On a cold January day in 1853, diminutive and curious Charlotte Brontë traveled to Bedlam to interview a broken Richard Dadd, one of the most celebrated artists of her day. A correspondence between their minds haunted her and perhaps altered her life.
Well-known for her remarkable Jane Eyre, Brontë is seeking a new challenge, perhaps one that will keep her publisher, George Smith, interested in her for more than business reasons. Considering a social action novel, she arranges to meet Dadd, a man whose own fame will eventually rest upon his strangely compelling paintings of the liminal, particularly the fairies among us. His notions of doublings and mirrors intrigue her, but she abandons the project, returning to her isolated cottage. While several chapters return to Brontë, most twine back in time to trace Dadd’s life from childhood through his fragmentation into mental illness. Screenwriter and novelist Krueger (The Corner Garden, 2003, etc.) uses her visual artistry to good effect in vividly portraying a squalid London in which talent doesn’t always lead to fame or fortune. Exploring the vibrant cultural awakenings of the Victorian age, Krueger intriguingly populates her scenes with the artistic glitterati of the day. Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens grace the book along with Dadd’s associates in The Clique, including Augustus Egg and William Frith. Those very awakenings—religious, political, and economic—nevertheless set obstacles to Brontë’s freedom and trouble Dadd’s mind. Yet the central premise linking Brontë to Dadd never quite works. Brontë suffers an existential malaise following the publication of Villette and her beloved George’s silence. Her worries seem qualitatively different from Dadd’s descent into an infamous madness that culminated in his own incarceration.
An entrancing portrait of artistic minds confounded by the Victorian Age.