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Claire Tomalin
Claire Tomalin, 2013
Claire Tomalin, 2013
Born Claire Delavenay
20 June 1933 (1933-06-20) (age 88)
London, England
Occupation Author, journalist

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

Early life

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


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


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 published:

  • 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 (2006), followed by a television film about Hardy, and published a collection of Hardy's poems.
  • Charles Dickens: A Life (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. 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 life

Tomalin married her first husband, fellow Cambridge graduate Nicholas Tomalin, a prominent journalist, in 1955, and they had three daughters and two sons. 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. She married the novelist and playwright Michael Frayn in 1993. They live on Gloucester Crescent, Camden.

Awards and honours

  • James Tait Black Memorial Prize, The Invisible Woman (1990)
  • Hawthornden Prize, The Invisible Woman (1991)
  • Whitbread Book Award, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (2002)
  • Rose Mary Crawshay Prize, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (2003)
  • Samuel Johnson Prize, shortlist, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (2003)
  • Honorary Member Magdalene College, Cambridge (2003)
  • Honorary Fellow Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge (2003), Newnham College; Cambridge (2004)
  • Honorary D.Litt: UEA (2005); Birmingham (2005); Greenwich (2006); Cambridge (2007); Goldsmith (2009); Open University (2008); Roehampton (2011); Portsmouth (2012)
  • Costa Book Awards (Biography), shortlist, Charles Dickens: A Life (2011)
  • Biographers International Organization Annual Award (2016)
  • Bodley Medal (2018)


  • A Life of My Own (London, Penguin Books, 2017). Autobiography.
  • Charles Dickens: A Life (New York, Penguin Books, 2011).
  • Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man (New York, Penguin Press, 2007).
  • Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) ( or 0-14-028234-3).
  • Jane Austen: A Life (Vintage eBooks, 2000)
  • Several Strangers; writing from three decades (London, Viking Books, 1999); (New York, Penguin, 2000).
  • Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life (London, Viking, 1987), 1998.
  • Mrs. Jordan's Profession: The Story of a Great Actress and a Future King, 1995.
  • The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (London, Viking, 1990) (New York, Knopf, 1991).
  • Shelley and His World (London, Thames and Hudson, 1980); (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980).
  • The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974), 1992.
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Wendy Doniger
Kate Flint
Rose Mary Crawshay Prize
Jane Stabler
Succeeded by
Maud Ellmann
Anne Stott
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