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Chatterton

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Audio Cassette
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc. (Oct. 15 1997)
  • ISBN-10: 0736640134
  • ISBN-13: 978-0736640138
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
Did Thomas Chatterton, one of the great forger/poets of the 18th century, die of an overdose of laudanum in 1770? Or did he fake his own death and continue merrily publishing work under the names of recently deceased poets?
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.
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Format: Paperback
Thomas Chatterton was a real 18th-century poet. As a teenager he invented a 15th-century poet, Thomas Rowley and wrote poems in an appropriately archaic style. As a young man he went off to London, wrote poems and short stories, but could not sell enough of his work to make a living and committed suicide by eating arsenic. The poems of Rowley were collected and published after Chatterton's death, but it was not until the third edition that it was revealed the poems were entirely Chatterton's invention and his short and tragic life was embraced by the Romantics: Keats wrote a sonnet to Chatterton, Wordsworth used him in a poem, and he was the subject of Oscar Wilde's last lecture.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Ackroyd uses the eighteenth century forger-poet, Thomas Chatterton, as the main subject of a stylish examination of how humans can conjure up pasts which suit their sense of romance rather than dealing with the mundane facts, and somewhat paradoxically, how they can accept present appearances without question.
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.
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