Dean (Thorn, 2011) imagines the life, spirit and art of the English artist William Hogarth.
Born in 1697 to a naïve and inept Latin scholar and an intemperate, dissatisfied mother, Hogarth was apprenticed to an engraver, only to maneuver his way into tutelage from and assistantship to the court painter Sir James Thornhill. Hogarth’s family fractures when father Richard lands in debtors’ prison. Mother and children are assisted by Anthony da Costa, a Portuguese-Jewish moneylender. In da Costa’s mansion, Hogarth glimpses Kate, a strumpet, the vision unleashing the artist’s lifelong appreciation for fleshly sensuality, the dark side of which becomes the incurable “French pox.” Apprenticing as an engraver, Hogarth frequents Lovejoy’s bagnio, there meeting John Rakesby, later revealed to be John Thornhill, son of Sir James, a prominent artist. Dean’s narrative of young Hogarth winnowing his way into Sir James’ household shines with authenticity, right down to Hogarth’s seduction of young Jane Thornhill. Dean’s deciphering of Hogarth’s art is as superb as his rendering of the streets of ribald and indecorous London, packed with drunks and thieves, privileged and poor. Dean offers the stories behind Hogarth’s seminal works—the South Seas Scheme, A Harlot’s Progress—and discusses Hogarth’s lobbying for the Engraver’s Copyright Act and support of Capt. Thomas Coram’s quest for a foundling hospital. The fictional autobiographical narrative of the robust and complicated, sensual and sensitive Hogarth intrigues, but what gives the book its resonance is Dean’s learned exploration of the depth and breadth—the sight, sound and stink—of Georgian London.
A brilliant exercise in imagination and storytelling.