New Novel Out Next Spring March 23, 2016

Time to announce that my new novel, Mad Richard, will be published in spring 2017 by ECW Press in both the U.S. and Canada.

The novel is based on the life of the British painter Richard Dadd, once called the most promising artist of his generation, later known as a genius and a murderer. It will be published during the bicentenary of his birth in 1817, and places Richard in a bustling, fertile early Victorian world, where he rubbed shoulders with Charles Dickens and other artistic luminaries of the age.

Richard Dadd

Richard Dadd, Self-portrait as a young man

Intertwined with Richard’s story is a tale of Charlotte Brontë, one year his elder, who in 1853 wrote a friend that the next day she would visit the Royal Bethlem Hospital–Bedlam–where Richard was then confined. From Bedlam, we follow Charlotte north to her home in Haworth, Yorkshire, as she lives out an agony of unrequited love, considers an unexpected proposal of marriage, and chafes at the reception of her latest novel.

This is a fictionalized account, and in telling the stories of Richard Dadd, Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens, it becomes an exploration of art and artists, of inspiration, love, obsession and murder.

All of it coming with some background.

If I have the genealogy right, I am Richard Dadd’s first cousin-in-law five times removed.

My husband is a direct descendant of Richard’s maternal grandfather, Richard Martin, and of his uncle, Henry Martin, who moved his family across the pond to Chatham, Ontario, in 1841. This means that in writing the novel, I’ve been able to use family papers unknown to biographers and art historians, along with a wealth of genealogical information uncovered by my mother-in-law, who was born Mary Hardy Martin.

Portrait of a Young Man 1853 Richard Dadd 1817-1886

Portrait of a Young Man 1853 by Richard Dadd

This helps me tell the story of a young artist born in Chatham, England, just as Charles Dickens arrived on the Medway as a boy. Richard Dadd grew up happily enmeshed in a family of up-and-coming chemists–in Canada we say pharmacists–amateur geologists and physicians with aspirations far beyond their beginnings in the Chatham shipyards.

It lets me follow Richard and his family to London, where he became a student at the Royal Academy Schools and the leading member of a clique of artists, young men who would later number among the great figures of mid-Victorian painting, including William Powell Frith and the wonderfully-named Augustus Egg, both of them close friends not only of Richard, but of Dickens.

It also lets me follow Richard as he joined a rich lawyer on his grand tour of Europe and the Mid-East, sketching the sights of Constantinople, Beirut and Jerusalem for Sir Thomas Phillips. In those pre-photographic times, Richard was the lawyer’s camera, and despite the extraordinary rigors of their journey, he was supposed to function mechanically.

Then they reached Egypt and Richard had a revelation–what we might call a psychotic break–falling under the spell of the ancient god Osiris, Lord of the Underworld. Osiris spoke to Richard, and it was Richard’s tragedy that the god told him to commit murder. Richard stalked the Pope in Rome and weighed killing the Emperor of Austria. When he finally succeeded in his terrible quest, he was confined to Bedlam and then to Broadmoor at Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s pleasure. There he painted masterpieces.

Look for Mad Richard in March, 2017.