Pearson, Hesketh, 1887-1964

Alternative names
Birth 1887-02-20
Death 1964-04-09

Biographical notes:

English author of biographies, short stories, plays, and travel writing.

From the description of Hesketh Pearson Papers, 1789-2001 (bulk 1921-1964). (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 122481627

Biographer of Oscar Wilde.

From the description of Letters : concerning Oscar Wilde, [1882]-1945 (bulk 1943-1945). (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122316949

Hesketh Pearson

Hesketh Pearson published his first full-length biography, Doctor Darwin, when he was 43. By the time of his death thirty-four years later he had written another eighteen biographies, three travel books (all with Hugh Kingsmill), three books of reminiscences (one written with Malcolm Muggeridge), four collections of brief lives, a collection of short stories and essays, and a book on the craft of biographical writing, as well as numerous articles and talks. In England he was the most popular and successful biographer of his time.

He was born Edward Hesketh Gibbons Pearson on 20 February 1887 in Worcestershire, England, to Thomas Henry Gibbons Pearson, a farmer, and the former Amy Mary Constance Biggs. Instead of pursuing his education beyond grammar school, he worked at a series of jobs and traveled through North and South America. In 1911 his passion for Shakespeare and the theater led him to try his hand at acting, and he joined the company of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, playing minor roles. He also acted with the companies of Harley Granville-Barker and Sir George Alexander.

After three years' service during World War I with the Army Service Corps in the Middle East, during which he was mentioned in dispatches and earned the Military Cross, Pearson left with the rank of captain and returned to the stage. He began writing short stories and articles and published his first book, Modern Men and Mummers, a collection of biographical vignettes, in 1921. With the success of his first full-length biography, Doctor Darwin (1930), he left the stage and supported himself by writing for the rest of his life.

In 1912 he married the actress Gladys Rosalind Bardili, and they had a son, Henry Car Hesketh Pearson, who was killed in 1939 in the Spanish Civil War. Gladys died in 1951 and the same year he married Dorothy Joyce Ryder, who survived him.

A mutual interest in Frank Harris led to his meeting Hugh Kingsmill Lunn in 1921, and the two formed a close friendship. Lunn dropped his last name when he began publishing biographies and novels and was known both professionally and privately as Hugh Kingsmill. Together they wrote three books of a unique mix of travel writing, reminiscence, and literary gossip. Kingsmill died in 1949.

Throughout his career Pearson made the acquaintance of many celebrated writers and performers, including Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris, Alfred Douglas, Max Beerbohm, Sir Francis Galton, Winston Churchill, P. G. Wodehouse, and G. K. Chesterton.

Pearson died 9 April 1964.

Michael Holroyd

Michael Holroyd, Pearson's heir and literary executor, was born in London on 27 August 1935. After work in a solicitors' firm and service in the army, he made the acquaintance of the novelist William Alexander Gerhardie, who encouraged him to produce his first biography, Hugh Kingsmill: A Critical Biography (1964), during the writing of which he and Pearson became friends.

His next book was the highly successful Lytton Strachey: A Critical Biography (1967-1968), followed by Augustus John: A Biography (1974-1975). By this time Holroyd was so esteemed as a biographer that he received a record £625,000 advance for his next book, which was the four-volume Bernard Shaw (1988-1992), a project that took almost twenty years to complete and was received with unprecedented acclaim.

From the guide to the Hesketh Pearson Papers TXRC03-A16., 1789-2001 (bulk 1921-1964), (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Tree, Herbert Beerbohm, Sir, 1853-1917
  • Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir, 1859-1930
  • Scott, Walter, Sir, 1771-1832
  • Shaw, Bernard, 1856-1950
  • Biography
  • Travel writing
  • Harris, Frank, 1855-1931
  • Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900
  • Gilbert, W. S. (William Schwenck), 1836-1911


  • Authors
  • Artists
  • Biographers


  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)