Royal Holloway English Department has produced some of our most illustrious alumni.
Our English programmes are some of the College’s longest-established – and their alumni among the most successful.
One of our earliest alumnae was the novelist George Eliot, and today our graduates include yet more literary figures and distinguished academics, broadcasters and journalism professionals.
Sarah Perry (1979-)
MA and PhD Creative Writing
Sunday Times number one bestselling author, Sarah Perry has enjoyed great critical acclaim for her second novel, The Essex Serpent, for which she won Waterstones' Book of the Year 2016 and Overall Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2017.
Upon a recent visit at Royal Holloway to speak with students about her pathway to critical success as a fiction writer, Perry said:
'My overall impression was of a room full of these extraordinary students and lecturers who asked such generous and insightful questions and I felt very fortunate to be back in that atmosphere of learning. Given half a chance I would just be a student for the rest of my life! It was just nice to be back.'
George Eliot (aka Mary Anne Evans) (1819-1880)
1849, Bedford College
One of the first students to attend Bedford College, George Eliot is famous for the novels Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1872) and Daniel Deronda (1876).
Victorian convention led her to write using a male nom-de-plume. She was a humane free-thinker whose insightful psychological novels anticipated the narrative methods of modern literature.
Her interest in the interior life of people prompted D.H. Lawrence to write: "it was really George Eliot who started it all. It was she (who) started putting action inside."
Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913)
English, 1893 Royal Holloway College
Emily Wilding Davison was renowned for her leading role in the Suffragette movement.
She joined the Women's Social and Political Union in 1906 and began a campaign of extreme protest, including an attack on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, going on hunger strike, and throwing herself down flights of stairs. This led her to be imprisoned on numerous occasions.
It has been argued that the harsh treatment she received whilst in prison drove her to the conclusion that only the ultimate sacrifice would bring success for the Suffragettes. During the 1913 Epsom Derby she collided with King George V's horse, dying in hospital four days later.
Jane Gardam OBE FRSL (1928-)
BA English, 1949 Bedford College; Honorary Doctorate, 2010
A distinguished and prolific novelist, Gardam was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1978 and is the only writer to win two Whitbread Prizes (now the Costa Book Award) for The Queen of the Tambourines and The Hollow Land (Children's Award).
She also won the 1984 Katherine Mansfield Award for The Pangs of Love, the 1989 Prix Baudelaire for God on the Rocks and the 1995 PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award for Going into a Dark House.
Her popular novel Old Filth was shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize and Last Friends was shortlisted for the 2014 Folio Prize. Her books have often been televised and serialised on the radio.
Miranda Seymour (1948-)
BA English, 1981 Bedford College
Miranda Seymour is an acclaimed biographer, novelist and literary critic. She is a regular reviewer for the Sunday Times, New York Times Book Review, Times Literary Supplement and The Independent among others.
Her study of Henry James, Ring of Conspirators: Henry James and his Literary Circle 1895-1915 was widely admired when it was published in 1988 and she has written biographies of Lady Ottoline Morrell, Robert Graves, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron’s wife and daughter.
Francis Wheen (1957-)
BA English, 1978 Royal Holloway College and Honorary Fellow
Francis Wheen is a leading political journalist and deputy editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye. He was Columnist of the Year in 1997 for his weekly column in The Guardian and has written for most of the broadsheet newspapers.
He now concentrates on writing books which have included highly-acclaimed biographies of Karl Marx and the Labour MP Tom Driberg, the latter having been shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize.
He has made several appearances as a guest on the BBC satirical show Have I Got News For You and is a regular panelist on the perennial Radio 4 favourite The News Quiz.
Mary Nightingale (1963-)
BA English, 1985 Bedford College
A familiar face on television as presenter of ITN’s evening news, Mary Nightingale first made her name as the presenter of ITV's Wish You Were Here...? between 1999 and 2001.
She is best known as the co-presenter of London News Network's flagship London Tonight with Alastair Stewart and as sole presenter of London Today.
In both 2002 and 2004 she was named Newscaster of the Year by the Television & Radio Industries Club. By 2015, she was the oldest female network newsreader on British terrestrial television, which she wrote about in an article for The Guardian.