In 1818, under the command of an arrogant and incompetent captain, the Medusa ran aground on a sandbank while en route to Senegal. One hundred and fifty crewmen were loaded on to a makeshift raft and abandoned.
When the news of the loss of a seaworthy ship in good weather reached France, it provoked a major scandal. The plight of the men on the raft was incidental. The young, celebrated artist, Theodore Gericault, outraged at the reaction, decided to paint what became The Raft of the Medusa to bring home to the government and public alike the shameful horror of the affair.
Arabella Edge writes at length about Gericault’s personal life which, I thought, detracted from her vivid disturbing descriptions of the hell of the raft. Gericault’s finished painting was regarded as a repulsive representation of a heap of corpses, unworthy to be considered as art. This would have made a strong ending to the novel, but it continues with a flat account of Gericault’s life, which I thought was irrelevant to the story of The Raft.