Synopses & Reviews
Leave the fine stallions, converging battle troops, and court commissions to the Vernets and their honored friends. Here was his space. Scorched, implacable skies, clouds raining dust. An ocean so tumultuous and vast it would hurt your eyes to stare at it for long. Men huddled on an improbable tempest-tossed raft. Mere planks lashed by rotting cords.
Perhaps he had chanced on a subject for the king's Salon at last.
Set in Paris in 1818, during the upheavals of the French Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration, The God of Spring tells the story of painter The odore Ge ricault.
Having won a gold medal at the prestigious Salon for his painting Charging Chasseur at the tender age of twenty-one, Ge ricault is now, seven years later, searching for the subject of his next masterpiece. But he is lovesick, hopelessly addicted to his benefactor-
uncle's young wife, Alexandrine, six years his senior. Every moment without her is an eternity.
At the house of his worldly neighbor he hears the story of the shipwreck of the French frigate Medusa off the shores of the West African coast and the abandonment of one hundred fifty souls on an unseaworthy, makeshift raft. The catastrophe has fascinated and horrified the French public, with its tales of betrayal, madness, murder, and cannibalism. Against all odds, Ge ricault is told, Henri Savigny, the frigate's surgeon, evidently returned to Paris alive.
When Ge ricault finds Savigny and his mate, he has discovered a pair of unlikely muses who hold the key to the rendering of the painter's next great work. If only he can maintain his sanity.
The God of Spring is the story of grand passions. Inprose that vividly evokes its setting, Arabella Edge has brought to life the creation of an epic painting.
"The brilliant research and excellent pacing by the author of the awardwinning The Company make this a one-sitting read. This portrait of the author's torment is so well told and so perfectly realized that it expresses the struggle of all artists to create." -- Wendy Bethel, Library Journal Reviews (starred review)
"Arabella Edge's brilliant and original second novel explores the mechanism of creativity through the story of a single painting...The narrative zips along at such a terrific pace that only at the end is there time for reflection upon the all-consuming nature of real art. Page-turning and substantial, a rare combination."
-- John Harding, Daily Mail (London)
"Page-turning and substantial, a rare combination." -- John Harding, Daily Mail (London)
"Intensely pictorial, keenly sensitive to the artist's eye for color, form, and the swirling context of humanity and landscape that feeds his hungry imagination." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Full-blown, visceral, throbbing with energy and barbaric violence, and utterly compelling." -- Mary Philip, The Courier Mail (Australia)
"Arabella Edge describes the extremes of human emotion here with empathy and panache." -- Warren Brewer, Hobart Mercury (Australia)
"A gripping novel of artistic obsession...Transcend[s] the details of this particular disaster to capture some awesome truth about the plight of the human condition...This is art history on fire." -- Ron Charles, The Washington Post Book World
"A thoughtful and richly imagined story about the darker aspects of the artistic process and the costs of obsession." -- Publishers Weekly
"Edge's subject is rich with fascination...The writing takes on a compelling vividness that keeps the pages turning.... You come away from The God of Spring thinking of art, politics and the sheer strangeness of things." -- Juliette Hughes, The Sydney Morning Herald
When the French painter Théodore Géricault died in 1824 at the age of thirty-three, he was mourned as one of the most promising artists of his generation. He was also one of the most controversial, endowed with a character marked by Byronic paradoxes. The cult of Géricault's personality cast him as "genius, athlete, martyr, and romantic ghoul." Indeed, it was the stinging aftermath of an illicit affair with his beautiful young aunt that propelled Géricault into the artistic obsession that would yield his masterwork, The Raft of the Medusa.
The God of Spring opens in Paris in 1818, as the upheavals of the French Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration come to fruition in the aftermath of a naval disaster caused by criminal negligence and tinged with political scandal. Mesmerized by the tales of betrayal, madness, murder, and cannibalism aboard the life raft of the scuttled French frigate Medusa, Géricault takes as his muses two of its survivors. His canvas pits man against nature, its dominant image a doomed sailor futilely raising his hand toward the clouds and salvation.
About the Author
Arabella Edge read English literature at the University of Bristol in the UK and moved to Australia in 1992. With her husband, Nick Gaze, she now divides her time between Sydney and Bicheno, on Tasmania's east coast. Her first novel, The Company, won the Best First Book in the 2001 Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the South East Asia and South Pacific Region and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.
Reading Group Guide
Set in Paris in 1818 during the upheavals of the French Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration, The God of Spring tells the story of painter Théodore Géricault.
Having won a gold medal at the prestigious Salon for his painting Charging Chasseur at the tender age of twenty-one, Géricault is now, seven years later, searching for the subject of his next masterpiece. But he is lovesick, hopelessly addicted to his benefactor-uncle's young wife, Alexandrine, six years his senior. Every moment without her is an eternity.
At the house of his worldly neighbor he hears the story of the shipwreck of the French frigate Medusa off the shores of the West African coast and the abandonment of one hundred fifty souls on an unseaworthy, makeshift raft. The catastrophe, with its tales of betrayal, madness, murder, and cannibalism, has fascinated and horrified the French public. "Against all odds," Géricault is told, "Henri Savigny, the frigate's surgeon, evidently returned to Paris alive."
When Géricault finds Savigny and his mate, he has discovered a pair of unlikely muses who hold the key to the rendering of the painter's next great work. If only he can maintain his sanity.
1. Edge alternates Géricault's story with the tale of the Medusa. Why is it important that we see and feel what the Medusa's passengers experienced? How might the experience of reading the novel and learning what happened on the Medusa be different if this first-hand perspective were excluded?
2. When considering the Medusa as a subject for a new painting, Géricault thinks that "the time had come for epic narratives to be told anew, gleaned from contemporary facts." How does this concept for a painting differ from that which his peers, such as Horace and Carle Vernet, were creating?
3. Discuss Géricault's relationship with Savigny and Alexandre Corréard. How do they each use and even manipulate each other for their own purposes?
4. Géricault considers himself superior to Horace Vernet, but he also envies the ease and abundance of Vernet's creations. Do you think one is more a "true artist" than the other?
5. Adrift on the ill-fated raft, the passengers face unspeakable suffering and make harsh choices. The Helmsman says, "Whoever survives by violence is a traitor...and there's no prettifying that." Do you think he is right? Could the people on the raft have survived without doing what they did?
6. Géricault hunts for the ideal moment in the survivors' story and discards several compositions before he arrives at the right one. Discuss the scene that he chooses to paint and the reasons he rejects the others. What is it about that moment that represents the story of the Medusa survivors? How do the survivors themselves feel about it?
7. Géricault becomes obsessive and reclusive as he goes to great lengths in order to make his painting true to life -- and death. Does he go too far? How is his sanity tested by his quest?
8. Géricault's absorption in his art is such that it excludes almost all else, including the woman he believed he loved. How would you describe his relationships to those around him? For an artist as zealous as he is, can his passion or love for another person ever equal his passion for his art? Can you think of other artists who have chosen art over a relationship?
9. Late in the novel, Géricault reflects on the similarities between himself and his father: "a cold, loveless heart; ruthless self-righteousness; contempt for women, perhaps." Is that an accurate description of Géricault? What is his opinion of himself, and how does it change over the course of the novel?
10. After Alexandrine leaves for a convent, Géricault feels desolate, not because he misses her, but because "he'd hoped for something he had not found in Alexandrine and might never know." What is that something? Does he come to regret that their relationship began, or does he regret the loss of Alexandrine and their child?
11. Edge writes, "One could say that this catastrophe represents a very microcosm of France." Discuss the volatile time period in which the novel is set. How is the Medusa tragedy emblematic of class tensions resulting from the defeat of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy? How do those tensions affect each of the characters?
12. The Medusa shipwreck was a well-known tragedy at its time, just as the wreck of the Titanic has become legendary in our own time. Now that you know the full story of the Medusa, do you see any similarities between it and what happened on the Titanic? What role did hubris and self-interest play in each?
13. The God of Spring explores the notion of storytelling and the need to have a story told. What are the different stories being told? Who seeks the truth, and who conceals it?
Bring a copy of Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa to your book group discussion so you will have it handy during the discussion. You can find it online here: http://cartelen.louvre.fr/cartelen/visite?srv=car_not_frame&idNotice=22541, or look for it in an art book at your local library. You may also look for his Charging Chausseur or some of Horace Vernet's works for comparison.
Put yourself in Géricault's shoes: provide your group with oil paints, brushes, and paper or small canvases, and experiment with applying the paint and capturing an image. Try your hand at one of the scenes from the raft that Géricault rejected. Or try painting portraits of one another.
The book is set in France, so incorporate a French theme into your book group. Serve French wine and cheese, or even champagne.