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Howard Spring’s Fame Is The Spur is the great Manchester novel. It is also the great Peterloo novel and the great Suffragette novel. An astonishing achievement.
John Hamer Shawcross grows up, illegitimate, in poverty in Victorian Ancoats. At the start of the novel the elderly lodger in his house shows the young Hamer a sword, a sabre, he wrenched from a soldier who had used it to kill his girlfriend at Peterloo. Hamer inherits the sword.
Bookish and inquisitive, he is destined not to go to work in a mill. He goes abroad to find himself, in classic bildungsroman fashion, and comes back bursting with braggadocio and a heightened sense of burning injustice. He becomes a firebrand orator within the burgeoning labour movement, brandishing the sabre to cut his way through politics. As he climbs the slippery pole so he sells out his principles, Kinnock style, or actually in the manner of the contemporaneous Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour prime minister. Spring had to wait until MacDonald had died before the novel could be published, otherwise the ex-PM would have sued his ass.
Fame Is The Spur is just one of a series of entertaining Manchester-based novels Howard Spring he wrote once he had left the Manchester Guardian to become a London journalist. Ed Glinert uses his metaphorical sabre to cut a path through Howard Spring’s Manchester.
* The title comes from John Milton’s poem Lycidas: “Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise / (That last infirmity of noble mind) / To scorn delights, and live laborious days”.