In the fifteen short chapters and epilogue of Tormented Genius: The Struggles of Vincent van Gogh, Alan Honour tells the tragic and moving story of van Gogh’s short life. He makes full use (as every biographer of van Gogh must) of Vincent’s letters to his younger brother Theo, in which Vincent poured out his troubled thoughts and feelings to the only person with whom he was close.
The story is told mostly in narrative form, with a minimum of invented dialogue. Honour’s focus is on van Gogh’s worldly failures, his difficulties in getting along with other people, his emotional instability and intensity, and, over the last ten years of his life, his emergence as a painter of originality and genius. Within this context, Honour traces the main events of van Gogh’s life. The first five chapters relate a series of failures, as van Gogh struggled to find his place in life. These incidents include the period when he worked at Goupil’s, a prestigious art gallery in The Hague and London, without realizing his vocation as an artist; his brief foray into teaching at a boys’ school in England and as a bookseller; and his burning desire, only briefly achieved, to follow in the footsteps of his father by entering the ministry.
The narrative’s pivotal point is reached in chapter 6, “The Decision,” in which Honour describes how, with Theo’s urging, Vincent dedicated himself to painting. From that moment, all of van Gogh’s...
(The entire section is 505 words.)