Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832

Antonia Fraser

Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832

For our inconclusive times, there is an attractive resonance with 1832, with its 'rotten boroughs' of Old Sarum and the disappearing village of Dunwich, and its lines of most resistance to reform. This book is character-driven - on the one hand, the reforming heroes are the Whig aristocrats Lord Grey, Lord Althorp and Lord John Russell, and the Irish orator Daniel O'Connell. They included members of the richest and most landed Cabinet in history, yet they were determined to bring liberty, which whittled away their own power, to the country. The all-too-conservative opposition comprised Lord Londonderry, the Duke of Wellington, the intransigent Duchess of Kent and the consort of the Tory King William IV, Queen Adelaide. Finally, there were 'revolutionaries' and reformers, like William Cobbett, the author of RURAL RIDES. This is a book that features one eventful year, much of it violent. There were riots in Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham, and wider themes of Irish and 'negro emancipation' underscore the narrative. The time-span of the book is from Wellington's intractable declaration in November 1830 that 'The beginning of reform is the beginning of revolution', to 7th June 1832, the date of the extremely reluctant royal assent by William IV to the Great Reform Bill, under the double threat of the creation of 60 new peers in the House of Lords and the threat of revolution throughout the country. These events led to a total change in the way Britain was governed, a two-year revolution that Antonia Fraser brings to vivid dramatic life. 4.0 out of 5 based on 9 reviews
Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History
Format
Pages
RRP
Date of Publication May 2013
ISBN 978-0297864301
Publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson
 

For our inconclusive times, there is an attractive resonance with 1832, with its 'rotten boroughs' of Old Sarum and the disappearing village of Dunwich, and its lines of most resistance to reform. This book is character-driven - on the one hand, the reforming heroes are the Whig aristocrats Lord Grey, Lord Althorp and Lord John Russell, and the Irish orator Daniel O'Connell. They included members of the richest and most landed Cabinet in history, yet they were determined to bring liberty, which whittled away their own power, to the country. The all-too-conservative opposition comprised Lord Londonderry, the Duke of Wellington, the intransigent Duchess of Kent and the consort of the Tory King William IV, Queen Adelaide. Finally, there were 'revolutionaries' and reformers, like William Cobbett, the author of RURAL RIDES. This is a book that features one eventful year, much of it violent. There were riots in Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham, and wider themes of Irish and 'negro emancipation' underscore the narrative. The time-span of the book is from Wellington's intractable declaration in November 1830 that 'The beginning of reform is the beginning of revolution', to 7th June 1832, the date of the extremely reluctant royal assent by William IV to the Great Reform Bill, under the double threat of the creation of 60 new peers in the House of Lords and the threat of revolution throughout the country. These events led to a total change in the way Britain was governed, a two-year revolution that Antonia Fraser brings to vivid dramatic life.

Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser

Reviews

The Spectator

Jane Ridley

... this is not old-style, judgemental Whig history. On the contrary, it is a superb account of the human, as well as the political, drama ... The book should be required reading for today’s millionaire ministers who seem sadly lily-livered by contrast with Grey and his Whigs. 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.

11/05/2013

Read Full Review


The Sunday Telegraph

Andrew Roberts

Superb … as well as providing incisive pen portraits of all the major protagonists, [it] is expressive and elegiac of an age when, despite everything, enlightened rationality informed political discourse.

06/05/2013

Read Full Review


The Times

David Aaronovitch

Simply splendid … Borgen in the era of Middlemarch … It is a remarkable story told by an excellent storyteller, with a flair for character and rare sympathy for context.

03/05/2013

Read Full Review


The Sunday Times

Dominic Sandbrook

Rollicking … Although Fraser makes a vague show of discussing the ordinary people who made up the bulk of the reform movement, her heart is not really in it. As so often in her books, the central characters are the men at the top: the Whig leader Lord Grey, with his tight white pantaloons and “dome of a head”; the brilliant, fluent Henry Brougham, with his “amazing bottle-nose” and “uproarious” hair; the passionate, stammering Lord John Russell, with his “large head and notably small body”. Most academic historians would be horrified by a book that spends more time on the size of the characters’ heads than on the nuances of their politics. Still, that is probably why Fraser sells and they don’t. Her book may be thin on analysis, but as a pure storyteller she has few equals.

12/05/2013

Read Full Review


The Financial Times

Sue Gaisford

Enthralling … She is a knowledgeable guide, spicing her narrative with vivid sketches of the anxieties of individuals involved, from the king’s 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.

17/05/2013

Read Full Review


The Daily Mail

Marcus Berkmann

It all makes for a rich and busy landscape, a gripping tale and another fine book from one of our best popular historians.

16/05/2013

Read Full Review


The Evening Standard

Kwasi Kwarteng

… a spirited attempt to bring the controversy and passion of the era to a new audience. Her prose is charming and fluent. She shows she has lost none of the touch that brought her fame as a popular historian. Yet her enthusiasm cannot hide how utterly remote the Reform Bill debates seem from modern political life.

02/05/2013

Read Full Review


The Literary Review

Boyd Hilton

It is not an unfamiliar story, and the most recent narrative account, by Edward Pearce, is less than a decade old ... Pearce’s book is more subtly argued, more thoroughly contextualised, more analytical ... Pearce is also more accurate than Fraser, who thinks that the Catholic Relief Act of 1829 gave votes to Catholics for the first time ... But then, as Fraser puts it herself, she ‘wanted to investigate the flavour of the times, rather than write a history of Reform’, and undoubtedly she excels at empathy and atmospherics ... Her deft pen portraits and gift for dramatic narrative had me on the edge of my seat, even though I know the plot backwards.

01/05/2013

Read Full Review


The Guardian

John Barrell

So what does Antonia Fraser do that other writers have not done before? I'm not sure ... The book, she explains, is an attempt not to write "a history of Reform", but "to give the flavour of the times". The first point is right enough: Fraser's understanding of the events of 1830-32 in the light of the earlier campaigns for reform is slight, and this gives her account of the bill's passage a thin, one-dimensional feel ... As for the flavour of the times, it has none of the complexity that the hosts of reality cooking shows look out for. It is the flavour as tasted by aristocrats.

04/05/2013

Read Full Review


©2013 The Omnivore