If interested readers will scroll down to my 9/1 post about this book, one will see my initial interest in the book, my subsequent slightly negative reaction to it, and several reviews by other people. The Wedgwood Society of New South Wales publishes a newsletter and with permission of the reviewer and the Editor, I am posting her review in the latest issue of The Medallion, the Society's newsletter. Dianne Parrey points out that those of us who know the factual stories of Josiah, the factory, his associates and the family will likely be more critical of this book. Perhaps someone without that Wedgwood background will enjoy the book because of viewing the story through different eyes. Appreciation to our Australian friends for allowing us to publish this review, and particular thanks to Dianne.
The Potter’s Hand
Reviewed by Dianne Parrey
On the last page of A.N. Wilson’s book “The Potter’s Hand” there is a note on the author explaining how he is a biographer and a novelist of renown having even been “longlisted for the Man Booker Prize”. (Wilson: p. 506) I have to admit that I am truly sorry Wilson did not stick to biography or write a truly original novel because the mix that he has created is quite disturbing. There are some beautiful descriptions in the story that clearly illustrate Wilson’s capabilities as a writer, for example I found “[t]he violent orange of the setting sun caught the frozen puddles in the fields and was reflected with a series of dazzling colour splashes” (Wilson: p.96) a lovely image. Or when Wilson describes Stubbs' journey up the canal noting “the billowing white and charcoal clouds promised rain again as they brooded in the pale blue sky”. (Wilson: p. 297) However, the story is full of so many historical inaccuracies, that for a student of Wedgwood or eighteenth century history the book becomes quite frustrating.
As a love story, a story of unhappiness and ambition, and desire, there is certainly some merit but the book is too melancholy and aims to shock too much such as the death of the guard after Wilson describes how the Russian Empress decides to take sexual advantage of him. (Wilson: p. 163) I also found Wilson’s dislike of his characters Sally and Jos Wedgwood and the children and his, at times, offensive descriptions off putting. Characters they are because they bear little resemblance to the people that can be gleaned from Josiah’s own letters.
If I had written this review based on the first five chapters of the book my comment would have been ‘don’t bother’. However, I have to say that as I read the book and consciously tried to treat the book as simply a work of fiction I did briefly enjoy some chapters but these sections were very few and tended o be the chapters that dealt with the purely created characters such as the scene of Caleb and Meribah at the pond. (Wilson: pp. 458–59)
There is a wealth of reference to the great men of the industrial and political revolutions. However, unfortunately in many cases the facts are wrong. One of the things I find most desirable about historical fiction is the accuracy of the facts—the ability to weave a fiction story in and out of the reality. Wilson fails to do this. I think it is clear by the beginning of Part Two that Wilson should have written a book on the American Revolution, a separate one on Wedgwood and a separate love story for his created characters.
I desperately wanted to know Stubbs and Dr. Darwin better and had hoped that someone whose own personal history had been influenced by the factory (his father having worked for the company) might have been able to bring these characters to life. In the end there were so many inaccuracies that I was glad when I had finished the book. I believe anyone who has a strong attachment to history, especially Wedgwood history, should not read this book or should do so warily because even Wilson admits in his afterword that he played with the facts changing the dates, including the date the Frog Service was finished, to fit in with his storyline. (Wilson: p. 504) He created letters and I believe put inappropriate words into the mouths of people who would never have said some of the things he has them saying. Wilson has also created some very disturbing references to various characters and the descriptions of Mary Ann’s suffering are very confronting (Wilson: p. 426). Some readers will find some of the sexual references, (Wilson: pp. 55 and 163) the shallowness of the characters and the violence in the Cherokee massacre very disturbing (Wilson: p. 167).
I believe it is essential to approach this book in the clear knowledge that this is very much a piece of fiction with some very predictable story lines spiced with incidents meant to shock; at times filtered with some truly disturbing scenes, and yet written by an author who, at times, is almost poetic in his descriptions. For someone who knows nothing about Wedgwood the undesirable impact would be less.
What reading this book has done for me though is to make me want to start rereading the volumes of Wedgwood’s letters in the hope of wiping out the memory of some of the depictions of Wedgwood in Wilson’s book that I found really unpleasant.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
ANOTHER REVIEW OF THE POTTER'S HAND BY A.N. WILSON
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