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Top Customer Reviews
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 ›
As with other novels by Ackroyd ("The Great Fire of London" and "Hawksmoor" for example), past periods both intersect with and influence the present. Ackroyd's London both lives in the present and lives through, or with, its past: what we perceive as present reality is in essence a mixture of now and then.
The story flows between:
- the present, when the discovery of a supposed portrait of the middle-aged Chatterton (who in fact died in his teens) sets off an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the poet's death;
- Chatterton's boyhood and youth in eighteenth century Bristol and London; and
- a Victorian painter working on a depiction of Chatterton's death.
As the investigation unfolds and the time periods mix, truth and reality become unreliable: our view of the both past and present is incomplete, we have to rely on sources who may themselves be unreliable and fill in the gaps by use of our own imagination. The result of this is that we either take things on trust and/or let our imaginations run wild. Thus we can be duped - as Chatterton duped contemporary audiences.
Most recent customer reviews
"Chatterton" by Peter Ackroyd is a quirky, but interesting novel about an aged poet who discovers a lost journal that could turn the literary world upside down. Read morePublished on May 8 2004 by Peter LaPrade
Peter Ackroyd's "Chatterton" was shortlisted for the Booker Prize award in 1987. It didn't win and remains a largely forgotten gem, being seldom if ever included in... Read morePublished on June 29 2000