The Hawthornden Prize for Literature 2018 was awarded to Jenny Uglow for her ‘outstanding biography of a secretive genius’, Mr Lear.
The award was presented on behalf of the Hawthornden Literary Retreat by Christopher Reid, chairman of the judges, at a reception at the London Library. The Hawthornden Prize rewards works of ‘imaginative literature’ whether prose or poetry. It was established in 1919 and shares the honour of being Britain’s oldest literary award. Previous winners have included Colm Tóibín, Ali Smith, Alan Bennett, Claire Tomalin, V. S. Naipaul, Ted Hughes, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Vita Sackville-West.
Mr Lear is a fascinating and beautifully illustrated biography of Edward Lear, full of the colour of the age.
Edward Lear lived a vivid, fascinating, energetic life, but confessed, ‘I hardly enjoy any one thing on earth while it is present.’ He was a man in a hurry, ‘running about on railroads’ from London to country estates and boarding steamships to Italy, Corfu, India and Palestine. He is still loved for his ‘nonsenses’, from startling, joyous limericks to great love songs like ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ and ‘The Dong with a Luminous Nose’, and he is famous, too, for his brilliant natural history paintings, landscapes and travel writing. But although Lear belongs solidly in the age of Darwin and Dickens – he gave Queen Victoria drawing lessons, and his many friends included Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelite painters – his genius for the absurd and his dazzling word-play make him a very modern spirit. He speaks to us today.
Praise for Mr Lear
‘Jenny Uglow, Edward Lear’s most sensitive biographer to date, does him proud.’ A. N. Wilson, Literary Review
‘Jenny Uglow has written a great life about an artist with half a life, a biography that might break your heart.’ Robert McCrum, Observer
‘Uglow excels in insight and sympathetic delicacy.’ New Statesman
‘The most perfect historian imaginable.’ Peter Ackroyd
‘A splendid portrait of this remarkable man.’ SundayTimes
‘Whatever Uglow writes about she makes absolutely fascinating.’ Diana Athill
‘A wonderfully sharp and sympathetic biography.’ Mail on Sunday
‘Quite wonderful.’ Guardian
Jenny Uglow’s books include prize-winning biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell, William Hogarth and Sarah Losh. The Lunar Men, published in 2002, was described by Richard Holmes as ‘an extraordinarily gripping account’, while Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick, won the National Arts Writers Award, and A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 was shortlisted for the 2014 Duff Cooper Prize. Her most recent book, Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense, won the 2018 Hawthornden Prize for Literature. She lives in Canterbury.