I, Hogarth

Michael Dean. Overlook, $26.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4683-0342-1
William Hogarth, famous for inventing a “moral” storytelling series of paintings and engravings he called Progresses (including the Rake’s Progress and the Harlot’s Progress), turns out to have had a progress of his own—from poor child to society artist, from engraver’s apprentice to painter and lobbyist for copyright law, from frequenter of whorehouses to happily married man and back again, from ignored to lauded to mocked—that would require a Hogarth to depict. Lacking such an artist, we have Michael Dean’s biographical novel, which draws on Hogarth’s own writing and a range of other sources. That may make the novel sound boring, but it’s not, largely because Hogarth—a likable self-promoter and self-described “pug” of a man—makes for highly diverting company. It helps that he knew everyone and went everywhere, and that Dean is good at showing his foibles and his artistic process. Hogarth’s eye for human frailty and nose for news, coupled with his way with line, made him the perfect artist for the first half of the 18th century—a time when high and low mingled at the theater, the debtor’s prison, and the brothel. If the BBC hasn’t already optioned this, it should get a move on: Hogarth’s life, as Dean portrays it, is an educational but sexily pleasurable costume drama waiting to happen. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/17/2012
Release date: 01/10/2013
Paperback - 261 pages - 978-1-4683-0822-8
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