I, Hogarth by Michael Dean is about William Hogarth, the English painter. The cover and title certainly made me think of I, Claudius. It is Hogarth, himself, we hear in this first person narrative that is bawdy and randy as any good English novel should be from this age of Fielding and others. This novel is such a period piece, such a Fielding piece, a rag to riches tale with great lusty and inventive adventures along the way. Hogarth changed art in England and exposed the underbelly with humanity, humor, and truth. He exposed it, so that foundling hospitals could happen. He starts what Dickens cleans up.
Young William and his pater get along famously. His mother is the taskmaster. At an early age, seven, he is caught in a freak storm in London and receives a gash on his forehead. Houses and chimneys are toppled and he is lucky to be alive. His pater gets him involved with a painter from monies his father has finally made from selling his manuscript. But soon life changes as they end up in debtor’s prison. Publishers, or engravers then, are the problem. They are thieves. Tell me something we don’t know.
Much of his first sixteen years were spent in debtor’s prison. He had access to the outside and his mother and sisters made and sold a griper’s cream, a cream to stop babies from griping. He secured the tools for the endeavor and sold the product. They did well, considering. The moneylender benefactor sponsored him and his sisters in trades for the future just as their pater died in the middle of writing his play and a letter to the Exchequer.
William’s life progresses quickly through petticoats and paint as he is moved along the painter’s path of good patronage and his own sexual cunning. Both men and women love him for his appropriate talents, in the drawing room and in the drawing room. He elopes with Jane, the daughter of his patron, James Thornhill, who eventually accepts the union and the rise of William, in this brave new world. Jane completes William. But William destroys it.
Reading and using the Internet to view the work being talked about adds so much. I’m able to go further on the net than illustrations could have provided and an accompanying website would have its limits. I forgot how good Hogarth was. His prose was equal to his paintings. He proposed copyright laws for artists. His passions for the people was so clear in his paintings, he understood so much, perhaps because he had risen from these depths.
His powers crash down quickly as the French Pox takes over as do a couple of villains out to get the poor old man. It is amazing the cutthroatness. It is the classic tale of rise from nothing to something and done in by those on the rise. Hogarth was a good man, did good deeds, and was done in by these attempts. Ironically his work is what we remember not the duo that buried him.
Watch a Slideshow of Hogarth's Work.