Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd is working on an ‘autobiography’ of Oscar Wilde.

Raison de Mourir

Peter Ackroyd, 21 January 1982

The Douglas were interesting only in death: the book opens with a suicide, and closes with the glimpse of a putative heaven in which Lord Alfred Douglas and his father are reconciled, like Belial and Mammon. In life, they were a family of sportsmen whose only sport was self-interest, who made up in neuroses what they lacked in achievement, who relied upon ferocity rather than feeling. Without the light which the falling Oscar distributed upon them, they would have remained in obscurity.

What the doctor saw

Peter Ackroyd, 5 March 1981

The title hints at something extravagant and strange: five 19th-century French writers – Baudelaire, Jules de Goncourt, Flaubert, Maupassant and Alphonse Daudet – are enrolled here because of their ‘unremitting pessimism and disgust toward life’. As it turns out, the book is more Marie Curie than Mario Praz. Roger Williams, a Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Wyoming, has supped his full of horror. He opens with a modest disclaimer: he began this study ‘with the understanding that all five had been syphilitic, and with the suspicion that disease had blackened their outlook.’ A good, probing start. But ‘my medical inquiry soon revealed that four of the cases were far more complicated than anticipated.’ Diseases spread across each page – colic, rheumatism, cerebral haemorrhage, epilepsy, tertiary syphilis, hemiplegia. These five apparently permanent invalids, breezily described as ‘Flaubert and Company’, seemed to pick up whatever was going; it is surprising that they found time to write anything at all.

It took a very special kind of invention to get an awareness of the ‘erratic truth of death’s timing’ into a medium of mass entertainment.

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Upriver: the Thames

Iain Sinclair, 25 June 2009

This morning there is a man in a short black coat running across a high brick wall; a hunchbacked fly springing sticky-fingered from perch to perch, before dropping heavily into the street. The...

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Pretty Letters: The Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Megan Marshall, 21 February 2008

Where to begin? It’s the biographer’s fundamental dilemma. These days it’s a rare biography that opens with a recital of its subject’s pedigree, then works its way...

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The organisers of the Festival of Britain in 1951 knew what to celebrate. At the start of the opening ceremony – a service in St Paul’s – the King praised the nation’s...

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What a shocking bad hat! Ackroyd’s ‘London’

Christopher Tayler, 22 February 2001

Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography is as much a history of characterisations of the city as a history of London itself. And although Ackroyd is most concerned with character in the sense...

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Thomas More, the scrupulous martyr, is the complete English saint. But no man can be a saint in God’s eyes, and no man should be one in ours; and certainly not Thomas More. He is seen as a...

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Customising Biography

Iain Sinclair, 22 February 1996

There is no single Blake. Not any longer, not once the envelope of identity had been laid aside (his stone slab in Bunhill Fields, close to the memorials for Defoe and Bunyan, is a sentimental prompt and...

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The Cadaver Club

Iain Sinclair, 22 December 1994

Baroness James, making a rare visitation to a blighted metropolitan zone, downriver of Tower Bridge, has written a very useful book, a book on which I will be happy to draw for years to come....

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Make the music mute

John Barrell, 9 July 1992

Peter Ackroyd’s new novel is partly a narrative, partly a series of rhapsodies and meditations on the nature of English culture, written in the styles of various great authors. It is an...

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A Terrible Bad Cold

John Sutherland, 27 September 1990

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...

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Looking away

Michael Wood, 18 May 1989

‘The dead writers,’ Eliot said, ‘are that which we know.’ They are also, Peter Ackroyd might want to add, that which we don’t know we know or wish we knew better,...

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Poor Toms

Karl Miller, 3 September 1987

Peter Ackroyd’s new novel has been caught in the Gadarene rush of fiction brought out in time for the Booker Prize deadline. It won’t be lost in this year’s profusion of titles,...

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Street Wise

Pat Rogers, 3 October 1985

It takes no time to see that Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor is a book wrought with extreme cunning. A slower discovery arrives, that this virtuosity on the surface goes with imaginative density...

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The Braver Thing

Christopher Ricks, 1 November 1984

Peter Ackroyd has written a benign life of T.S. Eliot. Given the malignity visited on Eliot, this is a good deal. Fair-minded, broad-minded and assiduous, here is a thoroughly decent book. It has...

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Oscar and Constance

Tom Paulin, 17 November 1983

In the spring of 1882, Oscar Wilde travelled to a huge mining town in the Rocky Mountains called Leadville, where he lectured the miners on the ‘secret of Botticelli’. A fortnight...

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John Sutherland, 4 March 1982

The survivors are two Jewish families, the Katzes and the Gordons, fled from Odessa and settled in pre-First World War Liverpool. Within their ethnic class and shared past they are markedly...

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Homage to Ezra Pound

C.K. Stead, 19 March 1981

In 1949 when a panel of his fellow poets (including T.S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, W.H. Auden and Allen Tate) awarded Ezra Pound the Bollingen Prize for The Pisan Cantos there was an immediate and...

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