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Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  273 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Antonia Fraser’s Perilous Question is a dazzling re-creation of the tempestuous two-year period in Britain’s history leading up to the passing of the Great Reform Bill in 1832, a narrative which at times reads like a political thriller.

The era, beginning with the accession of William IV, is evoked in the novels of Trollope and Thackeray, and described by the young Charles
Paperback, 448 pages
Published May 8th 2014 by Phoenix (first published January 1st 2013)
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DNF. I pushed on to page 135 but I'm dropping it.

It is rare for me to DNF a book, but in this instance it is not doing anything for me.

The story around the events and characters are fascinating and one of Britain's most important in relation to parliament. Yet the author's writing has left me cold and bored to the Perilous Question.
From BBC radio 4 - Book of the Week:
'The struggle for the Great Reform Bill of 1832 took place a the crossroads of English history.' - so says Antonia Fraser in her lively and insightful account of the political change that took place during this period.

Times were in flux. The Industrial Revolution was underway. The reverberations of the French Revolution were still being felt. And the country would be ruled by a new monarch, William IV.

And political change, who and how we would vote, was now in
Perilous Question: Reform or Revolution? Britain on the Brink, 1832

Radio 4: BOTW
non -fic
pub 2013
spring 2013

Holland House

BBC blurb: "The struggle for the Great Reform Bill of 1832 took place a the crossroads of English history." - so says Antonia Fraser in her lively and insightful account of the political change that took place during this period.

Times were in flux. The Industrial Revolution was underway. The reverberations of the French Rev
I pulled this previously unread book out of my library because I had just completed Nick Bunker's EMPIRE ON THE EDGE about how the British Government came to such grief over the American colonies in the 1770s. Part of that story had to do with the old and desperately in need of reform electoral structures of England at that time.

Wanting to know more, I selected this volume and found that its discussion of institutional elites (of all political persuasions) vs. raging popular forces to be highly
Richard Thompson
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is more like a contemporary newspaper account than a history. It is filled with politics, personalities, gossip and current events, but lacks historical perspective. The author does make a good case that the individual personalities of key players such as Wellington, Grey, and the king were important to the way that the drama played out, and she argues persuasively that the general perception that the country was on the brink of revolution was more important than the reality that was n ...more
Jul 08, 2022 rated it really liked it
Antonia Fraser elucidates the time when Britain was arguably the closest to revolution in its post-1688 history. The political establishment was heavy with those seeking to preclude revolution and defuse incendiarism; the Whigs, headed by Earl Grey, sought such an end by propagating and securing the passage of the bill while the Tories did so by invidiously opposing what they perceived to be a catalyst for the kind of convulsion that would force an end to the mixed constitution, setting Britain ...more
Jun 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
For a history and politics nerd, this is a nearly perfect book. Antonia Fraser throws you right in to the middle of the action - if you don't know who the Duke of Wellington was, or what the main results of the Glorious Revolution were, you'll want to bone up on Wikipedia first.

But this is an excellent and ultimately stirring account of the Great Reform Bill. Its immediacy reminds me of modern political "insider stories." The one I'm most familiar with is "Game Change" by Mark Halperin, about th
May 31, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Very thoroughly research, this book might be too lengthy for most, who want to know something about The 1832 Reform Act, but not in this detail. At 278 pages, Antonia Fraser has filled the book with fascinating quotes from the time, bringing to life the struggle between those who wanted reform of parliament, and those determined to retain the privileges of the few. Meanwhile, outside of parliament, the country was edging closer and closer to mass revolt. Parliamentarians were not safe in their o ...more
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nearly a day-by-day narrative of the two-year British period leading up to passing Great Reform Bill in 1832. It feels that every parliamentarian is brought into the account! The story starts with the accession of William IV (discussed n the novels of Trollope and Thackeray; and, the young Charles Dickens describes the events as a cub reporter.)

So many lives that were brought to life in this narrative: Lord Grey, Duke of Wellington, Queen Adelaide, William IV

I have read several historical ficti
Lauren Albert
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-british
While I think it would have been helpful to give a bit more information (for ignorant people such as myself) about British politics in the 19th century, I enjoyed reading Fraser's account of the efforts to pass the reform bill. The ploys used--like threatening to ask the King to create new nobles if the House of Lords didn't pass the bill--required some cultural understanding. But the King had to cooperate--the Lords had to believe that he might do it for it to be any threat at all. The belief t ...more
Jean Blackwood
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jim Graham
This told me far more than I wanted to know about the reform of the British parliament in 1832.
Matthew Gurteen
Mar 26, 2022 rated it it was ok
This took some effort to finish! Objectively speaking, there is nothing wrong per se with Antonia Fraser's 'Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832'. It is grammatically coherent and researched enough to justify being a published history book. Those two qualities do not make a book good, however. Although there were no spelling errors, Fraser often phrases sentences in a strange way, making them difficult to read. The author also assumes a large amount of preexisting knowledge ...more
David Montgomery
Aug 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A charmingly written history of a too-overlooked period in modern political history: the early 1830s debate over the Great Reform Bill, to expand the British electorate and reform the "rotten boroughs." Fraser ably tells the story of this clash, with conservatives fearing that concessions would undermine Britain's timeless constitution and threaten revolution, while reformers thought that Reform was the only way to head off that revolution. (Also covered, to a lesser extent, are the activists wh ...more
Janet Swinney
An informative and helpful account - up to a point - about the political goings-on of the era. But I did not care for the writer's style. She makes many digressions, not always particularly helpful ones, e.g. about who was whose mistress. I tried listening to the book initially on Audible, but the narrator didn't always seem to know where he was heading with these digressions either, so I reverted to a print copy.
However, my main objection is that she underplays to a considerable extent the role
Lena Boudreau
I read this book for my Eliot/Middlemarch project to provide some historical context.

In my time on this earth I have often wondered about the US and France and their revolutions and why the same thing did not occur in Britain. It is this time period (1830s), which provides the answer. I enjoyed this book overall because I learned a lot about key players and also the way that Parliament worked at the time. I do think there were aspects of this book that were underdeveloped. The focus felt a bit
Stephen Harrison
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was a fun read that focused on the drama and debates of the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832 in Britain. The book focuses on the characters involved and tells a very entertaining story. It shows the machinations of individuals, including using public outcry, to increase suffrage and eliminate rotten boroughs. I read it to help teach my European history class. While this probably wasn't the most efficient use of my time, it was relaxing and enjoyable. And, without doubt, I have a better gr ...more
Miles Smith
An excellent history of the Reform Act of 1832; Lady Antonia clearly sympathizes with the Whigs but she is fair-minded in her treatment of others, especially William IV. This is of the best recent treatments of the politics of the era and Fraser writes in an amiable and interesting style. It may not be for everyone; lots of obscure names fill the pages so a passing knowledge of contemporary British parliamentarians and peers of the era is helpful. If your interested in 19th Cent Britain, this is ...more
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The writing is, well, "sprightly," not least because the author is able to lead the reader through some complicated bits of legal rigamarole without getting lost. My only quibble is this: I wish there'd been an appendix or an introduction that laid out the common thinking in Britain about the issue of the great Reform Bill. I'm not British, so it wasn't clear to me if the author was echoing previous arguments or subtly undercutting them. ...more
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I wouldn't consider this among Fraser's best, I did like that she set the scene quite well from the perspective of someone who would have been in the thick of the action of the time period. Many society snippets are included amongst the research, and while they are worth perhaps a handful of salt more than a grain, they are still valuable for shedding light on a general perspective. While I enjoyed this book for the most part, at times it was a bit tedious to slog through. ...more
Jan 03, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hugely enjoyable account of the political, social and royal machinations behind the passage of the 1832 bill. I'd always struggled to understand 18th/early 19th century british politics, and the relationship between the people and the largely aristocratic (in makeup and by selection) house of Commons and Lords membership - after reading this account, I feel I finally get it. It's a genuinely exciting episode, with many barriers despite the passage of reform feeling inevitable in hindsight. ...more
Michael Macdonald
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
Sprawling tale of change. Antonia Fraser describes the personalities and politics of the Great Reform Act in a enthralling manner with detailed assessment of the major players. This story of change driven by a divided elite is entertaining but never quite clarifies the reasoning for such a shift in culture.
Amac Omnium
I enjoyed Antonia Fraser's book on Marie Antoinette, so thought I would try this. It is a struggle. I would like her to step back from the minutiae, detailed descriptions of the nobility and their brilliant quotes, and see her explain more clearly the arguments for and against reform. Of course the top end of town did not want to surrender power, but tell us more. ...more
An excellent blow-by-blow account of the political battle for Reform.
Darryn T
Jul 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting insight to the formation and practice of politics during the first half of the 19th century.
Nov 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting account of the 1832 reform bill written in pacy, racy style. Very well researched and it certainly helps puts the gloom and doom around Brexit into perspective.
Birgitta Hoffmann
A detailed history of the years that led to the passing of the Great Reform Bill in 1832. Very readable. However, if you are a fan of Queen Adelaide, you might not like this book very much.
Jun 02, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Curious to read of the unrest in Britain a mere 50 years after America claimed its independence.
Jason Wilson
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the early nineteenth century , parliament is a muddled affair; MP’s are not always clearly party aligned , and rotten boroughs prevail: old Sarum which consists of little more than a field has two MPs ; Yorkshire only one.

Meanwhile , in the wake of the French Revolution, reform rears it’s head in England . Will this prevent revolution here or cause it.? It’s easy with nearly 200 years hindsight to be blasé about this question , but in the context of the time it’s a realistic moral dilemma ,
Sep 14, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The perilous question is that of parliamentary reform,” Fraser quotes Charles Grey saying in January 1831, “and as I approach it, the more I feel all its difficulty.” A history about British parliamentary reform sounds pretty dry.

But the context in which the British parliamentary act of l832 makes it reasonably interesting. It was a period not far removed from the violent French Revolution of a generation before, and there were real fears of uncontrolled political violence shaking the foundati
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Antonia Fraser is the author of many widely acclaimed historical works, including the biographies Mary, Queen of Scots (a 40th anniversary edition was published in May 2009), Cromwell: Our Chief of Men, King Charles II and The Gunpowder Plot (CWA Non-Fiction Gold Dagger; St Louis Literary Award). She has written five highly praised books which focus on women in history, The Weaker Vessel: Women's ...more

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