Went the Day Well?: Witnessing Waterloo
From Samuel Johnson Prize shortlisted author David Crane, this book is about the Britain that fought the battle of Waterloo – from pauper to painter, poet to prince, soldier to civilian.
Midnight, Sunday, 17 June 1815. There was no town in England that had not sent its soldiers, hardly a household that was not holding its breath, not a family, as Byron put it, that would escape ‘havoc’s tender mercies’ at Waterloo, and yet at the same time life inevitably went on as normal.
As Wellington’s rain-sodden army retreated for the final, decisive battle, men and women in England were still going to the theatre and science lectures, still working in the fields and the factories, still reading and writing books and sermons, still painting their pictures and sitting in front of Lord Elgin’s marbles as if almost five thousand did not already lie dead. After ten hours of savage fighting, Waterloo would be littered with the bodies of something like 47,000 dead and wounded. Meanwhile, as the day unfolded, a whole nation, countryside and town, artisan and aristocrat, was brought together by war.
From Samuel Johnson Prize shortlisted author David Crane, Went the Day Well is a breathtaking portrait of Britain in those moments. Moving from England to the battle and back again this vivid, stunning freeze-frame of a country on the single most celebrated day in its modern history shows Crane’s full range in tracing the endless, overlapping connections between people’s lives. From private tragedies, disappointed political hopes, and public discontents to grandiloquent public celebrations and monuments, it answers Wellington’s call as he rallied his troops to ‘Think what England is thinking of us now’.
”'Magnificent … by far the most enjoyable account of the battle I have ever encountered. Crane has had the brilliant idea of interweaving a fast, colourful narrative of the battle with the story of what was happening in Britain … it is a social and cultural panorama, taking in everything from murderers and vicars to portrait-painters and prize-fighters … [Featuring] countless beautifully observed moments … Crane has a superb eye for fascinating little nuggets” - Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Mail
”'It will be hard to match the sheer verve and brilliance of David Crane’s evocation. Frame by frame, like a great stop-motion film, we see … heroes, villains, the innocent, the fortunate and damned, and the merely damned lucky. Crane weaves hour by hour diverging and coalescing human dramas of the day with deft originality. Here literary art trumps television drama at its best. It paints a brilliant continuous action drama of Britain then, and in doing so suggests an awful lot about Britain, its tastes and foibles, today … a book to die for” - Robert Fox, Evening Standard
”'A fascinating snapshot … It’s beautifully written, absorbingly researched and paints a vivid canvas where the mundane details are as fascinating as the momentous battle” - Sunday Express
”'Strikingly urgent and vivid” - Mail on Sunday
”'Of all the big battalions of books marking the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo, this has to be the best. Crane has used the bloody campaign as a telescope, bringing into sharp focus not just the carnage … but the state of Britain itself … The result is a rich feast: dramatic, poignant, funny, gruesome and tragic by turns. Crane selects a small cast to people his narrative, and involves us in their destinies without ever losing sight of the bigger picture” - Nigel Jones, Spectator
”'Terrific… an engaging book” - Independent
”'Sheer quality… In giving us a multifaceted portrait of the Regency age, he makes us think again about the battle and its impact on the British” - Literary Review