Peter Ackroyd 1949-
English novelist, biographer, nonfiction writer, critic, poet, and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Ackroyd's career through 2000.
A leading practitioner of “British historiographic metafiction,” Peter Ackroyd has built his reputation upon a growing number of challenging novels and significant literary biographies that highlight the interplay of historical time, literary influence, and the problem of authorship. Ackroyd's unique literary vision is marked by a belief that writers find their voice through emulating writers of the past, a corollary to his theory that writing emanates not from life experiences, but from the writing that has preceded it. Accordingly, obscure references to English literature and shifting perspectives among author, protagonist, and other fictional and non-fictional characters abound in his texts. In acclaimed biographies such as T. S. Eliot: A Life (1984) and Dickens (1990), and novels such as Hawksmoor (1986), Chatterton (1988), and Milton in America: A Novel (1997), Ackroyd celebrates English culture and merges fact and fiction.
The only child of parents who separated early in his life, Ackroyd was raised by his mother, Audrey Whiteside Ackroyd, and his maternal grandparents in a public housing project in West London. The family was Roman Catholic, and Ackroyd's religious heritage influenced both his critical work and his fiction. Early in life he was determined to escape his working-class origins, and at age ten he received a scholarship to attend a Catholic school in Ealing, Saint Benedict's. In 1968 he matriculated at Clare College, Cambridge, from which he graduated in 1971 with a double first in English literature. He then spent two years as a Mellon fellow at Yale University, where he was influenced by the avant-garde poetry of John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch. Ackroyd's early ambition was to be a poet, and his first published works, Ouch (1971) and London Lickpenny (1973), were volumes of poetry. While at Yale, Ackroyd produced Notes for a New Culture: An Essay on Modernism (1976), a literary manifesto that established him as an early proponent of postmodernism among his generation of writers. Upon his return to London, Ackroyd was hired as a literary editor for Spectator magazine. During this time, he produced Ezra Pound and His World (1980), the first of several large biographies of noted English authors. After eight years with Spectator Ackroyd resigned to devote himself to a full-time writing career. He has received many honors for his work, including the Somerset Maugham award for The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983); the Heinemann award for nonfiction from the Royal Society of Literature for T. S. Eliot: A Life; and the Prix Goncourt, the Whitbread award, and the fiction prize from the Guardian, all for Hawksmoor. In addition, Chatterton was short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize. Ackroyd has since served as the chief book reviewer for the London Times, a position he has maintained while producing an extensive body of work, nearly one book a year since 1978. Ackroyd acknowledged that his rigorous work schedule contributed to the massive heart attack he suffered in 1999.
Most of Ackroyd's prodigious body of work resides in the realm of historiographic metafiction—an experimental, postmodern technique that blurs distinctions between imagination and historical fact. In particular, Ackroyd's prose explores the convergence of past and present time, and human lives associated with a place—generally London—through successive centuries. In The Great Fire of London (1982) Ackroyd began the practice of merging fact and imagination and traversing time through characters and plot. A skilled mimic, Ackroyd identifies strongly with various literary figures. This is especially evident in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, a novel purporting to be Wilde's autobiographical account of the last months of his life in exile in Paris. Ackroyd captures Wilde's voice, wit, and persona, offering insight into the author's psyche. Hawksmoor is perhaps the most successful example of Ackroyd's literary approach. Bold and structurally innovative, the novel transcends time, place, and even characters themselves in a plot that moves between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Historically, Nicholas Hawksmoor designed several well-known churches in London and lived a comfortable, cultured life. In Ackroyd's book, however, the architect becomes Nicholas Dyer, a Satanist, and the character named Hawksmoor is a twentieth-century detective attempting to solve a series of gruesome murders taking place in the very churches that the real-life architect Hawksmoor constructed two hundred years earlier. It is learned that the evil Dyer sacrificed an innocent young boy on the foundation of every church he created, and the modern murders appear to be connected to these earlier ones. The novel illustrates the similarities between the two protagonists and examines universal themes involving death and regeneration.
Ackroyd's Chatterton posits that Thomas Chatterton, the famed eighteenth-century faker of medieval texts, did not commit suicide at age seventeen; rather he fabricated his own death and survived to continue his fraudulent production of antique manuscripts. Ackroyd plays with the ideas of fraud and plagiarism, littering the plot with deceptions at every turn. In the course of the narration, Ackroyd exploits opportunities to examine themes important to him: the cyclical nature of history, the cross-genre aesthetic, and real and imagined people who both transform and are connected through time. The novel English Music (1992) contains two distinct narratives: a straightforward story about the early life of protagonist Timothy Harcombe during the 1920s and a series of visions involving encounters with various literary and historical figures. Presented in alternating chapters, Timothy's childhood and psychic leaps serve to evoke the distinct legacy and grandeur of English culture. The House of Doctor Dee (1993) mixes ghosts and images of a past historical figure with an imperfectly realized character in the present who stumbles back and forth in time. Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (1994), published in the United States as The Trial of Elizabeth Cree: A Novel of the Limehouse Murders (1995), features multiple narratives set in Ackroyd's favored locale, a squalid area of London. The narrative threads include the text of the trial of Cree, her own interior monologue, her husband's diary, and remarks by an omniscient observer. Milton in America places the revered poet in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, where he engages in various adventures with both settlers and Indians. A work of imagined history, Milton in America carries Ackroyd's tendency to mingle fact and fiction to an extreme. Rather than staying in London following the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, as the real Milton did, Ackroyd's creation sails for Massachusetts Colony with a Sancho Panza-like figure named Goosequill. Seemingly more puritanical than the Puritans themselves, Milton changes subtly following a sojourn in the wilderness with Native Americans. Milton's blindness is briefly healed, but then returns when he is shamed by having sexual relations with an Indian maiden. He returns to the Puritan settlement and conspires to start a holy war against a neighboring Roman Catholic village. The Milton of the novel effectively destroys a paradise, echoing the work of the historical Milton, who wrote Paradise Lost.
In his biographies, Ackroyd approaches his subjects in unusual and sometimes controversial ways, which notably includes the insertion of fictional episodes, a radical departure from accepted academic practice. In T. S. Eliot, a biographical undertaking limited by the highly restrictive rules governing Eliot's estate, Ackroyd used papers held in various university archives to produce a work that reveals an understanding of the poet and his writings. Ackroyd's massive and unconventional biography of Charles Dickens approaches its formidable subject from the standpoint of a fellow creative spirit. Through the unusual practice of inserting imaginative interludes in the text, Ackroyd interweaves lucid critical commentary about Dickens's novels, evocations of Victorian London, and speculation about Dickens's life with exposition on the meaning of biography itself. In the work Ackroyd presents scenes of Dickens walking the streets of London with various characters from his fiction, examining landmarks, and conversing about events of the day. A companion volume, Introduction to Dickens (1991), contains useful, authoritative introductions to Dickens's novels. In Blake (1995), Ackroyd attempts to elucidate the life of William Blake, the famed poet, engraver, and painter. Ackroyd has also produced the biography The Life of Thomas More (1998); The Plato Papers: A Prophesy (2000), a work of speculative fiction; and a “biography” of his beloved home city, London: A Biography (2000).
Considered a prolific, accomplished, and highly creative writer, Ackroyd's work is both admired and maligned by critics—evidence of his reputation as a literary experimenter. Ackroyd's work is difficult to classify, perhaps because the author himself is reluctant to distinguish among genres. While many praise Ackroyd's postmodern fiction for its complex plotting, frequent temporal shifts, obscure allusions, and wide cast of historical characters, others find incoherence, contrivance, and epistemological evasions in these same attributes. His best fiction, including works such as The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, Hawksmoor, Chatterton, and Milton in America, display his favorite themes—the convergence and interaction of past and present time, literary mimicry, and the tenuous relationship between historical reality and fiction. Ackroyd's finest work is considered on a par with that of Salman Rushdie and Rose Tremain, while its transitional nature has been compared to the work of Lawrence Durrell and John Fowles. Ackroyd's body of work insists on the primacy of the English cultural tradition, which he defines as “Catholic, visionary, and transhistorical,” characteristics that echo throughout his writings. However, Ackroyd's nostalgic view of English culture—in particular, his suggestion in the widely-panned novel English Music that Englishness is historically and racially inherited—has been criticized by reviewers. Many reviewers have taken issue with Ackroyd's loose, interpretative approach to biography. His studies of Dickens, Blake, and More received mixed assessment, with most reviewers objecting to some aspect of Ackroyd's approach, typically his historical methodology or prose mannerisms. Yet, T. S. Eliot garnered acclaim for the inventive way Ackroyd handled the material and brought the poet to life, and Dickens was commended for its vivid, loving treatment of the great novelist. Even disdainful reviewers respect Ackroyd's wide knowledge, fertile imagination, and remarkable ability to evoke the settings and people of the past in convincing detail.
Ouch (poetry) 1971
London Lickpenny (poetry) 1973
Notes for a New Culture: An Essay on Modernism (criticism) 1976
Country Life (poetry) 1978
Dressing Up: Transvestism and Drag: The History of An Obsession (nonfiction) 1979
Ezra Pound and His World (biography) 1980; published as Ezra Pound, 1987
The Great Fire of London (novel) 1982
The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (novel) 1983
T. S. Eliot: A Life (biography) 1984
Hawksmoor (novel) 1986
The Diversions of Purley and Other Poems (poetry) 1987
Chatterton (novel) 1988
First Light (novel) 1989
Dickens (biography) 1990
Introduction to Dickens (criticism) 1991
English Music (novel) 1992
The House of Doctor Dee (novel) 1993
Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (novel) 1994; published in the United States as The Trial of Elizabeth Cree: A Novel of the Limehouse Murders, 1995
Blake (biography) 1995
Milton in America: A Novel (novel) 1997
The Life of Thomas More (biography) 1998
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SOURCE: A review of Hawksmoor, in Art in America, Vol. 74, July, 1986, pp. 11, 13.
[In the following review of Hawksmoor, Rykwert praises Ackroyd's literary skill, but finds flaws in the novel's historical details.]
Christchurch, Spitalfields: St George-in-the-East; St Anne’s, Limehouse; St Mary Woolnoth; St George, Bloomsbury; Little St Hugh, Moorfields—18th-century architecture buffs would expect the first five of these buildings to figure importantly in any book called Hawksmoor, but not the last one. The first five are among the masterpieces of Nicholas Hawksmoor (whom I think the greatest of all English architects). The last church is a fiction. In Peter Ackroyd’s book, it is the miniature crowning masterpiece not of Nicholas Hawksmoor, but of a quite different Nicholas—one Dyer, a supposed contemporary of the Hawksmoor of history, whose life, as told in this novel, bears great similarities to that of the great architect. Born in London a few years earlier than the real designer of the churches, Dyer (like Hawksmoor) is from early youth a clerk to Sir Christopher Wren and is employed in the Office of the King’s Works in Scotland Yard when he is killed by “gout of the stomach.” But the resemblance is limited. Dyer is a very different character from the historical Hawksmoor, and the key to the difference is given by that last, fictitious church.
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SOURCE: “Marvellous Boys,” in New Statesman, September 11, 1987, pp. 27-8.
[In the following review of Chatterton, Roberts finds shortcomings in the dubious intellectual games and caricatures of Ackroyd's postmodern narrative.]
Just as Georgette Heyer may be said to have reinvented the late 18th century for several generations of modern romantics, so the poet-plagiarist Thomas Chatterton invented the mediaeval period for the early 19th-century Romantics. Finally, of course, he was exposed as a faker of texts, so now Peter Ackroyd offers this thriller-romance [Chatterton] about the quest of a modern poet-romantic to discover how and why Chatterton was able to pull the wool over his contemporaries’ eyes for as long as he did.
Georgette Heyer moved her plots along with thrilling hints of sexual ambiguity and cross-dressing; Chatterton provided nostalgic images of a perfect lost world that his fellows, struggling with the implications of the Industrial Revolution, needed to believe; and Ackroyd, for all his postmodernist sophistication about the diversity of linguistic fancy-dress that history provides as disguise, returns us, eventually, to a sweet and perhaps naive vision of the modern nuclear family, maintaining itself in the face of separation and loss. This novel demonstrates how writers and artists may lie and cheat in the interests of their art and their ambition;...
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SOURCE: “PW Interviews Peter Ackroyd,” in Publisher's Weekly, December 25, 1987, pp. 59-60.
[In the following interview, Ackroyd discusses his literary career, his imaginative historical fiction, and the interrelationship between his work as a biographer and novelist.]
At 38, Peter Ackroyd has stakes planted in several literary camps. Ackroyd came to prominence four years ago with his biography of T. S. Eliot. Since then, his novel Hawksmoor—a dark, violent tale that slips between past and present, rendered partly in 18th century prose—has become a cult phenomenon in his native England. His new novel Chatterton—based in part on the life of the literary hoaxer—was shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.
Ackroyd talks to PW in his London flat—modern, spare, but discerningly decorated. For a man who writes chilling scenes of young lads having their throats slit by mad architects in churchyards, Ackroyd has a particularly jolly sense of humor. His works range from a book on esthetic criticism to a nonfiction book on cross-dressing, and include biographies of Ezra Pound, four novels, among them The Great Fire of London and The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, and a good deal of poetry published by small presses.
It’s unusual, PW comments, to be biographer and fiction writer. “I think there’s not much...
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SOURCE: “The Living Dead,” in History Today, Vol. 38, No. 1, January, 1988, pp. 53-4.
[In the following review of Chatterton, Neve commends Ackroyd's commitment to “the limitless power of the imagination,” though he finds fault in the novel's historical skepticism.]
The novels of Peter Ackroyd pose interesting questions for readers of history, and for those trying to write works of historical imagination: in asking the question ‘what is history?’, Ackroyd answers in what might be called the modern way; it is the resurrection of the dead. That is to say, in thinking about Oscar Wilde, or Nicholas Hawksmoor, or Thomas Chatterton, Ackroyd as novelist unashamedly commits himself to bringing these figures to life, or at least to bring them back to die at his own hands. The most influential authority here—one whose life Ackroyd represented to considerable critical acclaim—is (or was) T. S. Eliot. Ever since writing about Eliot, Ackroyd has inhabited the layered, indeed the multi-layered world of the living dead, a world exemplified by historical London, and what London can seem to be. The historian’s question must be—is this excusable (on the grounds of pure imagination) or is Ackroyd’s refusal to represent, as against invent, one of the grounds for being uneasy with his work, not least this latest piece, a life, or idea of a life, of Chatterton, the marvellous boy...
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SOURCE: “Mask and Passions,” in Poetry, Vol. CLIV, No. 1, April, 1989, pp. 29-48.
[In the following excerpted review, McClatchy offers a negative assessment of Ackroyd's poetry in The Diversions of Purley and Other Poems.]
Peter Ackroyd’s The Diversions of Purley is, in effect, a Selected Poems, incorporating as it does work from his previous collections, London Lickpenny (1973) and Country Life (1978). Whatever his other accomplishments—and Mr. Ackroyd is a marvelous novelist and biographer—his career in poetry has gotten nowhere over the years, and this representative view of it makes no strong or lasting impression. Frankly, his heart doesn’t seem to be in it. Poems may be witty, curious, fey, but rarely pay attention to their own purposes or possibilities. Lines ramble or dawdle, preoccupied with splicing bits of common speech with literary tags and clichés or bits of pulp fiction and nursery tales.
And everyone heard the wrong story my terrific love-cries are probably for sale the technician said, “these poems are a wounded fawn”: oh the strange story of the quantum! if I smile will she smile no one smiles, your eyes are like broken glass are you unemployed?
And so on. No poet could sustain a reader’s interest in such stuff for much longer. So, in the drift of daydreaming speech, cultural flotsam and jetsam are floated, King...
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SOURCE: A review of Chatterton, in World Literature Today, Vol. 63, No. 4, Autumn, 1989, p. 681.
[In the following review, Firchow offers a positive assessment of Chatterton.]
Peter Ackroyd is rapidly becoming the next novelist to watch. One sign of his newly acquired status is the appearance of Chatterton, his third novel, in a plush paperback edition featuring gushing blurbs from the New York Times, Time, and other watched places. This event has taken place more than a year after the book’s first publication in hardback and at about the same time as his most recent novel, First Light, is being hailed in triumph from London to New York to Sydney and beyond.
What is the secret of such success? Aside from the fact that Ackroyd writes well, with tremendous verve and wit, it is probably due to his complex yet oddly accessible intertextuality. The sometime biographer of T. S. Eliot has clearly gone to school with the master. Hence, all the yuppies who liked The Name of the Rose and who only pretended to like The French Lieutenant’s Woman will undoubtedly enjoy Chatterton—that is, if they haven’t already—for Ackroyd not only fuses semantic with moral riddles as Eco does, but also has the advantage of knowing how to write. Although Fowles admittedly writes well, he is rarely able to crack a smile, either for himself or his reader,...
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SOURCE: “A Terrible Bad Cold,” in London Review of Books, September 27, 1990, pp. 17-18.
[In the following review of Dickens, Sutherland expresses reservations about Ackroyd's reconstruction and interpretation of Charles Dickens's life.]
In the manner of old Hollywood movies, biographies like to open at a terminal point and then flash back to the start of things. It is a device that stakes out the territory while creating a sense of overall shape—something that even famous lives lack in the day-to-day business of living. Fred Kaplan’s 1988 life of Dickens began with the vivid scene of his incinerating ‘every letter he owned not on a business matter’ in a bonfire at his Gad’s Hill garden. What Kaplan ruefully implied by opening with the manuscript holocaust of 1860 was that there was a core of Dickens’s life which we would never know. Dickens laboured tirelessly to make himself publicly famous and at the same time to bury the private Dickens beyond all exhumation. He largely succeeded thanks to his won vandalism and Forster’s loyal destructions and suppressions. We may speculate, but we will never know the inner Dickens which those burned papers would have revealed. The biographer must remain for ever fenced-off.
Kaplan’s is an academic’s view of things. For him and his university-based colleagues biographies, like legal cases, are built on the hard evidence...
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SOURCE: “The Exaggerator,” in The Hudson Review, Vol. XLIV, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 301-08.
[In the following review of Dickens, Pritchard finds shortcomings in Ackroyd's “rhetorical habits” and the biography's contribution toward greater understanding of Charles Dickens.]
On his second reading tour of America in 1867–68, Dickens met Emerson, and although the sage of Concord was later assured by Dickens’ hosts that the novelist was a man of great cheerfulness and high spirits, Emerson demurred: “You see him quite wrong, evidently, and would persuade me that he is a genial creature, full of sweetness and amenities and superior to his talents, but I fear he is harnessed to them. He is too consummate an artist to have a thread of nature left. He daunts me! I have not the key.” A brilliant observation, and by that time (Dickens was to die within three years) it’s fair to say that his “nature” was extremely hard-pressed. Separated from his wife and physically exhausted by a vascular degeneration that manifested itself especially in a painfully swollen right foot, he had put everything into his role as great novelist and great entertainer. This is what Emerson saw clearly, even as he claimed to be daunted by Dickens.
The length and sweep of Peter Ackroyd’s biography of the novelist [Dickens] suggests that whether or not he has “the key” to Dickens he...
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SOURCE: “The Long and Short of It,” in London Spectator, July 20, 1991, p. 32.
[In the following review, Lerner provides a brief assessment of Ackroyd's Introduction to Dickens.]
Literary biographers are naturally committed to the view that an author’s life provides the best context for understanding his work; and Peter Ackroyd has followed his huge biography of Dickens with a short volume [Introduction to Dickens] that claims to be both a condensed version of it and also a genuine original, and to put forward the argument for ‘connecting the life and the work’. What, we may ask, does this fine phrase mean? We have long known that Dickens courted Dora Spenlow and met her years later to find she had become Flora Finching whom he left a lily and who had turned into a peony; or that both Mr Micawber and Mr Dorritt were based on his father. The huge difference between these figures shows how little we learn when we observe that an author has based a character on a known original. Sometimes the work/life link can mean that the work provides an explanatory grid for the life, and Mr Ackroyd has one or two good examples of this, as when he remarks, in discussing the break-up of Dickens's marriage:
neglectful mothers play so large a part in his novels that it seems to have been for him the simplest act of transference to accuse his own wife of a similar...
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SOURCE: “The Relics of Learning,” in The Spectator, May 30, 1992, pp. 24-5.
[In the following unfavorable review of English Music, Buchan objects to Ackroyd's sentimental literary pastiche and the postmodern notion that originality is no longer possible.]
This novel starts well. A boy stands in the glare of gaslight on the wooden stage of an East End theatre, helping his father perform acts of faith healing. It is 1925 or thereabouts and the London air is crowded with the souls of the recent dead. Though he barely yet knows it, it is Timothy Harcombe, not the father he adores, who has the medium’s power of communication with the departed spirits.
Timothy’s mother is also dead, and he is soon separated from his father and put in the care of his grandparents in Wiltshire, which is an Ackroydian Siberia, Timothy goes to school while Clement Harcombe moves in with a woman disciple. Timothy is reunited with his father in Notting Hill and, in Borough High Street, with the woman who evokes the most complex and disruptive oedipal feelings. Timothy breaks with his father but meets him again, years later, at a travelling circus. Clement’s performance has degenerated into conjuring tricks but, miraculously, he cures his son of illness and they reconstitute their act. Clement dies but Timothy is reconciled to him and his absent mother and through them to his place in England and...
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SOURCE: “Peter Ackroyd, Postmodern Play and Chatterton,” in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 38, No. 2, Summer, 1992, pp. 240-61.
[In the following essay, Finney provides an overview of Ackroyd's theoretical development and postmodern perspective—particularly his view of history, language, and authenticity, as revealed in his biographical works and fiction, notably Chatterton.]
Well known in Britain, less generally known in the United States, Peter Ackroyd is representative of a new breed of British novelists who can loosely be termed postmodernist. But, unlike their counterparts in the States, these British postmodernists do not necessarily cultivate radical experimentation, nor do they confine their appeal to an elite, mainly academic coterie. They are capable of producing best-sellers, such as Martin Amis’s Money. They produce works of fiction that are turned into movies, such as Angela Carter’s story “The Company of Wolves,” a rewriting of the traditional fairy story of Little Red Riding Hood. They have absorbed the triumphs (and absurdities) of poststructuralism and can utilize those aspects of recent theory that suit their purposes without becoming enslaved by them. They have never lost touch with their readership. But they are clearly distinguishable (and distinguish themselves) from the mainstream of British realist novelists typified by writers like Angus Wilson,...
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SOURCE: “Fogey Heaven,” in New Statesman & Society, June 5, 1992, pp. 38-9.
[In the following review of English Music, Taylor finds irritating shortcomings in Ackroyd's didacticism and antiquarianism, but declines to pass final judgment on the novel.]
We read Peter Ackroyd’s fiction in rather the same way that the Victorian critic George Saintsbury read Anatole France: to find out what Peter Ackroyd has been reading. As one dense and allusive novel gives way to another, that task has become progressively more arduous.
The Great Fire of London and The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, the early novels, were easy ones: a bit of Dickens, a very large amount of Wilde, a serious interest in all the spangled fakery that makes modern novels truly modern. By the time of Hawksmoor, the extent of Ackroyd’s fossicking in the British Museum reading-room could only be guessed at, but even this mixture of late Stuart pastiche and modern detective story possessed a distinctive life of its own. Only in First Light, with its nods to the Hardy of The Woodlanders and Two on a Tower, and its mannered dialogue, was the reader pulled up short by the sensation of a book that seemed largely written by somebody else.
“Research”, of course, is the touchstone of the modern novel, embraced with equal enthusiasm by the filler of the W H...
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SOURCE: “Shadow Play,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 25, 1992, p. 3, 11.
[In the following review, Goodrich offers an unfavorable assessment of English Music.]
Peter Ackroyd, the English novelist and biographer, has published nearly a dozen books, among them Dickens: Life and Times, Chatterton, T. S. Eliot, The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde and Ezra Pound. It’s not hard to see from this selected list that one of Ackroyd’s major concerns is the writer at work, or to believe that Ackroyd really means it when he says, as he did to The New York Times last year, that he’s only “a half-person, a shadow” when he’s not writing books. The written word, for Ackroyd, is a force to be reckoned with, and he has spent much of his literary career doing just that: investigating and envisioning writers’ relationships with, and effect upon, the world.
Ackroyd’s preoccupations are on full display in English Music, an unconventional novel even for Ackroyd, and of interest more for its shortcomings than its strengths. The title is something of a misnomer, for the phrase English music is used by the character Clement Harcombe to refer not to a single art but to all of English history, literature and painting—English culture, in short, everything Harcombe wants his son Timothy to understand and value. Timothy is the central character of...
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SOURCE: “Peter Ackroyd's Music,” in The New Yorker, November 23, 1992, pp. 142-44.
[In the following review, Klinkenborg offers an unfavorable evaluation of English Music.]
In Peter Ackroyd’s sixth novel, English Music, a great thickness of remembered time lies over the English landscape like a new fall of snow. “Yes,” the book begins, “I have returned to the past.” This voice belongs to Timothy Harcombe, narrating the events of his youth from a cavern deep in old age in 1992. Timothy is the son of Clement Harcombe, a fake medium who has prospered in London during the nineteen-twenties by using Timothy’s (very real) psychic gifts, which the boy himself is slow to discern. Onstage at the Chemical Theatre, with his father as mouthpiece, Timothy deciphers the worries and heals the wounds of the small audience that assembles there. At home, the two talk about what Clement Harcombe calls “English music,” by which, Timothy says, “he meant not only music itself but also English history, English literature and English painting.”
It’s one of Timothy’s unworldly quirks that in every other chapter of English Music he has dreams or fits that land him in the midst of oddly jumbled settings, drawn from paintings he has seen or music he has heard or books that have been read to him at bedside by his father. (Timothy’s mother, who died in childbirth, was...
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SOURCE: “Tradition and the National Talent,” in The New Republic, January 18, 1993, pp. 29-32.
[In the following review, Levenson traces the development of Ackroyd's literary preoccupations and criticizes his conservative nostalgia for English history and cultural identity as presented in English Music.]
“She walked between the leafless poplars and, when a woman crossed her path, instinctively Evangeline looked away. She looked down at the ground. So I have no connection with the world, she thought.”
—Peter Ackroyd, First Light
“‘I never know where anything comes from, Walter.’
‘Comes from, sir?’
‘Where you come from, where I come from, where all this comes from.’ And he gestured at the offices and homes beneath him. He was about to say something else but he stopped, embarrassed; and in any case he was coming to the limits of his understanding.”
—Peter Ackroyd, Hawksmoor
Here is where Ackroyd began, and where he still begins: with the disconnected life, the wandering soul, the anxiously floating self that knows dimly that it has been torn from some large warm body but doesn’t know why, or when. The condition...
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SOURCE: “Conjurors of Clerkenwell,” in New Statesman & Society, September 3, 1993, p. 39.
[In the following review, Clute offers a positive assessment of The House of Doctor Dee.]
At first glance, the title of Peter Ackroyd’s seventh novel, and the fourth to be named after a real person, seems to tell all. Indeed, it tells much. The House of Doctor Dee, as one might expect from memories of Hawksmoor, is a tale in which the past haunts the present, in which the London of some centuries ago lays its correspondences on the glass sepulchres of today, and in which a frail modern man seems doomed to fade into a shadow and parody of a dead but more substantial figure. But this is not the whole story.
Around 1990, a young man named Matthew Palmer inherits from his father a house in Clerkenwell. (Ackroyd places the house in a fictional close located exactly where the New Statesman had its offices in the 1980s.) It is a strange building, and clearly manifests the rebuildings of several centuries. On moving in, Palmer finds himself haunted by dreams that threaten his identity, hinting that his very self is somehow occupied.
After a few pages, the novel moves to the time of John Dee (1527–1608), the Elizabethan savant and magus. For it is his house Palmer has moved into. Ackroyd deliberately scumbles any precise indications of the period the Dee...
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SOURCE: “The Older the Better,” in Spectator, September 11, 1993, p. 27.
[In the following review, King concludes that The House of Doctor Dee is an “imperfect but always ingenious and arresting novel.”]
Scientist, mathematician, geographer, astronomer, antiquarian, theologian, possessor of the greatest English library of his time, John Dee was described by Frances A. Yates as ‘one of the most influential figures in the thought of Elizabethan England’. But parallel with this reputation as a scholar of outstanding achievement is one more sinister: that of a magus, in the manner of Pico della Mirandola or Henry Cornelius Agrippa.
For most of his life, when he was not travelling on the Continent at the invitation of this or that foreign potentate, John Dee, his wife and numerous children inhabited a rambling mansion by the Thames at Mortlake. During one of Dee’s absences abroad, a crowd, incensed by his reputation as a ‘conjurer’ or master of the black arts, set fire to this mansion, destroying many of the rare and valuable books contained in it.
In Peter Ackroyd’s complex and mysterious new novel, [The House of Doctor Dee,] it is significant that Doctor Dee’s house should have been spirited from Mortlake to Clerkenwell. As in this author’s Hawksmoor and Chatterton, it would be foolish and futile to look here for...
(The entire section is 1156 words.)
SOURCE: “Tradition and the English Novel Today,” in Sewanee Review, Spring, 1994, pp. 326-33.
[In the following excerpt, Davenport pans English Music for its condescending attitude and its contrived and unconvincing nature.]
Is there life after postmodernism? We may soon find out, for signs of the end are everywhere: the architects of poststructuralist criticism are now speaking of their creation in the past tense; academic impresarios are busy organizing conferences with names like “The Ends of Postmodernism”; and that once hierophantic term itself has taken sluttishly to appearing in television commercials and other temporal contexts—for example, a currently available musical keyboard boasts among its many electronic voices one labeled postmodern. But to lament or celebrate just yet would be premature. For literary postmodernism in America, like no other intellectual, cultural, and artistic movement before it, has been academically systematized and methodically taught to legions of ambitious and professionally astute young writers and teachers of writing. It is going to be a hard habit—and it has certainly become a habit—for them to break.
Nor has this aggressive dissemination confined itself nationally. Tom Wolfe has complained that American postmodernism is too slavishly modeled on European and Latin-American originals, but I think a case can be made that...
(The entire section is 884 words.)
SOURCE: “The Novels of Peter Ackroyd,” in English Studies, Vol. 75, No. 5, September, 1994, pp. 442-52.
[In the following essay, Peck provides an overview of the major literary themes and postmodern narrative effects in Ackroyd's fiction, including extended analysis of Hawksmoor, Chatterton, and First Light. Peck offers an unfavorable assessment of English Music and contends that First Light represents Ackroyd's most challenging novel to date.]
The publication of Peter Ackroyd’s sixth novel, English Music (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1992), provides a good opportunity for an assessment of the nature of his fiction. It might be felt that this can amount to little more than a statement of the obvious: that Ackroyd is a writer with an interest in the past, who is skilled at historical reconstruction, but who is more than just an historical novelist as he is concerned with larger questions about the relationship between the past and the present. Alongside the interest in history is an interest in literature that permeates his work: it ranges from the subject of The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1983), through the concern with fundamental questions about writing in Chatterton (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1987), and the allusiveness of First Light (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1989), to the chapters echoing earlier authors in...
(The entire section is 6020 words.)
SOURCE: “Goings-On in Old London,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 25, 1995, p. 12.
[In the following review, Meyer offers a positive assessment of The Trial of Elizabeth Cree.]
In the literary pantheon the mystery or detective novel is largely relegated to an inferior rung on the ladder. Yet isn’t “Oedipus the King,” when all’s said and done, a detective story, complete with “surprise” final twist ending in which the detective discovers to his horror that the murderer he has been searching for is himself? The fact that “Oedipus” is a great deal more than a detective story ought not to obscure the fact that it is also nothing less—and one, moreover, that works triumphantly on its own terms. Agatha Christie could not devise a better plot.
In The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, Peter Ackroyd may not have written anything to compare with Oedipus, but he has written a novel several cuts above the average mystery story, a novel, in a word, with more on its mind than who-dunit.
Ackroyd, whose previous novels include the Whitbread Prize winner Hawksmoor as well as biographies of Charles Dickens and T. S. Eliot, has cunningly blended fact and fiction to tell his version of the notorious and unsolved Limehouse murders, a series of brutal deaths that occurred in and around an impoverished and then largely Jewish district of London in 1880....
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SOURCE: “Little Guignol,” in New York Review of Books, September 21, 1995, p. 49.
[In the following review, Wood offers an unfavorable evaluation of The Trial of Elizabeth Cree and Ackroyd's fiction in general, which he views as contrived, overly derivative, and unsubtle.]
History, for Peter Ackroyd, is a puzzle for which the novel is a solution. The puzzle, broadly speaking, is coincidence; the solution, that there is no such thing as coincidence. For “Everything is part of everything … Everything is part of the pattern,” as a character in his novel First Light puts it. His novels tend to follow the outline of a sensational historical mystery or secret—that Sir Christopher Wren’s chief architect was a devil-worshiper and murderer who embedded corpses in the foundations of his new churches; or that Thomas Chatterton, the doomed eighteenth-century poet, did not die at seventeen, but faked his death and lived into middle age. The historical mystery is central to a present-day situation which mimics it. In Hawksmoor, a detective investigates a series of murders, all at seventeenth-century London churches built by the architect and friend of Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor. In Chatterton a struggling contemporary poet is haunted by Chatterton’s ghost when he buys a portrait of the writer in an antiques shop. In Ackroyd’s recent novel, English Music, a boy sets...
(The entire section is 2831 words.)
SOURCE: “Interview with Peter Ackroyd,” in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 42, No. 2, Summer, 1996, pp. 208-20.
[In the following interview, originally conducted on November 23, 1995, Ackroyd discusses his early life, his literary influences, his development from poet to novelist and biographer, and his views on English culture, creative imagination, and Catholicism.]
Born in London in 1949, of working-class background, Peter Ackroyd—poet, biographer, reviewer, and novelist—won international repute after the publication of his third novel, Hawksmoor (1985), which was awarded the Whitbread Prize and the Guardian Fiction Prize, and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. One of the most original and fertile British writers of the 1980s, on a par with novelists such as John Banville, Julian Barnes, Charles Palliser, Salman Rushdie, Rose Tremain, and Jeanette Winterson, Ackroyd considers his poetry, his biographies, and his novels simply as “writing,” the result of the same creative impulse.1
Outstanding features of the biographies and novels (as well as of the poetry) are the recurrent tendency to blur the boundaries between storytelling and history; to enhance the linguistic component of writing; and to underline the constructedness of the world created in a way that aligns Ackroyd with other postmodernist writers of “historio-graphic metafiction”...
(The entire section is 4917 words.)
SOURCE: “The Poet Crying in the Wilderness,” in Times Literary Supplement, August 30, 1996, p. 23.
[In the following review, Broughton offers a generally favorable assessment of Milton in America, though he notes that it “is not a perfect novel.”]
In the unlikely event that he ran out of ideas, Peter Ackroyd would have a number of choices. He could drive a London cab, bewildering his customers with arcane short-cuts and encyclopaedic chat. Or he might make a second fortune designing erudite Virtual Reality tours of Olde Whitechapel, pestilential smells included. Or maybe he would find another metropolis to be his Muse: preferably somewhere with richly clotted streets, a violent past and poor plumbing.
Setting Milton in America is Ackroyd’s joke: at all those poet-of-London clichés, and hence, more indirectly, at his own expense. The novel might just as easily be called Fish out of Water. For John Milton, America was a “savage desert” to which free-born Englishmen fled, “in heaps”, from the fury of the bishops; the grim alternative, but only a rhetorical alternative, to staying in the kitchen and putting up with the heat. It was, in other words, a place of exile and last resort, only marginally preferable to death. History’s Milton wrote virulently anti-royalist pamphlets, but when the monarchy came back into favour, he stayed put, had his books...
(The entire section is 1173 words.)
SOURCE: “Pastures New,” in New Statesman, September 27, 1996, p. 60.
[In the following review, Clute offers a tempered assessment of Milton in America, which, he concludes, “is a hard book to judge.”]
It is his most presumptuous act of possession to date, Peter Ackroyd has already taken on five historical figures in his fiction, including Doctor Dee, Nicholas Hawksmoor, Dan Leno and Oscar Wilde. The stories he tells of them tend to invoke metaphors of possession, with buried aspects of the protagonists’ selves signalling desperately for recognition. Now it is the turn of John Milton, who is too formidable a figure to mock with Shadows from the back pages of Carl Jung—it would seem.
Milton in America does indeed seem to chart a new course. It is an Alternate History tale though it takes small advantage of a mode whose popularity in the 1990s marks one creative response to the task of gaining perspective on the century-end. Only John Milton’s flight to America in 1660, and a small religious war a few years later, mark Ackroyd’s narrative off from real history.
And the Milton who thus takes flight we know already: the blind, arrogant, chillingly adamant Puritan genius who wrote Paradise Lost in this world, instead of finding a new one to ruin. Ackroyd—who has vanishingly little sympathy for his doctrinal certainties and his hatred of...
(The entire section is 625 words.)
SOURCE: “An Antinomian Born for Glory,” in Cross Currents, Vol. 47, No. 1, Spring, 1997, pp. 114-17.
[In the following review, Bauer offers a positive evaluation of Blake.]
William Blake remains, for many readers, a distant, imposing figure. Those who enjoy his poetry are usually familiar with the early work, the seemingly simple Songs of Innocence and of Experience or The Book of Thel. The later prophetic books, Milton or Jerusalem, for example, with their declamatory tone and private mythology, may seem virtually impenetrable. It is one of the great virtues of his new biography, Blake, that Peter Ackroyd assumes the accessibility of all Blake’s work. Ackroyd does not brush away the difficulties and, at times, admits that Blake’s complexities have never been and may never be fully unraveled. Yet he argues that “much of [Blake’s] prophetic symbolism can actually be understood without undue difficulty, but it requires in the reader a reawakening of what is essentially a clear and simple vision. He is a ‘difficult’ poet only if we decide to make him so” (279).
Ackroyd attempts to account for, or to give some sources for, the shape of Blake’s imagination, from the earliest poetry to the last, from the apprentice copies of tombs in Westminster Abbey to the Dante watercolors he was working on at his death. Blake never forgot anything he...
(The entire section is 1697 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, in World Literature Today, Vol. 71, No. 1, Winter, 1997, p. 149.
[In the following review, Hutchings offers a favorable assessment of The Trial of Elizabeth Cree.]
With the detailed knowledge of Victorian London that was reflected in his biography of Charles Dickens, and with the ingeniousness of plot construction associated with his previous novels, Chatterton and Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd has written The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, an intriguing and meticulously detailed account of a series of brutal murders in the Limehouse district in 1880. It is in many ways a worthy successor of the Victorians’ own “novels of sensation,” but told with a twentieth-century sophistication in its narrative technique that presents multiple points of view. The lurid crimes, known as the Golem murders (named after a malevolent spirit of Jewish legend), are remarkable not only for the ability of the murderer seemingly to vanish but also for the skill with which the victims have been mutilated.
The novel’s sensational events are recounted in part by a third-person neo-Victorian narrator, but there are also, throughout the book, chapters that reproduce documents germane to the case. Transcripts from the trial of Elizabeth Cree for the poisoning of her husband John, an eccentric would-be playwright and social critic, are...
(The entire section is 531 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Blake, in Partisan Review, Vol. 64, No. 3, 1997, pp. 473-81.
[In the following review, Ward finds Ackroyd's biography of Blake lacking in original research and insight, but concludes that, despite its shortcomings, it represents a positive contribution to a complex subject.]
The explosion of critical interest in William Blake touched off by Northrop Frye’s Fearful Symmetry in 1947 is still reverberating, though it has moved into new dimensions since then. Studies of his archetypal symbolism, explications of his metaphysical system, explorations of his political and religious thought, psychoanalytic interpretations both Freudian and Jungian, close readings of poetic texture, revaluations of his place in English painting, discussions of the “composite art” of text and design in his illuminated books, and most recently close study of his methods as a graphic artist: each approach has widened the scope of our knowledge about Blake’s work and deepened our admiration for his achievement. In all this furor of critical activity only biography has lagged behind: partly because of the magnitude of the task of covering Blake’s three careers as poet, painter, and engraver spread over almost seven decades, but still more because of the sketchy information about his life (1757–1827) as provided by the usual sources of letters, journals, reminiscences and so forth. Not only...
(The entire section is 3828 words.)
SOURCE: “Fact as Fiction,” in New Statesman, March 6, 1998, p. 47.
[In the following review, Glover offers an unfavorable assessment of The Life of Thomas More.]
It seems a long time since Peter Ackroyd published his last book, a novel about the surprising appearance of John Milton in the New World. Its single most memorable sentence would have made Sir Thomas More, the greatest of all defenders of the religion and values of pre-Reformation England, puke: “This missal,” Milton remarks with contempt during some routine persecution of a poor woman caught at her miserable devotions, “is fit only to make winding sheets for pilchards.”
Could it have been all of 18 months since those marvellously tangy words first appeared in print? At the time, the literary agent Giles Gordon likened Ackroyd’s working habits to all those planes that are banked above Heathrow waiting to descend, one every two minutes or so. They just never seem to stop coming.
And so it is with Ackroyd. He is under contract to write seven more books, which will presumably be his usual mixture of biography and fiction—that is to say, works of fictionalised biography alternating with works of biographically grounded fiction. For Ackroyd’s views of the relationship between biography and fiction are paradoxical enough to be worthy of debate by the Oxford Union. “In fiction you are obliged to...
(The entire section is 522 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Blake, in Christianity and Literature, Vol. 48, No. 3, Spring, 1999, pp. 374-76.
[In the following review, Fulwiler offers a positive evaluation of Blake.]
Effectively interweaving recurring topics of religion, spiritual matters, visions, the Bible, and the autodidacticism of William Blake, Peter Ackroyd repeatedly refers to the contraries, or oppositions, in the life and personality as well as the verbal and visual works of his subject [in Blake]; in so doing, he reminds the reader of Blake’s own declaration that “Without contraries is no progression.” From the three opening chapters treating the early religious influences on Blake through intermediate sections of the biography concerning subsequent periods and those tracing the closing years of Blake’s life, the author emphasizes the circumstances and events that rendered the visionary engraver-painter-poet unique among creators of great art. It should be noted that Ackroyd prefers the designation of engraver to that of painter even though he writes about the artist’s paintings.
By focusing on the fact that both James and Catherine Blake, the parents of William, were Dissenters, Ackroyd establishes the religious milieu of the poet’s childhood. He states that “all the evidence of Blake’s art and writing suggests that he was imbued with a religion of piety” and that “he is the last...
(The entire section is 1150 words.)
SOURCE: “In the Unreal City,” in Times Literary Supplement, April 2, 1999, p. 21.
[In the following review, Korn offers an unfavorable assessment of The Plato Papers.]
Times when blind men into ditches lead the blind. … The 1920s and 30s may be fine examples of political myopia, but Peter Ackroyd’s Plato (Plato prime, Plato II, neo-Plato) takes a longer view. He observes history (his history, our future) from his mid-fourth-millennium standpoint, a freelance Academic in a new Athens on the banks of the Thames but otherwise not much like London, a city clean and green where the people speak with a sweet slangless suavity, like the worst of Wells’s futuropians. They have names like Madrigal and Sparkler. For Plato, everything from AD 1500 to 2300 is (was, will be, will have been) the age of Mouldwarp, when people pursue smoke and phantoms and no one is happy or good; Man, the self-destroyer, is not easy in his mind.
Scientism (to Ackroyd, the necessary corollary of science) will fail. At the end of that age, allegedly, the stars began to vanish the moment astronomers took their eyes off them—a sort of intrusion of quantum ontology into the macrocosm, whereby observation is creation. Science-fiction readers will recall (what they cannot forget) the ending of Arthur C. Clark’s Nine Billion Names of God.
“The people burnt the machines and learnt to...
(The entire section is 977 words.)
SOURCE: “Missing Persons: Cherokee's Parrot and Chatterton's Poet,” in Studies in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 23, No. 2, Summer, 1999, pp. 315–29.
[In the following essay, Koos discusses elements of pastiche and the detective novel genre in Ackroyd's fiction, particularly as found in Chatterton.]
Lönnrot thought of himself as a pure thinker, an Auguste Dupin, but there was something of an adventurer in him, and even a gamester.
—Jorge Luis Borges “Death and the Compass”
I will now play the Oedipus to the Rattleborough enigma.
—Edgar Allan Poe, “Thou Art The Man”
In the never-ending parade of tormented Romantic outcasts, ambitious social climbers, consumptive bohemians, bourgeois liberals, arch criminals (like the real-life Vidocq and the fictive Vautrin), anarchists, decadents, and geniuses in every field, nineteenth-century European culture exhibited its developing cult of the individual. In this burgeoning landscape of real or imagined individualism, a new literary genre took root whose paired protagonists, the criminal and the detective, exemplified the increasing privatized and individualized network of subjective presuppositions.1 The inventor of this new genre, Edgar Allan Poe—whom Walter Benjamin...
(The entire section is 3085 words.)
SOURCE: “I Will Arise Again,” in New Statesman, December 20, 1999-January 3, 2000, pp. 116-17.
[In the following interview, Ackroyd discusses his recovery from a near-fatal heart attack and comments on his literary career, personal life, and recent writings.]
Having heard that Peter Ackroyd had just suffered a major heart attack, and knowing that his lover died of Aids six years ago, I assumed the worst. So I was surprised to find that there were decorators painting his hallway as I arrived at his Islington home: does a dying man renovate his house? I was hurried through and walked past Blake’s tortured face-mask in the living-room, down a spiral staircase, and out into the garden where I met Ackroyd, 50, in the December drizzle.
He wasn’t emaciated or covered in sores, but he did look a little pale and thinner. To be honest, the weight loss suited him: he seemed fitter than when I last saw him a year ago. He sweetly apologised for the workmen and his inaccessibility—quite a bit of phone tag was played in order to organise the interview. “I’ve been spending most of my time at the Royal Brompton convalescing and only come back to do bits of reading during the day,” he said, walking into the huge, tube-shaped shed that houses his study. Sitting at his ten-foot long, uncharacteristically messy desk, he sipped shakily at a glass of water as he spoke about the circumstances...
(The entire section is 1864 words.)
SOURCE: “Collapsophe,” in The New Republic, March 20, 2000, pp. 31-4.
[In the following review, Green offers an extended negative evaluation of The Plato Papers and comments unfavorably on Ackroyd's postmodern aesthetic.]
What drives anyone to speculate, or, worse, to prophesy, about the future? Curiosity, and an interest in self-preservation: it isn't hard to see why Delphi commanded such a market for so long. And in the longer view, there is always the fun of seeing the guesses confirmed or refuted. Jules Verne got aviation more or less right, and H. G. Wells was depressingly accurate about the atom bomb; but Arnold Toynbee's Study of History remains remarkable mainly for having got its argument so wrong on such a massive scale, and Orwell's bleak forecast of the future as a boot stamping on a human face forever never envisaged the Soviet monolith's ignominious collapse less than a decade after 1984.
Maybe it is the impossibility of being proved wrong that elicits predictions aimed centuries, or even millennia, into the future; but there is also that ever-present urge to escape the less-than-ideal realities of the here-and-now. Hence also the notion of Utopia, the supposedly perfect community that, as its punning name reminds us, is situated nowhere. Not that its two most famous proponents, Plato and Thomas More—with both of whom Peter...
(The entire section is 6120 words.)
SOURCE: “Into the Labyrinth,” in New Statesman, October 16, 2000, p. 51.
[In the following review, Self offers praise for London.]
In a decade that has seen two large and structurally sound pillars erected in the ever-expanding historiographic monument of London—Roy Porter's London: A Social History and Stephen Inwood's A History of London—comes Peter Ackroyd's sublime capstone [London: A Biography]. Porter's work conceived of the city in terms of its inhabitants' quotidian lives, social mores, political organisations and their religious turmoils. Inwood's looked to the city as an entrepot of the Hegelian world spirit, detailing the personages and events that have enmeshed London, both with its own past and that of other political realities. But Ackroyd has encountered the great modern Babylon face to face. He has bearded it and felt the heft of its mighty agglomeration of masonry, metal, wood and earth. He has discoursed with its teeming inhabitants in all ages and all states of being; he has wrestled with its tortuous thoroughfares and contorted byways; he has smelt its moods and partaken of its strange delusions; he has stared into the basilisk eyes of the metropolis and wrested from it an account of its entire life, from conception, to this: the latest instantiation of its triumphal brazening. Truly, he has written London's biography.
Reading both Porter...
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Bemrose, John. “The Nation Within.” Maclean's (10 August 1992): 47.
A positive review of English Music.
Davenport, Gary. “Tradition and the English Novel.” Sewanee Review 102, No. 2 (Spring 1994): 326-33.
A negative review of English Music.
Gray, Paul. “Mark Ahead to the Past: The Plato Papers Imagines the View from the 3700s.” Time (31 January 2000): 68.
A review of The Plato Papers.
Koos, Leonard R. “Missing Persons: Cherokee's Parrot and Chatterton's Poet.” Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 23, No. 2 (Summer 1999): 315-29.
Moran, Joe. “‘Simple Words’: Peter Ackroyd's Autobiography of Oscar Wilde.” Biography 22, No. 3 (Summer 1999): 356-69.
Discusses the confluence of biography and literary invention in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde and addresses Ackroyd's treatment of Wilde's conflicted identity as a celebrity, homosexual, and artist.
Onega, Susana. Metafiction and Myth in the Novels of Peter Ackroyd. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1999, 214 p.
A book-length critical study of Ackroyd's novels.
Sutherland, John. “After Mouldwarp: Peter Ackroyd's Novel Is Set in a Future that Curiously...
(The entire section is 252 words.)