Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quick Review

Hogarth: A Life and a WorldHogarth: A Life and a World by Jenny Uglow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yet another HUGE Jenny Uglow biography, and yet another favorite. What makes the woman such a superb practitioner of her craft, I don't know, unless it is just some alchemical formula that keeps even the longest, dullest patch of biographical exposition from seeming long, dull or just expository. I've come to not just dislike, but to actually distrust artistic biographies of such length generally, as having been written to record rather than to be read. Go figure, Uglow can do both. This puts her on the very short list of writers from whom I will read anything -- and I have; gardens, astronomy, history, etc.

And in the great, good Hogarth, the biographer has found a subject worthy of her magic. What a struggle, and such success! I always hesitate to see any one life, or artist, as representative of his or her times, but Hogarth? He is not only how we see his time, his life might be a novel of the period, and, at least in Uglow's expert telling, a great one.

One need not be familiar already with either the biographer or her subject to enjoy this big, rich book -- though I would recommend laying hands on at least some old Dover collection of Hogarth's prints as a reference, as there's not nearly enough illustration in the biography to follow the story visually, though that's, honestly, my only real complaint.

Anyone then who wants to spend some exciting time in the great, lost, wonderful, filthy, smelly, dazzling London of the 18th Century, I can't think of a better way in than Hogarth, and Uglow's Hogarth at that.

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