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The author evokes Wainewright the poisoner's double life in a biography that takes the form of a confession. He strips away the layers of legend and restores Wainewright to his own voice, capturing his energy, charm, callousness, wit and wantoness.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780571205462
ISBN-10: 0571205461
Format: Paperback
(199mm x 128mm x 28mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 19-Feb-2001
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Other Editions

Reviews

UK Kirkus Review » Our Poet Laureate has one foot in fiction, one in biography, in this intriguing though somewhat sluggish 'autobiography' of T G Wainewright - painter, essayist, friend of Romantic luminaries such as Lamb and Fuseli, convicted forger, and supposed murderer. Following Wainewright's life, Motion traces the trajectory between two views of selfhood - on the one hand, self-image and aspiration; on the other, the core left behind when reputation and the outlet for literary and artistic talent have been stripped away, replaced by cruel punishment as a convict in Tasmania. Motion captures the character of the man and his age in prose that is a wonder of historical reconstruction. Yet his avoidance of pure invention and his two-strand structure with historical footnotes after each chapter have led to some oddities - it is strange to read of the horrors of Newgate prison in a long footnote rather in the main narrative, and no less so to have only a paragraph on a period of vagrancy in France. Worth reading, however, for some stunning passages of melancholy lyricism: 'I imagined the black crows rising in one mighty flock, travelling off elsewhere, borne upon the winds of the world, so that wherever I landed, they would be sure to have arrived there before me, and would certainly have sounded my name in their filthy voices, meaning that I could never hold up my head as I once did, or possess myself again'. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » An intriguingly constructed biography of a 19th-century criminal who was also a man of culture and breeding.Motion (Philip Larkin, 1993, etc.), Englands Poet Laureate, has chosen a well-known 19th-century literary form, the confession, to relate the strange life of Thomas Griffith Wainewright (1794-1852), author, painter, swindler, and probable murderer. He has based the prose style of Wainewrights purported confessions on a ticket-of-leave application written in 1844 (when his subject was a convict in Tasmania), and he has used Wainewrights own words, where possible, as well as the words of his colleagues or other contemporaries. Motions imagination fills in the gaps. Following each chapter are extensive factual notessometimes brief essaysthat contrast sharply with the high-flown confessions and provide background to the events described in them. These are an essential part of the biography, not to be overlooked. Taken together, the two parts tell the story of Wainewrights early years and his work as an art critic and artist, his lifestyle, his friendships with other writers and artists, his financial expectations, and the money problems that led him to commit the forgery for which he was later convicted. He may or may not have caused the deaths of his uncle, his mother-in-law, and his wifes half-sister, but he was widely suspected of poisoning them. The question of how a cultured gentleman could also be a murderer was one that fascinated his contemporaries and later generations: Charles Dickens and Edward Bulwer Lytton both used his story in their fiction, and the relationship of Wainewrights high style and low cunning was the subject of an Oscar Wilde essay. Motion has Wainewright, in his final years, looking at his self-portrait, asking whether it shows a virtuous man or an evil one, and answering that it is a picture of a Mr. Look-two-ways, a Mr. Neither-one-thing-nor-the-other.A highly imaginative and effective blend of fact and fiction. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Sir Andrew Motion

Andrew Motion was Poet Laureate from 1999 to 2009; he is Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway College, University of London, and co-founder of the online Poetry Archive. He has received numerous awards for his poetry, and has published four celebrated biographies. His group study The Lamberts won the Somerset Maugham Award and his authorised life of Philip Larkin won the Whitbread Prize for Biography. Andrew Motion's novella The Invention of Dr Cake (2003) was described as 'amazingly clever' by the Irish Times and praised for 'brilliant and almost hallucinatory vividness' by the Sunday Telegraph. His memoir, In the Blood (2006), was described as 'the most moving and exquisitely written account of childhood loss I have ever read' in the Independent on Sunday. His most recent collection of poems is The Customs House (2012). Andrew Motion was knighted for his services to poetry in 2009. In 2014 he received the Wilfred Owen Poetry Award.

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