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Book review: A.A. Markely and Miriam L. Wallace (eds.), Re-Viewing Thomas Holcroft, 1745–1809: Essays on His Works and Life

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posted on 2023-07-26, 13:25 authored by John Gardner
Thomas Holcroft achieved considerable fame from around 1780, when he published his first novel, Alwn, or the Gentleman Comedian, until well into the nineteenth century as his novels, translations, poems, and plays continued to find audiences. William Godwin named him one of his ‘four principal oral instructors’ (p. 3). Byron claimed that Holcroft’s ‘strength and endurance … is worth more than all the talent in the world’. Holcroft was also famous for his radical politics and was indicted for High Treason in 1794. His life, of which William Hazlitt said ‘few lives have been marked with more striking changes’, started in poverty. Born in 1745, Holcroft’s Memoirs detail that his father was a shoemaker and his mother a dealer in ‘greens and oysters’. His earliest memories are tinged with violence—a window shutter cutting off half of his sister’s thumb, and his father whipping him for crying because he did not want to go to school. Ever an autodidact with a notion of himself as a ‘citizen of the world’, Holcroft went on to become a teacher, journalist, poet, radical politician, political philosopher, autobiographer, felon, novelist, and, most successfully, a dramatist. This collection of 12 essays does much to evaluate the largeness of Holcroft, and is broad, searching, interesting, and accessible. The editors, A. A. Markley, who is known for editions of Holcroft, Mary Shelley and Charlotte Smith, as well as the monograph Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions (2009), and Miriam L. Wallace, author of Revolutionary Subjects in the English “Jacobin” Novel, 1790–1805 (2009) and editor of Amelia Opie and Mary Hay, have done well to gather and unite these disparate and fascinating essays, which contain surprisingly little repetition or overlap. They argue that Holcroft is ‘a bridge figure between laboring Britons and the dissenting intelligentsia’ (p. 2), and state that he has been critically sidelined compared to his contemporaries Godwin, Paine, Price and Wollstonecraft. Organized into four sections: ‘Becoming a Man of Letters’; ‘Reform on the Stage’; Reform in the Novel’; and ‘Re-Viewing the Life’, this book places Holcroft in the centre of 1790s cultures. It complements work by critics such as Rodney Baine, Katharine Binhammer, John Barrell, Elbridge Colby, David Fairer, Bridget Keegan, Gary Kelly, Jon Mee, Jonathan Rose, Joseph Rosenblum, Janet Todd and Duncan Wu.



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Review of English Studies




Oxford University Press


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ARCHIVED Faculty of Arts, Law & Social Sciences (until September 2018)

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