Harman, Claire 1957-

views updated

HARMAN, Claire 1957-

(Claire Patricia Harman Schmidt)

PERSONAL: Born September 21, 1957, in Guildford, England; daughter of John Edward (a teacher) and Patricia (a teacher; maiden name, Mullins) Harman; married Michael N. Schmidt (a publisher), August 25, 1979; children: Charles, Isabel. Education: Victoria University of Manchester, B.A. (with first class honors), 1979.

ADDRESSES: Home—Thornleigh, Park Road, Chapelen-le-Frith, Derbyshire, England.

CAREER: Poetry Nation Review, Manchester, England, former coordinating editor, editor of supplement, "Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Celebration," 1981. University of Manchester, Oxford University, former instructor; Columbia University, School of the Arts, instructor of creative writing.

AWARDS, HONORS: John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, 1990, for Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography; shortlist, Whitbread Prize, for Fanny Burney: A Biography.


(Editor) Collected Poems of Sylvia Townsend Warner, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.

(Editor and author of afterword) Selected Poems of Sylvia Townsend Warner, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1989, New Amsterdam (New York, NY), 1993.

(Compiler and author of introduction) Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories, C.E. Tuttle (Rutland, VT), 1992.

(Editor and author of introduction) The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1994.

Fanny Burney: A Biography, Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.

Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography, HarperCollins (London, England), 2005, published as Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor of articles and reviews to British periodicals.

SIDELIGHTS: Claire Harman is the author of several highly acclaimed biographies, including works on the British poet and novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner, the pioneering female novelist Fanny Burney, and the writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Regarding her first biography, Harman once told CA: "I became involved with Sylvia Townsend Warner when I found her hiding under a desk in my husband's publishing office. That is to say, I found an enormous package of Sylvia's poems there, awaiting an editor. Such good poems, too, and such an arresting and intriguing author behind them. Then there were the novels to discover, and the stories, and the other fascinating miscellaneous writings. Her peculiarly English wit and her highly literate (and totally nonacademic) intelligence have endeared her whole body of work to me. Her ghost, with gleeful malice, is refusing to let any of it be put through the Ph.D. machine without a fight."

In her study of English author and poet Warner, Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography, Harman delivers one of the few book-length studies of this woman who grew up in privileged circumstances and is perhaps best known for her novel of witchcraft, Lolly Willowes, as well as for her contributions to the New Yorker magazine. A lesbian and committed Marxist, she was also a prolific poet as well as author, with seven published novels. Reviewing the biography in the New Statesman & Society, Anne Boston found it "as lively and perceptive as this idiosyncratic, rewarding writer deserves." The book won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for biography in 1990.

Harman turned her hand to another female novelist in Fanny Burney: A Biography, a "hugely enjoyable read," according to the judges of England's prestigious Whitbread Prize, as quoted in the Guardian. Daughter of the musicologist Dr. Charles Burney, Fanny grew up in an intellectual household and traveled widely. At age fifteen she began keeping a journal, a task that continued for the rest of her life and which has provided a wealth of information about life in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She published her first novel, Evelina, in 1778 when she was twenty-six. This is considered to be the first literary novel written by a female. Soon celebrated as a novelist in her native England, Fanny Burney served at the court of George III. She continued writing both plays and novels throughout her life. Harman's biography was praised by critics. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, commended the biographer's "firm grasp and light touch," further noting that she "brings Burney to life with acumen and admiration." Kristen Case, writing in the New Leader, found the work "evenhanded and detailed," while a critic for Kirkus Reviews thought the same biography provided an "important, comprehensive view of the pioneering novelist and playwright." And Kathryn Hughes, writing in the New Statesman, believed that this "excellent biography of Fanny Burney is unlikely to be bettered for many years to come."

Harman takes on the life of another British writer in Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography. Already the editor of a collection of Stevenson's stories, Harman focuses her research on the creator of the classic split personality, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Sickly for much of his life, and a worldwide wanderer, Stevenson produced a wide array of works that were more popular than deeply literary, in Harman's view. A contributor for the Contemporary Review felt her biography was "thoroughly enjoyable," and that her "keenness for her subject is refreshing and is balanced by objectivity and wide-ranging research." Similar praise came from an Economist contributor, who thought Harman's "complex portrait paints a man whom she finds both admirable and infuriating."



Booklist, July, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Fanny Burney: A Biography, p. 1970,

Contemporary Review, June, 2004, review of Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography, p. 377.

Economist, January 29, 2005, "Slinger of Ink," review of Robert Louis Stevenson, p. 79.

Guardian (London, England), November 15, 2000, "Whitbread Book Awards: Biography," p. 7.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2001, review of Fanny Burney, p. 845.

Library Journal, August, 2001, Carol A. McAllister, review of Fanny Burney, p. 107.

Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2001, Merle Rubin, "Lively Portrait of the First Respectable Female English Novelist," review of Fanny Burney, p. E3.

New Leader, July, 2001, Kristen Case, review of Fanny Burney, p. 29.

New Republic, October 8, 2001, Lawrence Lipking, review of Fanny Burney, p. 43.

New Statesman, July 17, 2000, Kathryn Hughes, review of Fanny Burney, p. 58.

New Statesman & Society, July 21, 1989, Anne Boston, review of Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography, pp. 32-33.

New York Times Book Review, February 18, 1996, Claire Tomalin, review of The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner, p. 6; November 4, 2001, Susan Ostraw Weisser, review of Fanny Burney, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, July 16, 2001, review of Fanny Burney, p. 174.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), August 27, 2001, Jamie Spencer, review of Fanny Burney, p. F8.

Spectator, January 29, 2005, Philip Hensher, review of Robert Louis Stevenson, p. 32.

Times (London, England), July 30, 2000, Miranda Seymour, review of Fanny Burney, p. 37.

Times Literary Supplement, July 28, 1989, P. N. Furbank, review of Sylvia Townsend Warner, p. 815; October 6, 2000, Simon Jarvis, review of Fanny Burney, p. 40.

Washington Post, September 2, 2001, Lorraine Adams, review of Fanny Burney, p. T15.

Women's Review of Books, June, 1996, Gay Wachman, review of The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner, p. 6.


Arts Council of England Web site, http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/ (August 30, 2005), "Claire Harman."

HarperCollins Web site, http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/ (August 30, 2005), "Authors: Claire Harman."