THE FRIDAY BOOK: Recreating a Marvell of the Imagination ; the Green and the Gold Christopher Peachment Picador, Pounds 15.99

By Murray, Nicholas | The Independent (London, England), March 7, 2003 | Go to article overview
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THE FRIDAY BOOK: Recreating a Marvell of the Imagination ; the Green and the Gold Christopher Peachment Picador, Pounds 15.99


Murray, Nicholas, The Independent (London, England)


THE POET Andrew Marvell poses notorious difficulties for the biographer: there are dark periods where nothing is known of his life. In his lively new novel, Christopher Peachment has turned this into the springboard for some vigorous imagining, though in the end the consensus is not seriously derailed.

Peachment has fashioned an idiom for Marvell's soliloquy that mixes cod 17th-century rhythms and vocabulary with blatantly anachronistic elements. A cleverly pre-emptive anachronism early on, when Marvell mentions a "Freudian slip", mocks the pedantic reviewer who would have scouted the author for "legs it out the door" or "got on its case". A pure mid 17th-century pastiche would have been wearying. Peachment's solution works, and is not without its own flavour.

His Marvell is a solitary who always fears to show his hand. What some have seen as a too skilful ability to change masters is interpreted here as simply a reluctance to make a commitment. The author of those exquisitely graceful lyrics is here coarse, xenophobic, misogynist, manipulative and disillusioned. Towards the end, he encounters the dissolute poet-rake Rochester, whose example confirms his belief that life is empty and vain.

Brushing aside speculation about the unmarried Marvell's sexuality, Peachment presents a straightforwardly heterosexual poet whose fear and dislike of women is traceable (too neatly, one feels) to a sense of exclusion by his older sisters in childhood. One woman, however, engaged his interest: Mary Fairfax, the 12-year-old daughter of the owner of Nun Appleton House, the subject of his finest long poem.

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