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Richardson, Joanna 1925-2008

Richardson, Joanna 1925-2008


See index for CA sketch: Born August 8, 1925, in London, England; died March 7, 2008. Biographer, historian, translator, critic, and author. Richardson wrote more than thirty books on various subjects, but her passion for nineteenth-century France shone through all of them. She was not an academic by training or occupation, but she was an indefatigable researcher with a commitment to objective reporting. In fact, she was praised on the one hand for the distance she maintained from her subjects, and criticized on the other for what some critics perceived as a lack of engagement. Richardson was commended for both her translations and biographies of the poets Paul Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire. She wrote well-received biographies of numerous literary and artistic figures as well, from Victor Hugo, Gustave Doré, and Émile Zola to the colorful Colette, Sarah Bernhardt, and Judith Gautier. For the latter biography Richardson became the first non-French biographer and the first woman to receive the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1989. Richardson's method of operation was to assemble every scrap of information that she could find on her subject, and she was known for her ability to unearth material overlooked by others from sources considered to be exhausted. She compiled her data into the most complete and balanced account possible, without judgment and without crossing the line from reporter to analyst. This may have explained her mixed critical reception. Though French literature and biography were central to Richardson's writing career, her curiosity led her far afield. She also wrote biographies of British royalty, assorted courtesans and French bohemians, and Victorian poets. Richardson worked as a correspondent and critic for British periodicals such as New English Weekly, and she was a frequent contributor to other journals and newspapers as well. She also produced features and translations for British radio broadcasts. Richardson, who embarked on her writing career without formal academic credentials, was created a chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters in 1987 and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University in 2005.



Times (London, England), March 24, 2008, p. 48.

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