The latest addition to my website is Joanna Scott‘s Arrogance, another superb novel by Scott, this one being about the Austrian artist Egon Schiele, who died aged twenty-eight during the influenza pandemic at the end of World War I. Schiele was not a man to observe conventional morality and was in trouble with local communities and the authorities for his ‘pornographic’ art and allegedly seducing underage girls. Scott aims to show the controversial man, but she also brilliantly describes the artist – how he thought, felt and reacted to life around him and how he transposed this into his art. The story is not told chronologically but in an impressionistic style, moving backwards and forwards through his life (and after his life, as we hear the accounts of two women involved in his life, who survived him). Scott gives us a wonderful portrait of an artist and his artistic struggles and concerns.
By coincidence, while reading this book, I happened to see the film Summer in February , about an episode in the life of the artist Alfred Munnings. What a contrast with the Scott book! The film was badly written, badly directed and badly acted, particularly by Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey fame. Munnings, played by Dominic Cooper, is portrayed as your typical caricature eccentric artist, with no depth, no feeling and no indication at what drives him as an artist, except drink and women. The story concerns a woman, Florence Carter-Wood, herself an artist, who is loved by both Munnings and Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens) and it is all raging storms, rough seas and the like to show passion, with the obligatory nudity, Cooper trying hard to be mad and eccentric and Stevens doing the stiff upper lip or wan smile (and nothing much else) he had in Downton Abbey. Forget the film. Read the book