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Peter Ackroyd


Peter Ackroyd is a distinguished biographer – he has written biographies of Blake, Dickens, Eliot and Pound. This might even be his forte. His novels are generally similar in style – they are usually set in London, involve some mystery and mix the past with the present, with the past usually having a major and often fatal effect on the present. As can be seen from the titles, many of his novels are peopled with actual historical characters. All his novels can be read – with much enjoyment – as gloomy, historical mysteries where the past and present intertwine. Clearly, for Ackroyd, the past cannot be separated from the present. Not only does the present not stand alone, resting on the past, but the past never fully goes away but comes back into the present in often unpredictable ways.

While virtually all of his novels are superbly written and thoroughly enjoyable, I do, at times, find that there is something lacking, as though he seems unable to penetrate beyond this theme and the idea of the lives of his characters (real and fictitious) intertwining. The one exception is his undoubted masterpiece, English Music. This novel, partially through real characters, looks into the theme of what is Englishness in a manner not found in most 20th century English novels. It also examines the role of art in the human spirit. It is clearly one of the foremost post-War English novels.

Peter Ackroyd was born in 1949 in East Acton, Middlesex. He was brought up by his mother, as his father had left the family home when he was very young. He studied English at Clare College, Cambridge, where he took a double first. He then became a Mellon Fellow at Yale University, where he wrote Notes for a New Culture: An Essay on Modernism. He worked for the Spectator,before coming a full-time writer. He then became a book reviewer for The Times.

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1973 London Lickpenny (poetry)
1976 Notes for a New Culture: An Essay on Modernism
1978 Country Life (poetry)
1979 Dressing up, Transvestism and Drag: the History of an Obsession
1980 Ezra Pound and His World
1982 The Great Fire of London (novel)
1983 The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (novel)
1984 T.S. Eliot
1985 Hawksmoor (novel)
1987 Chatterton (novel)
1987 Dickens’ London: An Imaginative Vision
1987 The Diversions of Purley and Other Poems (poetry)
1987 Ezra Pound
1989 First Light (novel)
1990 Dickens
1991 Introduction to Dickens
1992 English Music (novel)
1993 The House of Doctor Dee (novel)
1994 Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (US: The Trial of Elizabeth Cree) (novel)
1995 Blake
1996 Milton in America (novel)
1998 The Life of Thomas More
1999 The Plato Papers (novel)
2002 The Collection (collected short works)
2003 Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination
2003 The Clerkenwell Tales (novel)
2003 The Beginning (children’s)
2004 Escape From Earth (children’s)
2004 Kingdom of the Dead (children’s)
2004 Cities of Blood (children’s)
2004 The Lambs of London (novel)
2005 Ancient Greece (children’s)
2005 Ancient Rome (children’s)
2005 Chaucer
2005 Shakespeare: The Biography
2006 The Fall of Troy (novel)
2006 Turner
2007 Newton
2007 Thames: Sacred River
2008 Poe: A Life Cut Short
2008 The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein (novel)
2009 The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling (novel)
2009 Venice: Pure City (non-fiction)
2010 The English Ghost: Spectres Through Time (non-fiction)
2010 The Death of King Arthur: The Immortal Legend
2011 London Under (history)
2011 Foundation: the History of England, Volume 1
2012 Wilkie Collins (biography)
2012 Tudors: the History of England, Volume 2
2014 Three Brothers
2014 Charlie Chaplin
2014 Rebellion: the History of England, Volume 3
2015 Alfred Hitchcock
2016 The History of England, v.4 Revolution
2017 Queer City
2018 The History of England, v.5 Dominion
2020 Mr Cadmus
2021 The History of England, v.6 Innovation
2021 Introducing Swedenborg
2022 Colours of London: A History