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Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  245 ratings  ·  49 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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Average rating 3.64  · 
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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
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
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
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
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's an indictment of my education at an English state school under a conservative administration that until picking up this book I knew almost nothing about the great reform act of 1832, other than that it happened. Once this book gets going, and it takes a couple of chapters, it's clear that this was a dramatic turning point in the history of Britain that should be more widely known.
The strength of opposition to reforming an electoral system that was hopelessly corrupt and outdated from the m
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Reform, that you may preserve" - Thomas Babington Macaulay

Sir George Hayter painting of the Common in 1832, debating the Great Reform Bill

Antonia Fraser's history of the Great Reform Bill of 1832 was sitting on my bookshelf for a fair few months before I picked it up. Work, travel, life etc. got in the way. In hindsight, I should have read it as soon as I bought it, as the book is terrific--a history focused on one of the central dramas of British Parliament in the 19th century (and maybe of all time.)

Fraser paints the country as one on the verge of revolution. "The people
Oct 11, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My high school European History teacher, Mr. Ellis, was fond of quoting Macauley--"Reform that you may preserve" (although I recall Mr. Ellis saying "ye"). I've always liked that line; it's short and has a self-evident truth to it.

Sure enough, Macauley's line shows up early on in Antonia Fraser's book about the 1832 reform bill. I have to say, that made reading this book worthwhile.

This is a very good, nearly blow-by-blow account of the Parliamentary battle over the bill, detailing the debates i
A fair and comprehensive account of events leading to the British Reform Bill of 1832. The bill was introduced in Parliament by the Whigs, led by Lord Gray, in March 1831. It was designed to at least reduce the unequitable distribution of Parliamentary seats and to expand the suffrage. Because elective districts had been unchanged for centuries, sparsely inhabited districts had representation while growing towns like Birmingham and Manchester had none. There were the "pocket boroughs" controlled ...more
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
Jun 02, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hardly ever read non fiction so I'm not the best judge of this particular history book. I thought the nearly 300 pages could have been condensed into a hundred. The parts which documented the wheeling and dealing to get the act through parliament were very good. But the highly detailed descriptions and background of the leading characters (and sometimes their wives and other sundry people) seemed interminable. I guess Antonia Fraser had to fill her book somehow. Her research of the years 1830 ...more
Perry O'Donovan
This is a clearly written account and enjoyable to read. Despite a number of sections on political unrest in Bristol and monster rallies in Birmingham and the like, it sticks very much to the day-to-day business of getting the Reform Bill through its parliamentary stages in the Palace of Westminster — who said what in the second reading in the upper house and so forth — very little about 'the why' of things. I know a little bit about this fascinating period (wherein so much of the world we live ...more
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ultimately I enjoyed the book and found it interesting, however it is not well written and often follows aimless bunny trails.

The first 4 or 5 chapter took forever to get through - 2 pages of pointless anecdotes or introduction of largely irrelevant personalities of the time were sufficient to put me to sleep or put down the book. It took me 7 months to wade my way through this (and run out of other things I wanted to read).

When it actually gets up to the drafting and readings of the bill it sta
Louise Culmer
Jun 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, owned
very gripping and entertaining account of the atruggle to get the Reform bill passed in 1832. reform was certainly needed, the descriptions of the 'Rotten noroughs are quite extraordinary - one, Old Sarum, consisted simply of a grassy mound and a lump of rock, but it returned two MPs to parliament. lord grey, for the Whigs, fights valiantly for reform, while the Duke of wellington, for the Tories, is equally vigorous in his defense of the status quo. both sides in the debate take very extreme vi ...more
Mar 05, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a decently written, even snappy, account of the passage of Parliamentary Reform in Britain. If you're into witty descriptions of 19th century high politics, this book is for you. Fraser adopts utterly the perspective of the aristocracy, especially in her description of the working-class riots of St. Peter's Fields and Bristol. There's a revealing passage in which she describes how the snooty MPs and Lords began to realize that the middle-class agitators for a relatively tiny expansion of ...more
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book as it set a backdrop to the issue of transportation to Australia. The social inequities and imbalance between classes. Also the fact the situation could have very easily turned to violence but was very deftly handled with that view in mind for potential social change.
Not a repeat of the situation in France. It would be interesting to see if Antonia Fraser could write something regarding the laws and the treatment of the law breakers of this period and the effects of transport
Howard Gannaway
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my kind of history book. I came across it by chance and decided to give it a go. The historical period it deals with is one that I have not studied but Fraser's book sets these particular events in their context in such a way that you feel you already know how it all fits together. The title of the book does not lie - it was real drama and the book catches this brilliantly. The characters in the drama are all drawn sensitively (even the scoundrels) and you quickly get the feeling you kno ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As an American, I had never heard of the Reform Bill of 1832 until I read George Eliot's Middlemarch, where the Bill looms large as the political question of the day. This book certainly filled that void in my knowledge. The book is an enjoyable enough read, although I found it hard to keep track of the large cast of politicians (Lord Grey, Lord Wellington, King William IV, Queen Adelaide, Robert Peel, Lord Brougham, Thomas Attwood, Lord Althorp... to name a few). The tension of this historical ...more
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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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