John Singer Sargent in Historical Fiction

  • Liz Renes

    Liz Renes

  • January 18, 2017

Man Reading (undated), Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania

John Singer Sargent appears as a fictional character in relatively few but widely varied works of fiction: Children’s and Young Adult books, short stories, literary fiction, mystery stories, a play and even a ballet. In this article, many questions are asked and some are answered: How far can story-telling outrun fact and still be plausible, interesting and even informative? What does the imagination add to our understanding of the facts of Sargent’s actual life? How does an author create the psychological “truth” of a person whose mind and thoughts cannot be known or tapped into? What human depths can be explored in regard to his paintings and portraits by imagining the scenes or interactions that are captured in the paint? It is the author’s opinion that Sargent scholarship provides immense and wondrous depths and vistas of research for a writer’s imagination, and that the writer’s offerings of psychological insight, story-telling and characterization may in turn assist scholars to find truth in fiction that will aid them in their research.

By Mary F. Burns