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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 April, 2005, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Award for peasant poet biographer
Jonathan Bate
Bate says John Clare's life is an extraordinary story
A biography of the Northamptonshire peasant poet John Clare has won a prestigious literary prize.

University of Warwick academic Jonathan Bate says he wrote about Clare because he considered him the most underrated of the great English poets.

"John Clare: A Biography" is an account of the life of the early 19th Century poet, who died in a lunatic asylum.

Scotland's James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography has been awarded annually since 1919.

Driven to madness

Professor Bate said he wanted to write a book about Clare that would do the poet justice as there had never been a book worthy of his memory.

"It's an extraordinary life story of triumph and tragedy. The triumph was that an impoverished agricultural labourer became, for a short time, a bestselling author," Prof Bate said.

"The tragedy was that the strain of that drove him to madness and he spent the last 20 years of his life in a lunatic asylum."

Clare, who was born in 1793 and died in 1864 in Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, is buried in St Botolph's churchyard, Helpston, Cambridgeshire, where there is a memorial to him.

The James Tait Black fiction prize goes to Tokoyo-based David Peace for a novel about the 1984 miners' strike, "GB 84."

It follows the thoughts of a striking miner against a backdrop of unfolding historical events.

Previous winners of the biography prize include Lytton Strachey, John Buchan, Lady Antonia Fraser and Quentin Bell.

The awards ceremony is at the University of Edinburgh on Thursday night.


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