Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Michael Dean
Stephanie Renee dos Santos
Welcome to week three of the series. This Saturday it’s my pleasure to introduce Michael Dean, author of I, Hogarth, the risqué life story of 18th century British painter and engraver William Hogarth. Hogarth defined his period with works such as “Gin Lane” and “The Rake’s Progress”, depicting the ebullience, enjoyments and social iniquities of London. Dean takes us from Hogarth’s childhood spent in a debtor’s prison, his struggle to make a name for himself, his time as England’s preeminent portrait painter, through his fight for artists’ rights instigating the Copyright Act, through his unfortunate brush with politics, to his death in his wife’s arms. Told in the first person through the eyes and heart of the artist we come to learn his deepest desires, his frustrations, his triumphs, his downfalls. Dean brings to life Hogarth and his epoch, blending facts with fiction, revealing the man behind his famous and effecting art works.
Stephanie Renée dos Santos: Out of all the outstanding British painters throughout history why did you choose 18th century painter William Hogarth to be your novel’s muse?
Michael Dean: Novels are about emotion. I had an instinctive emotional response to Hogarth as a man and as an artist. I also wanted to write about a man’s life-experience from birth to death. Hogarth had a very interesting life — and of course I like his paintings and etchings.
SRDS: What compelled you to include and focus on art and artist in your historical novel?
MD: The novel is written from inside Hogarth’s head. I was interested in blending Hogarth’s life and work inextricably. Some of the plot is not what really happened to him, but the narrative of his paintings, like “The Rake’s Progress”. So Hogarth wanders in and out of his own art. Similarly, the writing style is not MY style but what I imagined Hogarth’s voice to be if he were able to communicate with a 21st-century audience. To put it another way, I tried to become Hogarth, at every stage of his life.
SRDS: What drew you to your specific visual art medium, art work, and artist(s)?
MD: I was born that way. I am very visual. Music means little in my life but great art works –especially the great colourists – move me. A lot.
SRDS: How did you go about incorporating art and artist(s) into the book?
MD: I did a massive amount of reading, over ten years or so, on and off. I always do. It’s a labour of love. I also keep the books and articles near me when I write. This is expensive, as you have to buy them, but it gives you a great deal of freedom as you write.
SRDS: Was there any message you were trying to convey by including art and artist in the novel?
MD: If there is a message, it is that art infuses and inspires life. Hogarth’s life, as portrayed, inspires the wider society around him. Many of the reviewers of the novel have picked up on this.
SRDS: What story lines do you see as unexplored in this niche of art in fiction?
MD: Since I published I, Hogarth I have noticed quite a few other novels about well-known artists and the society they lived in.
SRDS: What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?
MD: A vivid visual fix which otherwise would be absent.
SRDS: Why does fiction with art and
MD: I think fiction about any real people starts with a massive advantage. You can trampoline up off the subject’s life along any trajectory you want to.
SRDS: Are you working on a new historical novel with an art or artist(s) thread? If so, will you please share with us a bit about the upcoming book.
MD: My novels fall into two groups: the Jewish novels and the English novels. I, Hogarth of course is an English novel. I would one day like to write about one of the many Jewish painters, some of whom are not as well-known as they should be. Having spent years reading about the Nazis, I am especially interested in Jewish artists working during that period, some of whom were superb painters.
SRDS: Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to share or expand on?
MD: I’ll share a whimsical fancy with you, with pleasure. If William Hogarth and Jane (his wife) were able to read my novel, I really hope they would approve of it and enjoy it.
About the author: Michael Dean studied history at Worcester College, Oxford and has a Master’s in Applied Linguistics from Edinburgh University. He is the author of novels I, Hogarth Thorn, and Chomsky: A Beginner’s Guide. He lives in Colchester.
Join us next Saturday June 21st for an interview with Donna Morin Russo, author of The King’s Agent
Interview posting schedule: May 31st Susan Vreeland, June 7th Mary F. Burns, June 14th Michael Dean, June 21st Donna Morin Russo, June 28th Alana White, July 5th Maryanne O’Hara, July 12th Stephanie Cowell, July 19th Cathy Marie Buchanan, July 26th Alicia Foster
About the contributor: Stephanie Renée dos Santos is a fiction and freelance writer and leads writing & yoga workshops. She writes features for the Historical Novel Society. Currently, she is working on her first art-related historical novel, CUT FROM THE EARTH. A story of Portuguese tile and its surprising makers – The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 — and the wisdom of nature and the power of love to guide and heal. www.stephaniereneedossantos.com & Join Facebook group “Love of Art in Fiction”