Jenny Uglow

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Jenny Uglow

Alma materCheltenham Ladies' College,
St Anne's College, Oxford
Notable awardsJames Tait Black Memorial Prize,
Hessell-Tiltman Prize,
Marfield Prize

Jennifer Sheila Uglow OBE FRSL (née Crowther,[1][2] born 1947) is an English biographer, historian, critic and publisher. She was an editorial director of Chatto & Windus. She has written critically acclaimed biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell, William Hogarth, Thomas Bewick, and Edward Lear, and a history and joint biography of the Lunar Society, among others, and has also compiled The Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography.

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. She is a past president of the Alliance of Literary Societies and has also chaired the Council of the Royal Society of Literature.

Personal life[edit]

Uglow was brought up in Cumbria and later Dorset.[3] She attended Cheltenham Ladies' College (1958–64) and St Anne's College, University of Oxford.[4][5] After gaining a first in English, she took a BLitt.[3] In 1971, she married Steve Uglow, professor emeritus at the University of Kent; the couple have two sons and two daughters. As of 2015, Uglow lives at Canterbury in Kent.[2][6]


Elizabeth Gaskell, subject of one of Uglow's earliest biographies

Uglow has worked in publishing since leaving university. Until 2013 she was editorial director of the publishing company Chatto & Windus, an imprint of Random House.[3][6]

She is an honorary visiting professor at the University of Warwick,[7] vice-president of the Gaskell Society[8] and a trustee of the Wordsworth Trust.[9] She was formerly a member of the British Library's Advisory Group for the Humanities.[3]


Uglow compiled an encyclopaedia of biographies of prominent women, first published in 1982; the work is currently in its fourth edition and contains over 2,000 biographies,[10][11] 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.[12]

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".[13][14]

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).[15]

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,[16] and a review of The Lunar Men in The Observer claims "never has the eighteenth century come so much to life."[17] 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."[18] Frances Spalding considers Nature's Engraver to be "immeasurably enriched by Uglow's canny grasp of period detail."[19] 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."[20]

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."[21] 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.[22] 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."[23]

Other writing and editing[edit]

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".[3][6] 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.[3][24]

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[edit]

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.[25][26] She has also twice appeared on the Radio 4 discussion programme, In Our Time.[27] 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).[6][28]

Awards and honours[edit]

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).[29][30] 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 several of her books have reached the shortlist or longlist of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction.[3][31] 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.[32] In These Times, her study of the home front during the Napoleonic Wars, was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize in 2014.[33]

Uglow is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[34] She is a past chair of its Council,[35] and as of 2017, serves as one of its vice-presidents.[36] She was awarded the society's Benson Medal in 2012.[37] She has been awarded honorary degrees by the University of Birmingham, University of Kent, Staffordshire University and Birmingham City University.[38][39][40][41] In 2008, she was awarded the OBE for services to literature and publishing.[1] In 2010, she succeeded Aeronwy Thomas as president of the Alliance of Literary Societies.[42]

For Mr Lear, Uglow was awarded with the Hawthornden Prize in 2018.


Biographies and studies[edit]

Other nonfiction[edit]

As editor[edit]

  • 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)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "No. 58557". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 2007. p. 12. (accessed 5 February 2008).
  2. ^ a b Uglow Family History: Uglows in Kent (accessed 5 February 2008).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g RSA Lectures: Jenny Uglow Archived 14 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 5 February 2008).
  4. ^ Spotlight: Guild members in print. The Slab 2005 (accessed 5 February 2008)
  5. ^ St Anne's College, University of Oxford: Distinguished alumnae (accessed 5 February 2008).
  6. ^ a b c d Jenny Uglow website (accessed 5 February 2008).
  7. ^ Warwick University: English and Comparative Literary Studies: Permanent Academic Staff: Prof. J. Uglow (accessed 5 February 2008)
  8. ^ The Gaskell Society Committee (accessed 6 February 2008)
  9. ^ The Wordsworth Trust Trustees and Fellows Archived 7 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 6 February 2008).
  10. ^ 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)
  11. ^ Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography:, 4th Edition (accessed 6 February 2008).
  12. ^ Uglow J. Friends reunited. The Guardian (30 April 2005) (accessed 7 February 2008).
  13. ^ Easson A. Further reading. In: Gaskell EC. Ruth, p. xxvii (Penguin Classics; 1997) (accessed 6 February 2008).
  14. ^ Hamilton S. Gaskell then and now. In: The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Gaskell (Matus JL, ed.), p. 187 (Cambridge University Press; 2007).
  15. ^ Buchan J. Reaching for the moon. Guardian (14 September 2002) (accessed 6 February 2008)
  16. ^ A. S. Byatt "Take a leaf out of their books", The Guardian, 25 November 2006, accessed 8 February 2008.
  17. ^ Wood G. Fly me to the moon... The Observer (1 September 2002) (accessed 7 February 2008).
  18. ^ Peter Ackroyd, The Times (quoted at the author's website; accessed 7 February 2008)
  19. ^ Spalding F. The world in miniature. The Guardian (30 September 2006) (accessed 8 February 2008).
  20. ^ Chandler D. Jenny Uglow, Hogarth: A Life and a World. (Book review) Romanticism on the Net 8 (November 1997) (accessed 8 February 2008).
  21. ^ Byatt AS. In: Personal best, The Guardian (7 December 2002) (accessed 7 February 2008).
  22. ^ Kimmelman M. An 18th-Century Paparazzo. New York Times (30 November 1997) (accessed 8 February 2008).
  23. ^ Macdonald H. On birds and beauty. New Statesman (13 November 2006) (accessed 8 February 2008).
  24. ^ Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography: Author Biographies (accessed 5 February 2008).
  25. ^ BBC Radio 4: William Blake anniversary (accessed 5 February 2008).
  26. ^ Chisholm K. Radical prophet: The Poet of Albion (Radio Four). The Spectator (28 November 2007) (accessed 5 February 2008).
  27. ^ BBC website: In Our Time: The Discovery of Oxygen & The Lunar Society (accessed 5 February 2008).
  28. ^ IMDb: Jenny Uglow (accessed 5 February 2008).
  29. ^ James Tait Black Memorial Prizes: Previous winners – Biography Archived 26 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 5 February 2008).
  30. ^ Hessell-Tiltman Prize – Archive & History (accessed 5 February 2008).
  31. ^ Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction: Previous Winners, Shortlists and Judges (accessed 7 February 2008).
  32. ^ Rickett J. The bookseller. The Guardian (13 January 2007) (accessed 8 February 2008).
  33. ^ "Jenny Uglow". Faber and Faber. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  34. ^ Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature Archived 7 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 5 February 2008).
  35. ^ Gaisford, Sue. "Jenny Uglow is to be the next Chair of the RSL". Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  36. ^ Council, Royal Society of Literature, retrieved 4 January 2017
  37. ^ The Benson Medal, Royal Society of Literature, retrieved 4 January 2017
  38. ^ University of Birmingham: Honours and Awards 2003 (accessed 5 February 2008).
  39. ^ University of Kent: Top comedian and actor to receive University of Kent Honorary Degree Archived 18 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 5 February 2008).
  40. ^ Staffordshire University: Previous Honorary Awards Archived 31 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 5 February 2008).
  41. ^ Birmingham City University: Faculty of Law, Humanities, Development and Society: University honour for author Jenny Uglow (accessed 5 February 2008).
  42. ^ The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum: News Archived 2 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 16 January 2013).
  43. ^ Gaskill, Malcolm (4 October 2009). "Review of A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration by Jenny Uglow". The Telegraph.
  44. ^ Marshall, Megan (1 February 2013). "Review: The Pinecone by Jenny Uglow". NY Times.
  45. ^ Damrosch, Leo (30 January 2015). "Review: In These Times by Jenny Uglow". The New York Times.
  46. ^ Sinclair, Jill (18 June 2004). "Review: A Little History of British Gardening by Jenny Uglow". The Guardian.

External links[edit]