This book situates John Clare's long, prolific but often badly neglected literary life within the wider cultural histories of the Regency and earlier Victorian periods. The first half considers the construction of the Regency peasant-poet and how Clare performed this role on stages such as the London Magazine. It also looks at the way in which it went out of fashion as Regency mentalities were replaced by early Victorian ones. The second half recreates asylum culture and places Clare's performances as Regency boxers and Lord Byron within this bleak new world.
'The historical and literary life around Clare has never been rendered with such masterful and polemical colour, nor with such a plethora of fascinating characters. Few writers on Clare can claim the range and vitality of Sales' extraordinary style. And what is more, there are innumerable fresh and provocative ideas here, many of them eminently quotable, and from which countless essays and theses will spring. For students and readers of Clare, this is an essential text.' Simon Kovesi, Oxford Brookes University, John Clare Society Journal
'A brilliant short polemic on the Regency underworld of dodgy poetry publishing, celebrity journalism and improving lunatic asylums; - Richard Holmes in The Guardian Review 'Books of the Year'