Perilous Question: Reform or Revolution? Britain on the Brink, 1832 [NOOK Book]

Overview

Antonia Fraser’s Perilous Question is a dazzling re-creation of the tempestuous two-year period in Britain’s history leading up to the passing of the Great Reform Bill in 1832, a narrative which at times reads like a political thriller.

The era, beginning with the accession of William IV, is evoked in the novels of Trollope and Thackeray, and described by the young Charles Dickens as a cub reporter. It is lit with notable characters. The ...
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Perilous Question: Reform or Revolution? Britain on the Brink, 1832

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Overview

Antonia Fraser’s Perilous Question is a dazzling re-creation of the tempestuous two-year period in Britain’s history leading up to the passing of the Great Reform Bill in 1832, a narrative which at times reads like a political thriller.

The era, beginning with the accession of William IV, is evoked in the novels of Trollope and Thackeray, and described by the young Charles Dickens as a cub reporter. It is lit with notable characters. The reforming heroes are the Whig aristocrats led by Lord Grey, members of the richest and most landed cabinet in history yet determined to bring liberty, which would whittle away their own power, to the country. The all-too-conservative opposition was headed by the Duke of Wellington, supported by the intransigent Queen Adelaide, with hereditary memories of the French Revolution. Finally, there were revolutionaries, like William Cobbett, the author of Rural Rides, the radical tailor Francis Place, and Thomas Attwood of Birmingham, the charismatic orator. The contest often grew violent. There were urban riots put down by soldiers and agricultural riots led by the mythical Captain Swing.

The underlying grievance was the fate of the many disfranchised people. They were ignored by a medieval system of electoral representation that gave, for example, no votes to those who lived in the new industrial cities of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and Birmingham, while allocating two parliamentary representatives to a village long since fallen into the sea and, most notoriously, Old Sarum, a green mound in a field. Lord John Russell, a Whig minister, said long afterwards that it was the only period when he genuinely felt popular revolution threatened the country. The Duke of Wellington declared intractably in November 1830 that “The beginning of reform is the beginning of revolution.” So it seemed that disaster must fall on the British Parliament, or the monarchy, or both.

The question was: Could a rotten system reform itself in time? On June 7, 1832, the date of the extremely reluctant royal assent by William IV to the Great Reform Bill, it did. These events led to a total change in the way Britain was governed, and set the stage for its growth as the world’s most successful industrial power; admired, among other things, for its traditions of good governance—a two-year revolution that Antonia Fraser brings to vivid dramatic life.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In Fraser's latest work on British history, she deviates from biography (Mary, Queen of Scots; The Six Wives of Henry VIII) to tackle the "perilous question" of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, seeking to get at the personalities involved in this historical moment and the reactions of people at the time. A confluence of events, including the ascension of William IV to the throne in 1830, led to an environment ripe for a major change to the still-medieval system of government. Apportioning of parliamentary representation had not changed in hundreds of years, completely ignoring population growth and the Industrial Revolution, so that, for example, extinct villages had more members of Parliament than major cities. By focusing on the short period between 1830 and 1832, Fraser moves the narrative along at a quick pace in order to give, as she says, "a flavour of the times," reminding the reader that the people who lived through the period could not have known how it would all turn out. American readers unfamiliar with the major figures of the era may find this work hard to follow initially; the illustrations will help to ground them as to who was who, but a dramatis personae would have been helpful. VERDICT The subject will not necessarily draw readers in as much as a royal biography, but the book is recommended for Fraser's fans and for British history enthusiasts.—Megan H. Fraser, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, Libs.
From the Publisher

The New Yorker
“Fraser writes energetically about the political wrangling, finding both humor and humanity in the struggle.”

Total Politics (UK)
"Perilous Question is a cracking good read and should be on every parliamentarian’s summer reading list."

Kirkus Reviews
“Engaging, elaborate and elegantly wrought.”

Evening Standard
“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.”

Telegraph
“Antonia Fraser’s superb narrative of the passing of the Bill, which, as well as providing incisive pen portraits of all the major protagonists, is expressive and elegiac of an age when, despite everything, enlightened rationality informed political discourse… The 1820s and early 1830s have all too often been seen as a historical backwater between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the start of the Victorian era that began with the queen’s accession in 1837. With Fraser’s erudite and acute portrait of this age of reform, it won’t be thought so anymore.”

Shelf Awareness for Readers
“Political gerrymandering as historical thriller: Who would have guessed? In Perilous Question, Antonia Fraser makes precisely that leap--presenting the history behind Britain's Great Reform Act of 1832 in terms that are both historically thorough and deeply fascinating….With her usual perception and clarity, Fraser…draws life from a seemingly dry topic, turning political history into real story.”

The Spectator
“The final chapters of the book read like a thriller…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.”

The Express (UK)
"Do children at school still learn about the Great Reform Bill of 1832? …. What I don't recall from school is how thoroughly entertaining it was. What a slice of human drama, how tense, how crucial and how very nearly it could have foundered, thereby propelling our nation into riot and revolution. For that we need impeccable historian Antonia Fraser, who invests such humanity in her huge cast of characters.”

Library Journal
“In Fraser’s latest work on British history, she deviates from biography (Mary, Queen of ScotsThe Six Wives of Henry VIII) to tackle the “perilous question” of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, seeking to get at the personalities involved in this historical moment and the reactions of people at the time… Fraser moves the narrative along at a quick pace in order to give, as she says, “a flavour of the times”…The book is recommended for Fraser’s fans and for British history enthusiasts.”

The Wharf (UK)
“Antonia Fraser captures the febrile times with a kaleidoscope characters who leap off the page in their eminence, silliness and eloquence. This is a particular slice of history demanding a particular reader but it is edifying and breathless stuff and there are many lessons that our current ruling class could learn if they could tear themselves away from their expenses chits to make the effort.”

Camden Review (UK)
“Antonia Fraser’s immaculate and dramatic history of the 1832 Reform Act is so important and essential reading, a brilliant eye-opener and heart-stopper as she reveals the passions of the radicals at the crossroads of British history for whom the advance of democracy was the only sane way forward….All the awful pomposity is there to behold, all the chicanery, all the lust for power, money and love.”

Kirkus Reviews
The dame of British historical biography picks her way gingerly through the cluttered details of Parliamentary reform. Biographer and novelist Fraser (Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter, 2011, etc.) has so thoroughly enmeshed herself in the machinations and personalities of the leaders surrounding the debate for the first great Reform Act of 1832 that she often neglects to see the forest for the trees. She does convey the sense of national urgency compelling leaders like the Whig Lord Grey to pursue the bill, which was a long-running attempt to reform Parliament by addressing the medieval, unequal distribution of seats, eliminating "rotten boroughs," or defunct areas with decreased population, and expanding enfranchisement--at least somewhat. Fraser views England at a crucial "crossroads" during this period, beset by the convergence of historical forces that would play out in the heated two-year debate over the bill. The nation was in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, creating newly populous towns like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds and a prosperous new middle class. As the horrors of the French Revolution were receding from memory, another revolution in France carried off the latest Bourbon king, Charles X, and installed the populist Louis-Philippe, thus demonstrating yet again the power of the masses, delighting the Whigs while alarming the Tories. In England, the bloated, ailing George IV died in June 1830, ushering in his more people-friendly younger brother William IV. Moreover, the recently passed Act for Catholic Emancipation, which gave Catholics the right to vote in elections and stand for Parliament, had riven the Tory government. Consequently, reform was in the air, and the author masterfully evokes the arguments propounded over the several sessions of Parliament by the patricians of the day. Fraser's study of the "reasonable" confrontation between Commons, Lords and Crown is engaging, elaborate and elegantly wrought.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610393324
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 5/7/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 659,517
  • File size: 8 MB

Meet the Author

Antonia Fraser has written several historical biographies which have been international bestsellers, since Mary, Queen of Scots published in 1969. These include Marie Antoinette, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and Cromwell. Other historical works include The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in Seventeenth Century England, and Faith and Treason: the Gunpowder Plot. Antonia Fraser was president of English Pen, the world-wide writers’ organization for free speech, and is now a vice-president. She has received many prizes, including the Wolfson History Award, the Norton Medlicott Historical Association Medal, the Franco-British Literary Prize, and the St. Louis Literary Award. She was made a D.B.E (Dame) in 2011 for services to literature. She was married to the Nobel Laureate, Harold Pinter, who died in 2008.
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