Jennifer Sheila Uglow OBE (née Crowther, born 1947) is a British biographer, critic and publisher. The editorial director of Chatto & Windus, she has written critically acclaimed biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell, William Hogarth, Thomas Bewick and the Lunar Society, among others, and has also compiled a women's biographical dictionary.
She won the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the 2003 Hessell-Tiltman Prize for The Lunar Men: The Friends who Made the Future 1730–1810, and her works have twice been shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize. As of 2013, she is President of the Alliance of Literary Societies.
Uglow was brought up in Cumbria and later Dorset. She attended Cheltenham Ladies' College (1958–64) and St Anne's College, University of Oxford. After gaining a first in English, she took a B.Litt. In 1971, she married Steve Uglow, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent; the couple have three sons and a daughter. As of 2008, Uglow lives at Canterbury in Kent.
She is an honorary visiting professor at the University of Warwick, vice-president of the Gaskell Society and a trustee of the Wordsworth Trust. She was formerly a member of the British Library's Advisory Group for the Humanities.
Uglow compiled an encyclopedia of biographies of prominent women, first published in 1982; the work is currently in its fourth edition and contains over 2,000 biographies, though later versions have involved other editors. Uglow later wrote:
|“||I embarked on the Macmillan Biographical Dictionary of Women in a fit of pique because all reference books were full of men: it was a mad undertaking, born of a time when feminists wanted heroines and didn't have Google.||”|
Her first full-length biographies, depicting the Victorian women writers George Eliot (1987) and Elizabeth Gaskell (1993), continue her interest in documenting women and reflect her literary background. Gaskell scholar Angus Easson describes Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories as "the best current biography" of the author, and The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Gaskell refers to it as "authoritative".
Subsequent works have moved further into the past, with subjects including 18th century author Henry Fielding (1995), and artists William Hogarth (1997) and Thomas Bewick (2006). The scientists and engineers of the Lunar Society, including Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton, James Watt, Joseph Priestley and Josiah Wedgwood, are the subject of her prize-winning work The Lunar Men (2003).
Uglow's biographies have been particularly praised for their vivid, detailed recreation of the time and place in which their subjects lived. "No one gives us the feel of past life as she does" writes A. S. Byatt of Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick, and a review of The Lunar Men in The Observer claims "never has the eighteenth century come so much to life." Reviewing Hogarth: A Life and a World, Peter Ackroyd wrote, "She depicts the city at first hand, almost as if she herself had been wandering through Hogarth’s engravings." Frances Spalding considers Nature's Engraver to be "immeasurably enriched by Uglow's canny grasp of period detail." David Chandler, however, complains that "Uglow tends to amass detail on quotable detail, when sometimes one would like a little more taut synthesis, more interrogation of those details."
Uglow's depiction of scientific thought has also been praised; A. S. Byatt, for example, describes The Lunar Men as "full of [...] the real sense that scientific curiosity is as exciting as any 'artistic' pursuit." Her discussion of art has gained a more mixed reception. The New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman complains that Uglow overvalues Hogarth's paintings and neglects his artistic associates in favour of his literary ones. On the other hand, Helen Macdonald, reviewing Nature's Engraver, considers that it is "in her descriptions of the physical process of artistic creation, and her musings on individual engravings, that Uglow is at her most energetic and fluid."
Other writing and editing
Uglow's non-biographical writing includes a history of gardening in Britain, written for the bicentenary of the Royal Horticultural Society in 2004, which Uglow describes as a "labour of love". She is also a reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The New York Review of Books and The Independent on Sunday.
Uglow has edited collections of writings by Walter Pater (1973) and Angela Carter (1997), as well as co-editing a set of essays about Charles Babbage (1997). She has also written introductions to several works by Elizabeth Gaskell.
Radio, television and film
Uglow presented The Poet of Albion, a BBC Radio 4 programme on William Blake, part of a series marking the 250th anniversary of the poet's birth; the programme emphasised Blake's radicalism. She has also twice appeared on the Radio 4 discussion programme, In Our Time. She acted as a historical consultant on several period dramas for the BBC, including Wives and Daughters (1999), Daniel Deronda (2002), He Knew He Was Right (2004), North and South (2004), Bleak House (2005) and Cranford (2007), as well as for the films Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Miss Potter (2006).
Awards and honours
The Lunar Men: The Friends who Made the Future 1730–1810 won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography (2002), and the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for history of the International PEN (2003). Her biographies Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories and Hogarth: A Life and a World were both shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize for biography, and three of her books have reached the longlist of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction. According to the charity Booktrust, Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick was the nonfiction work most often selected as "book of the year" by critics in 2006.
Uglow is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She has been awarded honorary degrees by the University of Birmingham, University of Kent, Staffordshire University and Birmingham City University. In 2008, she was awarded the OBE for services to literature and publishing. In 2010, she succeeded Aeronwy Thomas as President of the Alliance of Literary Societies.
Biographies and studies
- George Eliot, Little, Brown Book Group Limited, 1987, ISBN 9780860684008
- Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories, Faber & Faber, 1993, ISBN 9780571170364
- Henry Fielding Northcote House Publishers, Limited, 1995, ISBN 9780746307601
- Hogarth: A Life and a World, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997, ISBN 9780374171698
- Dr Johnson, His Club and Other Friends, National Portrait Gallery, 1998, ISBN 9781855142329
- The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future 1730–1810 Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002, ISBN 9780374194406
- Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography (later editions with Maggy Hendry; 4th edn; 2005)
- Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick. Faber & Faber, Limited. 2006. ISBN 9780571236442.; University of Chicago Press, 2009, ISBN 9780226823911
- Words and Pictures: Writers, Artists and a Peculiarly British Tradition, Faber, 2008; Faber & Faber, 2011, ISBN 9780571266647
- A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration. Macmillan. 2010. ISBN 9781429964227.
- The Pinecone: The Story of Sarah Losh, Forgotten Romantic Heroine--Antiquarian, Architect, and Visionary. Faber & Faber. 2012. ISBN 9780571290451.; Macmillan, 2013, ISBN 9780374232870
- A Little History of British Gardening. Random House UK. 2005. ISBN 9780712664943.; Random House, 2012, ISBN 9781448104963
- Walter Pater: Essays on Literature and Art (1973)
- Shaking a Leg: Collected Writings (by Angela Carter) Chatto & Windus, 1997, ISBN 9780701163365
- The Vintage Book of Ghosts (1997)
- Cultural Babbage: Technology, Time and Invention (with Francis Spufford; 1997)
- The London Gazette: . 29 December 2007. (accessed 5 February 2008)
- Uglow Family History: Uglows in Kent (accessed 5 February 2008)
- RSA Lectures: Jenny Uglow (accessed 5 February 2008)
- Spotlight: Guild members in print. The Slab 2005 (accessed 5 February 2008)
- St Anne's College, University of Oxford: Distinguished alumnae (accessed 5 February 2008)
- Jenny Uglow website (accessed 5 February 2008)
- Warwick University: English and Comparative Literary Studies: Permanent Academic Staff: Prof. J. Uglow (accessed 5 February 2008)
- The Gaskell Society Committee (accessed 6 February 2008)
- The Wordsworth Trust Trustees and Fellows (accessed 6 February 2008)
- Searing SE. Biographical reference works for and about women, from the advent of the women's liberation movement to the present: an exploratory analysis. Library Trends (22 September 2007) (accessed 6 February 2008)
- Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography:, 4th Edition (accessed 6 February 2008)
- Uglow J. Friends reunited. The Guardian (30 April 2005) (accessed 7 February 2008)
- Easson A. Further reading. In: Gaskell EC. Ruth, p. xxvii (Penguin Classics; 1997) (accessed 6 February 2008)
- Hamilton S. Gaskell then and now. In: The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Gaskell (Matus JL, ed.), p. 187 (Cambridge University Press; 2007)
- Buchan J. Reaching for the moon. Guardian (14 September 2002) (accessed 6 February 2008)
- A.S. Byatt "Take a leaf out of their books", The Guardian, 25 November 2006, accessed 8 February 2008
- Wood G. Fly me to the moon... The Observer (1 September 2002) (accessed 7 February 2008)
- Peter Ackroyd, The Times (quoted at the author's website; accessed 7 February 2008)
- Spalding F. The world in miniature. The Guardian (30 September 2006) (accessed 8 February 2008)
- Chandler D. Jenny Uglow, Hogarth: A Life and a World. (Book review) Romanticism on the Net 8 (November 1997) (accessed 8 February 2008)
- Byatt AS. In: Personal best, The Guardian (7 December 2002) (accessed 7 February 2008)
- Kimmelman M. An 18th-Century Paparazzo. New York Times (30 November 1997) (accessed 8 February 2008)
- Macdonald H. On birds and beauty. New Statesman (13 November 2006) (accessed 8 February 2008)
- Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography: Author Biographies (accessed 5 February 2008)
- BBC Radio 4: William Blake anniversary (accessed 5 February 2008)
- Chisholm K. Radical prophet: The Poet of Albion (Radio Four). The Spectator (28 November 2007) (accessed 5 February 2008)
- BBC website: In Our Time: The Discovery of Oxygen & The Lunar Society (accessed 5 February 2008)
- IMDb: Jenny Uglow (accessed 5 February 2008)
- James Tait Black Memorial Prizes: Previous winners – Biography (accessed 5 February 2008)
- Hessell-Tiltman Prize - Archive & History (accessed 5 February 2008)
- Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction: Previous Winners, Shortlists and Judges (accessed 7 February 2008)
- Rickett J. The bookseller. The Guardian (13 January 2007) (accessed 8 February 2008)
- Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature (accessed 5 February 2008)
- University of Birmingham: Honours and Awards 2003 (accessed 5 February 2008)
- University of Kent: Top comedian and actor to receive University of Kent Honorary Degree (accessed 5 February 2008)
- Staffordshire University: Previous Honorary Awards (accessed 5 February 2008)
- Birmingham City University: Faculty of Law, Humanities, Development and Society: University honour for author Jenny Uglow (accessed 5 February 2008)
- The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum: News (accessed 16 January 2013)