Review

Arthur & George

by Julian Barnes



This richly drawn novel defies the rules of categorization. Is it a
biography of two Victorian gentlemen, one famous and one infamous?
A historical fiction richly exploring English life at the turn of
the 20th cenutry? Or is it a whodunit exploring the persecution,
trial and wrongful imprisonment of an innocent man?


Julian Barnes masterfully examines the parallel lives of two boys,
both born in the late 1800s in very different circumstances. George
is the son of a vicar in the working class village of Great Wyrely.
A shy and myopic student, he doesn't seem to realize that he is the
half-caste result of marriage between his Parsi father and his
Scots mother. His English is flawless, his manners above reproach,
and he is in every way but one a true English gentleman. In the
lily-white Midlands, the bookish young man is subjected to veiled
threats and anonymous letters and eventually accused of beastly
acts. His belief in the justice of truth and fairness is shattered
as he is convicted and jailed.  


Arthur is one of seven children born to a strong-willed Irish woman
and a lay-about lush who eventually is institutionalized. While
George is well-versed in the Bible due to his father's role as a
clergyman, Arthur's Catholic upbringing acquaints him with the Ten
Commandments. But his well-read mother also introduces the
imaginative child to romantic tales of knights and ladies, and
Arthur is imbued with the valiant heart of chivalry. George wants
nothing more than to become a respected lawyer; Arthur's ambitions
run toward the study of medicine, but his dream is to rescue his
mother from her meager existence.


Their two lives will not intersect until the men are both in their
third decade. By then George Edalji has been wrongfully imprisoned
for libel and unspeakable acts of violence, and Arthur Doyle has
been knighted and is the world-renowned author and creator of
Sherlock Holmes. Arthur has become bored with his popular detective
and killed him off so that he can return to the practice of
medicine, when he hears of the dubious case against this half-caste
lawyer whom many feel has been wronged by police persecution. In
true chivalric fashion, Arthur charges to the rescue. He cavalierly
adopts his fictional character's highhanded investigative methods;
only his fame and reputation rescue the attempt to restore George's
good name and position from failure at the hands of the local
police, who are anxious to cover up their part in George's
persecution.


This book is based on a real-life incident that resulted in
elevating George Edalji's case to the front pages of the world
press and eventually led to a major change in English law to allow
appeals to be heard by a higher court.


Julian Barnes introduced this artful blend of biography, history
and masterful storytelling in FLAUBERT'S PARROT. With ARTHUR &
GEORGE he has created a wonderfully readable biography of one of
history's favorite and most durable authors, Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle, while introducing us to an examination of Victorian values
and their impact on the law, medicine and the morals of the
times.


   












Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 22, 2010

Arthur & George
by Julian Barnes

  • Publication Date: January 9, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 1400097037
  • ISBN-13: 9781400097036