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The operas of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan are an institution. Hesketh Pearson’s biography is of the two men who together formed a famous partnership and he is interested in them as individual, quite different personalities – one of the explanations behind their equally famous quarrel. Pearson describes their lives rather than criticise their works. As the operas such as ‘The Mikado’ and ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ live on the stage, here their authors come to life in a biography.
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Born in 1887 at Hawford, Worcesterhire, Hesketh Pearson was educated at Bedford Grammar School, then worked in a shipping Office and spent two years in America before beginning a career as an actor in 1911. Until 1931 he worked successfully in the theatre, which provided many insights for his subsequent writing career. Pearson's early works included 'Modern Men and Mummers' which consisted of sketches of well-known figures in the theatre, and also short stories in 'Iron Rations'. 'Doctor Darwin', a biography of Darwin which was published in 1930, was widely acclaimed and established him as one of the leading popular biographers of his day. Subsequently he concentrated on his writing full-time. However, for a period of some seven years he was in the doldrums, following an unsuccessful attempt to get the title 'Whispering Gallery' published. He nonetheless persisted, and subsequently had published several important biographies of major figures, such as Conan Doyle, Gilbert and Sullivan and George Bernard Shaw. His skill and expertise was widely recognised, such that for example he was able to gain the co-operation of Shaw, who both contributed and later wrote a critique of his biography, and the executors of Conan Doyle's estate who gave Pearson unprecedented access to private papers. Pearson was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He died in 1964. His biographies have stood the test of time and are still regarded as definitive works on their subjects.
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