I’m glad I left this one on my shelf for the past few years; had I read it sooner I might not have been ready to enjoy it so much.
When I tutor students in literature and writing, I often present lit through the lens of Aristotle, who argued in the Poetics that creative works can show the universal themes embedded in the incidental events of history. Whether Arabella Edge explicitly had this thought in mind when writing The God of Spring, she presents it implicitly throughout the book. Indeed, this is precisely what her Theo Gericault attempts to do through his work, “The Raft of the Medusa,” a process upon which Edge elaborates in ways I would not have expected–most of which were quite entertaining, both on the level of entertainment (the content and progression of her plot) and skill (her prose).
Without meaning to spoil too much, let me merely say that Edge presents the drama behind an artist choosing a scene and then executing it to tell a story for each person depicted. It made me want to travel to the Louvre to see the painting, itself (a rare impulse for me, perhaps to my shame). Through Gericault, Edge presents the double-edged blade of obsession; like other characters in more explicit hero journeys, Gericault descends into the depths and pulls out an image that may not be comfortable but is nonetheless necessary.
This aspect of Gericault’s story reminded me of several ideas made explicit by European writers of the 19th century (who would have almost been Gericault’s contemporaries, if separated by country and genre). Most prominent among these are Ibsen and Nietzsche–and even Dostoevsky–all of whom wrote to some degree of the heroism involved in the artist who is willing to stand alone in spite of the contemporary taste of his time, and who thus pulls his audience into the future. When I read in the afterword that Gericault is considered the founder of the Romantic school, I was not surprised. I was, however, impressed. Edge’s presentation of Gericault would fit well in a literature course about the ideas at work in the 19th century, despite its being written a century later.
Bottom line, Arabella Edge might have just become one of my favorite contemporary writers, and I’d recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a compelling story based in history and presented in compelling prose. I am much better for the read.