What is the mystery of Thomas Chatterton? A young poet and elderly female novelist try to decode the clues found within an 18th-century manuscript, only to discover that their investigation is disclosing other secrets for which there is no solution.
When novelist George Meredith posed as Chatterton in Henry Wallace's painting "The Death of Chatterton," is it true that the painter made off with his oblivious model's wife?
In the present day, were the papers found by poetaster Charles Wychwood in Bristol really the confessions of Chatterton written in his own hand? And what about that painting of Chatterton as a middle-aged man? (He was supposedly 17 when he died.)
Will literary "resurrectionist" Harriet Scrope succeed in taking Wychwood's work on Chatterton and passing it off as her own, just as Stewart Merk merrily signed the dead painter Seymour's name to his own work?
Why am I asking so many questions?
Because there are no answers. That's all right, though, because the questions are great; and they just keep on coming. If you read this book, you will sink deep into a morass of counterfeiting, fraud, and outright fakery.
Be prepared to be bamboozled ... and entertained.
It is not surprising that Peter Ackroyd would be interesting in writing a novel about Chatterton's life, since the author has long been interested in masks, impersonation, and other ways of presenting a public pretense. Consequently, this is not a historical novel, although it deals with real people and real times. After all, little is really known about Chatterton beyond his poems. Obviously dissatisfied with the time and place of his birth, Chatterton creates Rowley as a way of improving his lot in life, or, at least, that is clearly his intention. But in the real world Chatterton cannot function. He takes pride in writing political satires that attack everyone and everything, but in failing to have convictions and a particular point of view, he reveals that in presenting other identities he has lost his true one. In this regard and in this novel, however, he is clearly not alone.
"Chatterton" is clearly not a conventional historical novel is that Ackroyd repeatedly plays with chronology. He is more interested in comparing and contrasting events than he is in sequencing them appropriately.Read more ›