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Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832 Hardcover – 9 May 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; 1st Edition edition (9 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297864300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297864301
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.1 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 30,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Antonia Fraser creates gorgeous portraits of the landed aristocrats, who fought for the Great Reform Bill of 1832. It is a remarkable story told by an excellent storyteller. (David Aaronovitch THE TIMES)

Fraser's rollicking history... brisk engrossing narrative..... as a pure storyteller she has few equals (Dominic Sandbrook SUNDAY TIMES)

Antonia Fraser's superb narrative of the passing of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, one of the most potentially revolutionary moments in British politics, provides incisive pen portraits of all the major protagonists. (DAILY TELEGRAPH)

A political thriller - Borgen in the era of Middlemarch... It is a remarkable story told by an excellent storyteller, with a flair for character and a rare sympathy for context. (David Aaronovitch THE TIMES - Book of the Week)

This is history as it should be written: lively, witty and, above all, a cracking good read. I found it almost impossible to put down. (Jane Ridley THE SPECTATOR)

Not a typical summer blockbuster, but Fraser's analysis of the years preceding the Great Reform Act of 1832 is a rollicking good read, with rakish revolutionaries and reforming heroes (VOGUE)

The 1820s and early 1830s have all too often been seen as a historical backwater between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the start of the Victorian era that began with the queen's accession in 1837. With Fraser's erudite and acute portrait of this age of reform, it won't be thought so anymore. (Andrew Roberts SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Her deft pen portraits and gift for dramatic narrative had me on the edge of my seat, even though I know the plot backwards (Boyd Hilton LITERARY REVIEW)

Antonia Fraser's vivid account is particularly strong on characters (Kwasi Kwarteng EVENING STANDARD)

Brisk and engrossing...Her book is a mine of juicy details, not all of the familiar. Until 1832, Britain's democracy was so ramshackle and corrupt that while Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds had no MPs at all, the rotten borough of Old Sarum, which consisted of "a lump of stone and a green field", had two. (Dominic Sandbrook SUNDAY TIMES)

You could almost be reading a novel as the reforming Whigs take on the Conservative opposition aided by a cast of revolutionaries like William Cobbett. (Theo Walden THE LADY)

Fraser deftly charts the parliamentary brinkmanship - including the Prime Minister threatening to drown the Tory opposition in the House of Lords in a flood of newly created Whig peers - that finally brought victory to the Reformists, and nationwide celebrations at the passage of the legislation in 1832. (John Adamson MAIL ON SUNDAY)

This, then, was probably the closest we ever got to full-blooded revolution, and Fraser describes it all with gusto. As she says in her introduction, we know the Reform Bill will pass, but the people who fought for it did not. And the people are the meat and drink of this story...It all makes for a rich landscape, a gripping tale and another fine book from one of our best popular historians. (Marcus Berkmann DAILY MAIL)

She is a knowledgeable guide, spicing her narrative with vivid sketches of the anxieties of individuals involved, from the kings dismay at the indiscretions of Queen Adelaide to Lord Grey's grief at the death of his little grandson, the "Red Boy" of Thomas Lawrence's portrait. Such details give humanity and vigour to the story of one of the most important moments in British history. (Sue Gaisford FINANCIAL TIMES)

Written with colour, pace and learning, Fraser's history of the Great Reform Bill of 1832 and its rocky passage into law speaks clearly to politics today. The country, eager for even this limited increase in the franchise, was thwarted for months by a diehard Westminster elite. The people did prevail - in the end. (i NEWSPAPER)

This is popular history of a very high order. Elegantly written, lavishly illustrated and deftly argued, it is a brilliant and entertaining evocation of a turning point in British history...In Antonia Fraser, the "perilous question" has found an apt chronicler, who may yet rescue the Reform Bill from the gross amnesia of posterity. (Robert Saunders TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT)

What I don't remember from school is how thoroughly entertaining it was. What a slice of human drama, how tense, how crucial and how very nearly it could have foundered, thereby propelling our nation into riot and revolution. For that we need impeccable historian Antonia Fraser, who invests such humanity in her huge cast of characters. (Jennifer Selway DAILY EXPRESS)

Lady Antonia (who was created a Dame in 2011 for services to literature) can be relied upon to build her story around personalities, and to portray them so skillfully that the reader becomes totally absorbed in their fortunes. (John Ure COUNTRY LIFE)

This is one of Antonia Fraser's very best books, well up to the standard of her admirable life of Cromwell and her gut-wrenchingly brilliant life of Marie Antoinette. When you have read it, you will not only have grasped all the twists and turns of one of the great parliamentary adventures of history, you will also feel as if you have spent the most entertaining week at a Whig house-party. (AN Wilson THE TABLET)

An engaging account of those turbulent times (CATHOLIC HERALD)

Antonia Fraser's wonderfully vivid, authentic and impeccably sourced account of the passage of this bill paints a picture of tempestuous times when a disenfranchised people, struck by poverty, chose reform in Parliament as their placard. (Giles Broadbent WHARF.CO.UK)

Fraser's book is worth reading to get an overview of the revolutionary upsurge which led to the passing of the 1832 Great Reform Bill. (THE NEWSLINE)

Antonia Fraser relates these events with tremendous verve, admirably describing the exuberance and fury stirred up by Reform and explaining complex issues with exemplary clarity. (Anne Somerset STANDPOINT)

Perilous Question is a cracking good read and should be on every parliamentarian's summer reading list. (TOTAL POLITICS)

The bill was finally passed after a titantic two year struggle. Antonia Fraser's work transforms our understanding of it. This is the best history book I have read so far this year. (Lord Lexden THE HOUSE MAGAZINE)

Antonia Fraser is one of the most readable historians writing today, and her aim is to be accessible to those who enjoy history but are not necessarily academics. She does a wonderful job here, describing and explaining the events surrounding the Great Reform Bill of 1832, which was Britain's belated response to the events of the French Revolution. It was far from perfect in terms of how many more people received the vote, but it almost certainly avoided a full-blooded insurrection. (GOOD BOOK GUIDE)

This is a wonderful Westminster thriller, played out by characters both heroic and irredeemably crass. Fraser draws them all with her usual deft hand and dramatic instinct. (Dan Jones THE TIMES)

This is the brilliant history and storytelling we always expect from Fraser - impossible to put down. (Kate Williams BBC HISTORY)

A country divided, perhaps on the brink of revolution; a parliament rich with political intrigue, orotund speeches and ripe characters - the Reform crisis of the 1830s is a story waiting for a popular retelling. (THE OLDIE)

From the first paragraph Fraser renders it a compelling drama with a cast of characters as awful, marvellous, duplicitous, self-seeking and public spirited as any that Dickens invented. The parallels with today are glaring and the lessons still only partially learned, the consequences as yet not fully redeemed. The brilliance of Fraser is that she sees everything first in human terms - this is history made by people for people and it's the people that dance, posture and rise with a moving grandeur off the page. (AA Gill NEW STATESMAN)

Documenting powerful change, the author brings to life an exciting chapter of history which divided a nation (DISCOVER BRITAIN)

Antonia Fraser's PERILOUS QUESTION succeeds in making a gripping read out of the political crisis of the Great Reform Bill. Lord Grey - the idealistic older statesman with his tight-fitting white pantaloons - emerges as an unexpected hero. (Jane Ridley THE SPECTATOR)

a lively story of human drama and political intrigue (DAILY TELEGRAPH)

Book Description

The two-year revolution that totally changed how Britain is governed.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Huw Davies on 24 July 2013
Format: Hardcover
The period surrounding the passing of the Great Reform Act 1832 is often overlooked due to its seemingly dull core of electoral administration and reform. However, as Antonia Fraser expertly shows in this work, nothing could be further from the truth.

Fraser's success in this work is threefold. Firstly, she describes with great aplomb the social upheavals and tensions which were taking place in the 1830s, and why the Reform Bill fuelled massive protests and helped spark the beginning of political parties and trades unions.

Secondly, she not only explains how the Bill worked and its passage through Parliament, but goes into intricate detail about the key players in this fight for reform:- the Prime Minister Earl Grey (he of tea fame), the leader of the opposition Tories, the Duke of Wellington (he of boot fame), King William IV and numerous others. By the end you feel you have not only read an account of the Reform Act but also detailed sections of these people's biographies.

Finally Fraser explains the impact the Act itself had on future generations. Personally I would have liked this bit slightly longer, and a few more links to today's political arguments would've been nice, but they aren't enough for me to take this from the 5-star mark.

This is an excellent book and anyone with an interest in history or politics will find it a fascinating read.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 12 May 2013
Format: Hardcover
Antonia Fraser says she wrote her latest book for herself. Many other readers will enjoy it too. The latest book is a fine addition to her earlier works on Cromwell, the wives of Henry V111, and Marie Antoinette. Like these books 'Perilous Question' is strong on depicting characters, and there are many ranging from bean-pole Earl Grey, Lord John Russell and the almost deaf irascible Duke of Wellington who believed any reform of the electoral system would bring the:'destruction of government in England'. Thanks to Fraser we learn about their gross gluttony (the King), physical problems, addiction to alcohol, mistresses and numerous bastard cildren. We also learn how Victoria very nearly missed becoming Queen.

Revolution was endemic in Europe between 1789 and mid 19th century. In 1830 revolution brought Louis Philippe to power, and many in England feared our monarchy was in danger. Fraser argues that the country was a tinderbox. She like many writers before believes that the reform of 1832 averted revolution.

In 1830 our electoral system was medieval. The old landed aristocracy monopolised poitical power. Corruption was widespread throughout the electoral system. Every schoolboy at one time knew about pocket boroughs, rotten boroughs and bought boroughs. There existed scandals like Dunwich that still returned two members to the Commons despite having fallen into the sea. Of course, everyone must know of Old Sarum. It should be note however that recent research has shown that the level of corruption while still significant has been much exaggerated.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Michael S on 2 Aug 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was received with great acclaim and in some ways it merits it. There is certainly nothing about the 1832 Reform Act that a general reader would want to know that is omitted.The characters of the time, especially Grey and Wellington emerge quite clearly. On the other hand, as the author acknowledges, the Act was only a beginning: a small addition to the number of electors and the end of a number of abuses.It may be a book for the historian but I found a number of longueurs and learning too much about too little. Perhaps a book on the reform acts in general would be of more use to the non-specialist reader. I was also surprised by the number of usage errors that a good editor should have picked up. In short, this is a worthy read but not exactly an entertaining one.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER on 7 Aug 2013
Format: Hardcover
I always look out for books by Antonia Fraser, as her writing always thrills as well as enlightens the reader. This book, on the Reform Bill of 1832, may sound rather prosaic, or even dull. But it is anything but. The drama, as the title of the book so rightly suggests, is present throughout. While it may seem strange to us today that in 1830, when William IV became King, only a small percentage of men had the right to vote, that "rotten" boroughs existed, that bribery and corruption, and the power of aristocratic landlords to nominate MPs to represent their landholdings and surrounding countryside, back then the undercurrent calling for Reform grew from small beginnings to a call from the "people" that could no longer be ignored by any incoming Government. With Europe in an uproar from revolutions and the overthrow of monarchies, the King and his Government needed to walk a fine line between reform that could threaten their own positions, and revolution that could topple them. The Tories and the Whigs fought their individual battles from their individual entrenched positions.

This book tells the tales of these men (and women), the growing Unions and agitators for reform, those who sought to better the lives of those in a large underclass in a growing industrial Britain, and those who read the signs of Europe and saw their own dooms written therein. This is great stuff; exciting, exhilirating, cutthroat politics at their best, and brought to the reader in this wonderful book by a masterful teller of such tales. Definitely recommended.
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