2000, First American edition. A fine, unmarked copy in a near fine, unclipped d/w.
In a time rich in unlikely characters, Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (1794-1847) was one of the strangest of all. A painter, writer, well-known London dandy and friend of most of the major figures of the Romantic era (from Blake to Byron, from John Clare to John Keats, Lamb, De Quincey and Hazlitt), he was also almost certainly a murderer, possibly several times over. Arrested and convicted of forgery--evidence was lacking to prove the murders--he was transported for life to the barbarous penal colony of Tasmania, where, years later, he died in obscurity. Behind him he left only rumors and fragments of documents, and a legend of evil that fascinated such writers as Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.
With a brilliant blend of creative imagination and scholarly sleuthing, Andrew Motion evokes Wainewright's double life in a tour de force of the biographer's art. Cast in the form of a partly fictional "confession" written by the subject himself, buttressed (and sometimes contradicted) by the notes, background essays and other commentary setting out the known facts, it reveals the man as no straightforward history could do--his distinctive voice, his wit and charm, his callousness and unreliability, his pathos and, perhaps, his capacity for
As a distinguished biographer (of Philip Larkin and John Keats, among others), Andrew Motion has been notably successful in pinning down the often-elusive details of Wainewright's life. As a first-rate poet (he succeeded Ted Hughes as Britain's Poet Laureate), he shows himself equally skilled in the imaginative investigation of Wainewright's bizarre psyche. The result is a richly memorable exploration of the darker side of human nature, ofthe roots of crime, of the nature of biography itself.