Tormented Genius Critical Context - Essay

Alan Honour

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Van Gogh has been the subject of numerous biographies, and although Honour contributes nothing radically new to the understanding of van Gogh’s life, Tormented Genius is a very useful book for young people. The book is written with lucidity and grace. Honour does not talk down to his readers, and he tells the tragic story with such compelling force that, once started, the book is hard to put down.

In his note at the beginning of the book, Honour gives a hint about his purpose in writing Tormented Genius. He points out that, while van Gogh’s letters reveal one of the greatest tragedies the world has known, his paintings embody an immortal truth and beauty. This mysterious paradox is really the subject of the book, and Honour’s sensible, unpretentious approach allows him to avoid portraying van Gogh as a misunderstood saint or a profound philosopher, as some admirers of the painter have done. On the contrary, Honour’s van Gogh is a recognizable human being struggling with human problems. Any young reader intrigued by the paradox of a life that was so accursed in the ordinary human sense and so blessed in the artistic sense will find this an informative and absorbing book.