In keeping with my Victoriana obsession, when I saw this historical fiction title from Lesley Krueger, I couldn’t wait to dive in. Based on the life of Richard Dadd, a Victorian artist and celebrity as his life and influences juxtapose against those of Charlotte Brontë, herself in the midst of her own questions and tumult. Please read on for my review of
Starting with Charlotte Brontë and her visit with Dadd in Bedlam, the one visit between them, and the jumping off point for Brontë’s and Kruegers exploration of the genesis of artistic genius, and the role that childhood, experiences and learning play into their craft and ultimate ends. While one would not instantly equate the two, Krueger uses reflections and inner dialogue from both to help set the scene and provide plenty of “I never thought of it that way’ moments for readers.
When we look at ‘insanity’ as defined by the Victorians, and especially the treatments, the barbarity and lack of insight is often the first to capture attention, and what must be understood is the strict social morays for behavior and self-expression, and the lack or willingness to accept eccentricities or behaviors different from that norm, particularly with those who attain a certain level of celebrity. Krueger examines Dadd’s life: from his difficult childhood and his admirable talent, perhaps unrecognized early on as he was envious of the fame of his neighbor Dickens, and while his early years at the Royal Academy and his first exhibition to the lingering doubts and questions, fueling his insecurities.
Seeking fame and notoriety, he accompanies an English “gentleman’ through Europe and the Middle East where the rigors of the journey, combined with his own internal conflicts bring him close to insanity. On his return to England, he commits a murder, and is imprisoned in Bedlam as a result of his instability and crimes, and an obsession with Osiris. Interspersed with Dadd’s story is the one of Charlotte Brontë, and her struggle with an unrequieted love for her publisher, the tumult of reviews of the third novel, and her own lonely existence, without parents or siblings living, she is imagining a Bedlam-like life, without hope of happiness or relief.
Krueger plays all of these elements together in such a way as to become palpable and send readers off in varied directions, self-contemplations and perhaps understanding their favored classicist (be they artist or author) a tiny bit more. Opening questions about madness sparking artistic genius, or the demons of life and experience fueling an obsession, viewed as madness, that can only escape in a chosen medium. A wonderful read that allows readers to savor moments, thoughts and questions long after the last page is turned.
Title: Mad Richard
Author: Lesley Krueger
Genre: Biography / Memoir, Historical Fiction, Victorian
Published by: ECW Press
Published on: 14 March, 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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A riveting story of talent and the price it exacts, set in a richly imagined Victorian England
Called the most promising artist of his generation, handsome, modest, and affectionate, Richard Dadd rubbed shoulders with the great luminaries of the Victorian Age. He grew up along the Medway with Charles Dickens and studied at the Royal Academy Schools under the brilliant and eccentric J.M.W. Turner.
Based on Dadd’s tragic true story, Mad Richard follows the young artist as he develops his craft, contemplates the nature of art and fame — as he watches Dickens navigate those tricky waters — and ultimately finds himself imprisoned in Bedlam for murder, committed as criminally insane.
In 1853, Charlotte Brontë — about to publish her third novel, suffering from unrequited love, and herself wrestling with questions about art and artists, class, obsession and romance — visits Richard at Bedlam and finds an unexpected kinship in his feverish mind and his haunting work.
Masterfully slipping through time and memory, Mad Richard maps the artistic temperaments of Charlotte and Richard, weaving their divergent lives together with their shared fears and follies, dreams, and crushing illusions.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: