MR. THISTLEWOOD by Nicholas Wollaston


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From British novelist/travel-writer Wollaston (Eclipse, The Tale Bearer, Winter in England), a poignant, absorbing historical based on a doomed 1820 attempt to overthrow a corrupt English government. Arthur Thistlewood has been a professional revolutionary for almost 30 years--ever since, as a young English tourist, he arrived in Paris just in time for the heady tumult of the Revolution. He left France determined to ""bring Paris to London,"" and in the years that followed waged a war of strikes, marches and demonstrations against a brutally repressive Tory government, once even challenging the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, to a duel (Sidmouth declined and had him thrown in jail). Now a ""mature revolutionary, seasoned in campaign and prison,"" he and a group of the starving unemployed (butchers, shoemakers, sailors, with names like Tidd, Ings, Brunt) are ready to bring down the government in one bloody stroke: a dinner-party massacre of the entire Cabinet--after which, Thistlewood is certain, the country will rise as one. But on the night of the coup, their hiding place is surrounded by police and soldiers, and after a wild melee, the conspirators are dragged off to Newgate Prison, where they learn that Lord Sidmouth had infiltrated the group from the very beginning, and was simply waiting to spring the trap. On the 1st of May, 1820, Thistlewood and five of his fellow plotters are hanged, cut down, and decapitated in front of a cheering, jeering, sobbing crowd of 10,000 London gawkers. The beauty of the novel lies in the portrayal of Thistlewood and Sidmouth, two sworn enemies. Thistlewood is a man as austere as his name, cynical, almost intellectually chilly, yet he believes in social justice with a romantic fervor that borders on naivete. And Sidmouth is a vicious hypocrite, piously mourning his long-dead wife, writing an insipid journal in the third person, to save his biographer trouble (""Early in life, he decided that there was no conflict between politics and the Christian faith"") and calmly ordering hanging after hanging to preserve the status quo. All in all, a piercing, thoughtful novel.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1986
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton--dist. by David & Charles