Edwards, who has written facile biographies of George Sand, Victor Hugo and Peter Paul Rubens, does a workmanlike job with...

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REBEL!: A Biography of Tom Paine

Edwards, who has written facile biographies of George Sand, Victor Hugo and Peter Paul Rubens, does a workmanlike job with Tom Paine concentrating more on the details of the peripatetic, blustering revolutionary's life than on the development of his ideas. Unlike Audrey Williamson (Thomas Paine, 1973) Edwards misses entirely Paine's ties to the English Nonconformist tradition. An unsuccessful stay-maker and exciseman until he went to America and found his true vocation, Paine was nurtured in the same atmosphere that produced Joseph Priestley, Godwin, and the English radicals of the 1790's. Neither his deism nor his radical democratic ideas can be understood apart from this social context, and by ignoring it Edwards makes Paine seem like a restless agitator who all too often sought ""revolution for its own sake."" Edwards recognizes the complexity of Paine's character -- he was impetuous and generous to a fault, yet often imagined himself the brunt of insults and slights. In his declining years he became a quarrelsome, rancorous old man who nurtured an unreasonable hatred of George Washington and other American leaders who he felt had abandoned him. Less convincingly, Edwards resurrects the ""black legend"" of Paine as a heavy-drinking profligate who liked to amuse himself with very young prostitutes. A competent enough survey of the publicist and restless revolutionary which, nonetheless, misses the essence of the impassioned libertarian whose heart was infinitely wiser than his head.

Pub Date: April 29, 1974

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1974