Mad Richard is a fictional account of the life of artist Richard Dadd (1817-1886) known for his depiction of faeries and other supernatural figures; some from Shakespeare i.e. Titania and Oberon from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The book follows Dadd through his childhood in Kent, to London and his admission to The Royal Academy, to his Grand Tour the took him to France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Jordan two his eventual descent into madness and murder.
The book starts in 1853 where Dadd is being visited by author Charlotte Bronte, researching ideas for her third book. To look at they couldn’t be more different, Dadd was well built and attractive whereas Charlotte Bronte was very small, plain and the daughter of a churchman and the obvious difference in their gender which was important in nineteenth century England. However, in Dadd, Charlotte sees a fellow artists with many of the same desires and problems. Both were concerned with there place in society, class, and their aspirations for their art and both had to deal with expectations put on them by their families and friends. Krueger gives voice to their dreams, their hopes and their feelings of apprehension in regard to their art. Looked at together we see the similarity in their feelings towards their art and their situation even though there endings were so very different.
Krueger gives an erudite cultural and social history of nineteenth century Britain to put Dadd and Bronte and their work in context. The reader is taken from the theatres and Royal Academy in London, to the factories of Manchester and the social differences between those who run them and those who work in the and live in squalor. She also looks at the political issues of the day with reference to the political reform movement of the Chartists, the riots about the Corn Law, which increased the cost of grain which resulted in wide spread starvation for the lower classes and the problems brought in by the industrial revolution.
The cast of characters in this book is huge, many are well know i.e. J M W Turner, Charles Dickens, Mrs Gaskill and Augustus Egg. Characters from all sections of society are well drawn, believable and paint a colourful picture of the diversity in Victorian Britain.
This is the perfect book for me as it contains two of my favourite interests; Art History and Classic Literature ( Jane Eyre is my favourite book). I found it well written and well researched. The writing flows easily making the book easy and enjoyable to read, a book full of detail; Historical Fiction at its best.