Wainewright the Poisoner, Paperback Book

Wainewright the Poisoner Paperback

3 out of 5 (1 rating)


A dazzling and boldly original biography by Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate and the celebrated biographer of Larkin and Keats.

Thomas Griffiths Wainewright was an ingenious and unscrupulous criminal.

In 1828 he inherited the handsome family home, while successive legacies allowed him to maintain a flamboyant lifestyle.

Meanwhile, within the space of a few years, three of his relatives died in suspicious circumstances.

Eventually tried and arrested, Wainewright was transported for life to Tasmania.

Yet he had lived at the centre of the Romantic world.

He exhibited at the Royal Academy and painted Byron's portrait.

He was good friends with Henry Fuseli, William Blake and Charles Lamb, and knew John Clare, William Hazlitt, Thomas de Quincey and John Keats.

He was known as amiable, kind, and good-hearted. Combining the form of a 'confession' with notes, asides and illuminations, Wainewright the Poisoner strips away the layers of legend and restores Wainewright to his own voice, capturing his dandified style, his charm as well as his callousness, his wit as well as his wantonness - and his deadly unreliability.




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An unusual approach to writing a biography of an interesting figure, where the documentary sources necessary for a 'normal' biography are lacking. Motion (who was Poet Laureate at the time of writing) crafts the material as a memoir in Wainewright's (slightly unreliable but very believable) voice, with copious notes after each chapter to keep the reader anchored in whatever facts are available. It works well. Motion also manages to highlight the discomfort of the Victorians at an accepted figure in the art and literature world of the time being responsible for some very evil crimes. Their response was to unconvincingly attempt to re-write history to show that he had always been evil. A nice historic vignette. (Read Feb 2011)

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