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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating account of Chartism, 21 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Alton Locke: Tailor and Poet: An Autobiography (Paperback)
I should note that I read this in an old Oxford Worlds Classics edition edited by Elizabeth Cripps.

This is a (mostly) readable and interesting `condition of England' novel, which invites comparison with Disraeli's `Sybil' and Gaskell's `Mary Barton'. Alton is an intelligent and ambitious tailor with some rich relations who introduce him into high society and encourage his ambitions as a poet. Alton is torn between feelings of resentment and admiration for his new friends. Although he has strong Chartist sympathies he tones down the radical sections of his poetry in order to curry favour with publishers and patrons. Much of the novel deals with his attempts to negotiate competing pressures from violent revolutionaries and social conservatives. The descriptions of working life, grinding poverty, sweatshops, desperate rioters and the (rather blogosphere-like) radical press are all compelling.

I found interesting parallels between `Alton Locke' and the better known `Water Babies' even though (until we reach the slightly surreal final chapters) `Alton Locke' is a broadly realistic novel. The young hero faces similar kinds of moral and practical hurdles in his quest for growth. The two contrasting girl cousins, flimsy, pretty Lillan and the sterner but more worthy Eleanor, reminded me of the fairies Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. Both girls might be compared with Ellie, the beautiful and socially superior girl whom Tom strives to win. `Alton Locke' also reveals the same interest in natural history and evolution which is so prominent in `The Water Babies'.

I found the ending rather disappointing - and Kingsley just isn't (I don't think) as good at this sort of thing as Gaskell although he does cover rather different ground - but I recommend this to anyone who enjoys Victorian novels about social issues.
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Sarah A. Brown
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: Cambridge

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