Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing and informative "virtual autobiography" ., 20 Feb. 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Wainewright the Poisoner (Paperback)
This book may well come to achieve minor classic status. Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has contrived a compelling virtual autobiography of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, an early 19th century artist,and literary critic who was convicted of fraud and subsequently transported to Tasmania (Van Diemen's Land). The suspicion also hung over Wainewright that he had murdered three of his close relatives by poisoning, in a failed attempt to restore himself to financial solvency.
Motion has ingeniously re-constructed the life of Wainewright in the ghosted first person, drawing upon what sources of evidence remain. His authentic evocation of an insidiously malevolent malcontent and his rarefied mileau commands the reader's attention throughout.
Wainewright was an effusive and self-obsessed dandy who lived extravagantly beyond his means and bore a grudge against a society which he felt was denying him "what was rightfully his" and whose moral codes he held in contempt.
As he lurches from crisis to crisis, Wainewright philosophically contemplates the effects of his downwardly-spiralling circumstances upon his "Self". The gap between the high ideals of the Romantics, of whom Wainewright was a devotee, and the sordid realities of his own slippery machinations is a constant theme. In addition we learn much about the harsh conditions in Newgate prison at the time and particularly about the fate of those unfortunate enough to be transported to a barbarous Van Diemen's Land on hellish prison "hulks".
Wainewright, who penned literary criticism under the pseudonym "Janus Weathercock", may appear an obscure figure to attract a Poet Laureate's attention. However, he was an acquaintance of leading lights in the Romantic movement such as Keats, Clare, Coleridge and Blake. He also painted a portrait of Lord Byron and was remembered in an essay by Oscar Wilde in which Wilde attempts a defence of the morally indefensible.
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