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Biographer Richard Holmes

Venue: National Library of Australia, Canberra, at 6pm on Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The HRC Seymour Lecture in Biography is presented in association with Australian Book Review, which will publish the Lecture in full later this year.

Supported by the National Library of Australia

Biography: the Past has a Great Future

Richard Holmes

Richard Holmes






Richard and John Seymour

Ricahrd and John Seymour


Richard Holmes will talk about the importance of the great tradition of popular biography both in Britain and Australia, and the growing influence of “life writing” as it has currently developed. Drawing on his own experience as a working biographer over forty years, he will also discuss the value of teaching biography in universities, and the possible direction of biographical writing in the future.

Richard Holmes is a Fellow of the British Academy, and was Professor of Biographical Studies at the University of East Anglia (2001-7). He is editor of the Harper Perennial series Classic Biographies launched in 2004. He holds honorary doctorates from UEA, University of Kingston, University of East London and the Tavistock Institute, and was awarded an OBE in 1992.

His first book, Shelley: The Pursuit, won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1974. Coleridge: Early Visions won the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year, and Dr Johnson & Mr Savage won the James Tait Black Prize. Coleridge: Darker Reflections, won the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award. He has published two studies of European biography, Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer in 1985, and Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer in 2000; together with a number of more academic essays on the discipline of biography.

His recent monograph on biography and portraiture for the National Portrait Gallery, Insights: The Romantic Poets and their Circle (2005), was unusual in that it included scientists alongside literary writers. He has also written many drama-documentaries for BBC Radio, most recently The Frankenstein Experiment (2002), and A Cloud in a Paper Bag (2007) about 18th century balloon mania.

He is has just completed The Age of Wonder, a large and controversial biographical study of scientists in the Romantic Period, which will be published in September 2008 by HarperCollins Australia and UK, and Pantheon USA. Described as “a relay-race of scientific stories”, it makes a radical re-interpretation of the impact of scientific discovery on Romanticism, and includes astronomers, chemists, balloonists, explorers and “a surprising number of not-so-crazy poets”. He gave his most recent papers at the BAAS Science Festival Norwich (The Origin of Scientists), at the British Academy London (Scientific Discovery and the Poets), at the University of Verona, and the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (What is Happening in British Biography), and at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Richard Holmes repeated his lecture at: Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Copies of this lecture which is in Issue No. 306, p26 please contact Australian Book Review E: