11 January 2017 Susannah

Of Claire Tomalin and Katherine Mansfield

Claire Tomalin

One of my favourite biographers is Claire Tomalin (pictured above). Her books about famous writers have given me enormous pleasure. She is a measured, intelligent analyst of her subjects and a fine writer.

Her prize-winning Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self is a delightful introduction to Pepys if you have not yet discovered how addictive he can be. Of course, I also love her Jane Austen: A Life. She has done two books about Dickens – the ground-breaking The Invisible Woman about Dickens’ mistress Nelly Ternan (they made a film based on the biography) and her excellent Charles Dickens: A Life which is particularly good on the women in Dickens’ life. One biography I especially loved is Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man which made me rush back to the poetry (Hardy always saw himself as a poet first, a novelist second).

Statue of Katherine Mansfield in Wellington, N.Z.

Statue of Katherine Mansfield in Wellington, N.Z.

One of Tomalin’s first biographies was about my compatriot Katherine Mansfield, one of the world’s finest writers of short stories (Virginia Woolf once commented that Katherine Mansfield was the only writer she’d ever felt jealous of). If you have not yet discovered the genius of this NZ writer, try Tomalin’s Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life, or read Mansfield’s The Doll’s House which is one of the most moving short stories in the world.

Discover Katherine Mansfield’s greatness as a writer and hear her fascinating life-story, including readings, on my audio CD, Finding Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield’s birth city of Wellington put up a great statue of Katherine in 2013. It’s one of my favourite literary statues. Do you have a favourite statue of a writer? Is there a literary biographer whose works you love or who you think can compare with Claire Tomalin? Please tell me by leaving a comment.

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  Susannah Fullerton: Of Claire Tomalin and Katherine Mansfield
  Susannah Fullerton: Memoirs to Read

  Susannah Fullerton’s Finding Katherine Mansfield audio CD

  PURCHASE on Google Play Books: Claire Tomalin
  PURCHASE on Amazon Kindle: Claire Tomalin

  PURCHASE on Google Play Books: Katherine Mansfield
  PURCHASE on Amazon Kindle: Katherine Mansfield


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Featured image credit- Claire Tomalin. https://alchetron.com/Claire-Tomalin-860427
Body image credit- Statue of Katherine Mansfield in Wellington, N.Z. by Susannah Fullerton

Comments (6)

  1. Erica Brock

    Hi Susannah,
    There is a lovely statue of Robert Ferguson in Edinburgh. He is a poet unheard of today but he was highly regarded by Robert Burns. I used to live in Edinburgh and whenever I saw him it made me smile. I love that this statue is at ground level and that he’s striding along.


    Anyway just thought I’d mention it because I enjoyed this statue so much while I lived there.
    Thanks for your newsletter.
    Erica Brock

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That statue of Robert Ferguson is one of my favourite statues in the entire world!!!! I always stop and say Hi to him when I am in Edinburgh. You are quite right – it makes you smile. He died so young, but I almost think an early death would be worth it if you had a statue like that erected for you, and you had Robert Burns writing your epitaph and paying for your tombstone. I also had the incredible privilege of living in Edinburgh – such a superb city.

  2. Patricia Farrar

    I think Janet Malcolm is a pretty good biographer having contributed books on Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein. Another is Diana Souhami whose biography of Natalie Barney and her lesbian salon in 1920s Paris is rivetting. I love the statue of Oscar Wilde in Dublin that really captures his louche character. But my favourite is not of a writer but a writer’s cat – Samuel Johnson’s Hodge. Thank you, Susannah, for introducing him to me.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, the statue of Hodge is a joy. Whenever I am near Fleet St I pop into Gough Square to say Hello to him. Evidently the statue got listed in some Child Friendly Guide to London, and as a result, visits to the Dr Johnson house greatly increased in number. The power of a cat!
      I don’t know Janet Malcolm, so thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Susannah, I think Richard Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde is a fabulous book. I first read it when I was a teenager, and I have gone back to it many times since – it’s still one of my favourite books. It really shaped my literary education.
    I also love John Lahr’s work – his biography of Joe Orton, “Prick Up Your ears” and his marvellous edition of Orton’s diaries, which was THE must-read book of my youth. More recently he has done an enormous, but excellent, biography of Tennessee Williams, which I reviewed over at the Newtown Review of Books.
    One final honourable mention must go to A. J. A. Symons and his “The Quest for Corvo” – a literary biography that reads like a scandalous adventure story.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Walter, I could not agree more about Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde – it is simply magisterial and I would rank it amongst the Top Five biographies in the world! But I have not read the others you recommend, so will add them to my list. Thanks for the suggestions.

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