John Wilkes: The Lives of a Libertine (Hardback) book cover

John Wilkes

The Lives of a Libertine

By John Sainsbury

© 2006 – Routledge

306 pages

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Hardback: 9780754656265
pub: 2006-06-28
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About the Book

John Wilkes remains one of the most colourful and intriguing characters of eighteenth-century Britain. Born in 1725, the son of a prosperous London distiller, he was given the classical education of a gentleman, before entering politics as a Whig. Finding his party in opposition following the accession of George III in 1760 he took up his pen with sensational effect, and made a career out of excoriating the new administration and promoting the Whig interest. His charismatic style and vicious wit soon ensured that he became a figurehead for the radical cause, earning him many admirers and many enemies. Amongst the latter were the king, and the artist William Hogarth who famously depicted Wilkes as a grinning, squint-eyed, pug-nosed agent of misrule. Whilst Wilkes's political career has been much explored, particularly the period between 1763 and 1774, much less has been written about his remarkable private life. This biography provides a more comprehensive examination of Wilkes throughout his long life than has hitherto been available. Taking a thematic, rather than chronological approach it is divided into six main chapters covering family, ambition, sex, religion, class and money, which allows a much more rounded picture of Wilkes to emerge. In so doing it provides a fascinating insight, not only into one of the most intriguing characters of the Georgian period, but also into wider eighteenth-century British society and its shifting attitudes to morality, politics and gender.


'Among many new insights provided by this excellent volume is an intriguing account of the legendary libertine and libertarian John Wilkes, as a father…. This book explores many of the lesser-known aspects of Wilkes's life, treating them all with wit, learning and discrimination.' Times Literary Supplement '… this superb biography… lively, engaging narrative…' The Tribune ’Deftly synthesizing an impressive range of archival and secondary sources, the author employs a finely nuanced approach that explores the personal dimension of Wilkes’s official persona most effectively, resulting in a more comprehensive, multidimensional and integrated portrayal of the man than has hitherto been available. Indeed, a major strength of the work is its innovative approach - not conventionally chronological but thematic - the themes, each comprising a chapter, throwing new light not only on Wilkes as historical figure, but also on eighteenth-century British society in general… A useful appendix on "The Authorship of An Essay on Woman" and an excellent bibliography conclude what is an impressive monograph of value to all students and scholars interested in the Georgian period.’ Parliamentary History ’John Wilkes: The Lives of a Libertine is accessible yet nuanced, enthusiastic yet insightful, managing to juggle the different roles Wilkes filled without losing sight of the man behind the masks. No other scholar has shown such sensitivity to the ways in which the doting father and libertine negotiated with each other… The result is a study of eighteenth-century notions of politeness, libertinism, class, religion and the public sphere with Wilkes at its center: savvy, evasive, and multi-faceted, yet all the more tangibly human for it.’ 1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era

Table of Contents

Contents: Foreword; Introduction; Family; Ambition; Sex; Religion; Class; Money; Conclusion: a vivid enigma; Appendix; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

John Sainsbury is a Professor in the Department of History at Brock University, Canada.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General