The popularity of John Clare, the Northamptonshire peasant poet, continues to grow, well over 200 years since his birth. Happily, Clare’s appeal has in turn inspired creative tributes from modern-day poets, playwrights and novelists. It is easy to understand their fascination, for Clare’s life story was extraordinary: born into poverty, and with little formal schooling, he produced some remarkable poetry and, briefly, was a literary sensation in London, his work easily outselling that of Keats (with whom he shared a publisher). Such success was short-lived, however, and critical neglect was accompanied by mental deterioration. He spent the final twenty-seven years of his life in a mental asylum. His life was more heavily marked by tragedy than any other Romantic writer, and it cannot be long before some enterprising filmmaker provides the first cinematic take on Clare’s story.
In the meantime, Hugh Lupton’s The Ballad of John Clare is a welcome addition to the canon of Clare-inspired writing. Lupton, a first-time novelist but a renowned expert on British folk culture, concentrates on a single year in Clare’s early life, when he was seventeen. Lupton constructs his