Biographer Claire Tomalin to be awarded Bodley Medal

Tomalin will receive Bodleian's highest honour on 17 March at the Oxford Literary Festival

The Bodleian Libraries will present biographer Claire Tomalin with the Bodley Medal, the Libraries' highest honour. Tomalin will receive the award at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival on 17 March 2018, when she will be in conversation with Bodley's Librarian, Richard Ovenden.

Image of Claire TomalinClaire Tomalin is widely regarded as one of the leading biographers of her age. She has written highly regarded studies of women writers, Katherine Mansfield, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, throwing new light on their struggles - for none of them had an easy life - and their achievements, which brought them world fame after their early deaths. Tomalin used the resources of the Bodleian for her research into Wollstonecraft, Godwin and Shelley. She later became involved in authenticating, publishing and setting in context a long-lost story by Wollstonecraft's daughter Mary Shelley, written in Italy in 1820 as a present for the daughter of Wollstonecraft's onetime pupil, Lady Mountcashell - a tale of a child lost and found at a time when the Shelleys had lost all but one of their children.

Tomalin turned to the Bodleian again when researching the life of the 17th-century diarist and civil servant Samuel Pepys. Her Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, published in 2002, became Whitbread Book of the Year and won the Mary Crawshay prize from the British Academy.

A life of Thomas Hardy, with particular emphasis on his poetry, followed. She has also devoted two books to Charles Dickens, a lifelong interest, one centred on his well-concealed 12-year relationship with a young actress, the other a full biographical and critical study.

In her account of her own life, published in 2017, she set her personal experience in a wide cultural and political context, portraying the social pressures on women of her generation - she was born in 1933 - and showing how it was to deal with conflicting desires to have children and a worthwhile working life.

The Bodley Medal is awarded by the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the worlds in which the Bodleian is active including literature, culture, science and communication. Past recipients include novelist and screenwriter William Boyd, classicist Mary Beard, physicist Stephen Hawking, film director Nicholas Hytner, novelist Hilary Mantel, writer and actor Alan Bennett and inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

The Bodleian Libraries is a cultural partner of the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival, which takes place Saturday, 17 March to Sunday, 25 March 2018. Events will take place at the Bodleian's Weston Library and Divinity School as well as at venues across the city. For more information, and to book tickets for the Bodley Lecture, visit the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival website at: oxfordliteraryfestival.org

Visitors are able to see some of the items that have inspired Tomalin - a first edition of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), the original manuscript of Wollstonecraft's daughter Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and a manuscript of Jane Austen's juvenilia, Volume the First - on display in the Bodleian's upcoming exhibition, Sappho to Suffrage: Women who dared, open from 6 March 2018 in the Weston Library.

Tomalin will be in conversation with Richard Ovenden, Bodley's Librarian, at 6pm on 17 March in the University's Sheldonian Theatre. Following the event, Ovenden will present her with the Bodley Medal.

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