire Tomalin (born Claire Delavenay on 20 June 1933) is an English author and journalist, known for her biographies on Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Samuel Pepys, Jane Austen, and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Claire Tomalin
Claire Tomalin.jpg
Claire Tomalin, 2013
Claire Delavenay

(1933-06-20) 20 June 1933 (age 86)
London, England, UK
OccupationAuthor, journalist


Tomalin was born Claire Delavenay on 20 June 1933 in London, the daughter of French academic Émile Delavenay and English composer Muriel Herbert.[1]


Tomalin was educated at Hitchin Girls' Grammar School,[2] a former state grammar school in Hitchin in Hertfordshire, and Dartington Hall School,[2] a former boarding school in Dartington, near Totnes, in Devon, and Newnham College at the University of Cambridge.[2][1]

Life and careerEdit

Tomalin has written several noted biographies. In 1974 she published her first book The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, which won the Whitbread Book Award. Since then she has researched and written Shelley and His World (1980); Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life (1987); The Invisible Woman: The story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (1990) [ NCR, Hawthornden, James Tait Black Prize- now a film ]; Mrs Jordan's Profession (1994); Jane Austen: A Life (1997) Samuel Pepys: the Unequalled Self (2002) [ Whitbread biography and Book of the Year prizes, Pepys Society Prize, Rose Mary Crawshay Prize ]. Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man appeared in 2006, and she made a television film about Hardy, and published a collection of Hardy's poems. Her Charles Dickens: A Life was published in 2011. She also edited and introduced Mary Shelley's story for children, Maurice. A collection of her reviews, Several Strangers, appeared in 1999.

Tomalin organised two exhibitions about the Regency actress Mrs Jordan at Kenwood in 1995, and about Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley in 1997. In 2004 she unveiled a blue plaque for Mary Wollstonecraft at 45 Dolben Street, Southwark, where Wollstonecraft lived from 1788.[3] She has served on the Committee of the London Library, and as a Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery and the Wordsworth Trust. She is a Vice-President of the Royal Literary Fund, Royal Society of Literature and of the English PEN.

Personal lifeEdit

Tomalin married her first husband, fellow Cambridge graduate Nicholas Tomalin, a prominent journalist, in 1955,[4] and they had three daughters and two sons.[5] He was killed while reporting on the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War in 1973. She worked in publishing and journalism as literary editor of the New Statesman, then The Sunday Times, while bringing up her children.[1] She married the novelist and playwright Michael Frayn in 1993.[6]

Awards and honoursEdit


  • A Life of My Own (London, Penguin Books, 2017) (ISBN 978-0-241-23995-7). Autobiography.
  • Charles Dickens: A Life (New York, Penguin Books, 2011) (ISBN 0-14-103693-1).
  • Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man (New York, Penguin Press, 2007) (ISBN 978-1-594-20118-9).
  • Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) (ISBN 0-670-88568-1 or 0-14-028234-3).
  • Jane Austen: A Life (Vintage eBooks, 2000) (ISBN 0-14-029690-5)
  • Several Strangers; writing from three decades (London, Viking Books, 1999) (ISBN 0-670-88567-3); (New York, Penguin, 2000) (ISBN 0-14-190950-1).
  • Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life (London, Viking, 1987), 1998 (ISBN 0-14-011715-6).
  • Mrs. Jordan's Profession: The Story of a Great Actress and a Future King, 1995 (ISBN 0-14-015923-1).
  • The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (London, Viking, 1990) (New York, Knopf, 1991) (ISBN 0-14-012136-6).
  • Shelley and His World (London, Thames and Hudson, 1980) (ISBN 0-500-13068-X); (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980) (ISBN 0-68-416620-8).
  • The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974), 1992 (ISBN 0-14-016761-7).


  1. ^ a b c Cooke, Rachel (24 September 2011). "Claire Tomalin: 'Writing induces melancholy...'". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "The Fitzwilliam Museum - Biography - Claire Tomalin FRSL (b. 1933)". Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. 2008. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  3. ^ team, London SE1 website. "Mary Wollstonecraft blue plaque unveiled". London SE1. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  4. ^ search on Tomalin marriages post 1953
  5. ^ search on Tomalin/Delavenay births post 1955
  6. ^ "Claire Tomalin: A life in words". 2 July 2018. Retrieved 2 July 2018 – via

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit