Valerie Grove

Portrait of the Author

A Life of My Own


Viking 334pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Claire Tomalin has uncovered many secrets during her long career as a biographer. She shed light on the life of Dickens’s young mistress, Nelly Ternan, and also revealed the clandestine liaison between the future William IV and the actress Mrs Jordan, who bore him ten children. Now she turns her attention to her own life. What revelations might emerge from a trawl through her own letters and diaries?

The gifted child of warring parents, Claire Delavenay was conceived through the ‘gritted teeth of murderous loathing’, as her French father, Emile, later admitted in his own memoir, regretting his marriage to Muriel Herbert, a composer who had set Yeats and Joyce to music. By the time they separated, Claire had been evacuated from London with the rest of the French Lycée to the Lake District, which inspired poetry. She ended her schooldays at Dartington Hall in Devon. She took a first at Cambridge, where she was something of a femme fatale, pursued by the brightest undergraduates, among them Granta editors Mark Boxer and Karl Miller, and Nick Tomalin, president of the Cambridge Union, whom she eventually married. The BBC, which she hoped to join, took no women trainees in 1954 so she opted for publishing. She got a job at Heinemann, passing the poet James Michie’s looks test with seven out of ten. By 1967 the Tomalins were being caricatured as the String-Alongs in Mark Boxer’s satirical strip cartoon in The Spectator that parodied their north London literary set. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Tarantino's latest film is 'a fairy tale about Hollywood, where fantasy is an industrial product and the boulevards… ,
    • 'I don’t think we’re here on Earth to be Happy. I think we’re here on Earth to help God. I am a messianic writer'.… ,
    • 'Darley’s book is not a mad dash through this most compelling and complex of English counties. Nor is it another ti… ,
    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,