Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Wayward Muse

So let's kick off this set of blog posts reviewing Pre-Raphaelite fiction with the book that is perhaps the most directly related to the Brotherhood and friends, and yet, frankly, rather disappointing in my opinion. This book is The Wayward Muse by Elizabeth Hickey.

Here is the description on Amazon:

Plain Jane Burden never expected to be an artist's model, much less the standard of pre-Raphaelite beauty, but in Hickey's second historical novel (after The Painted Kiss), Jane's looks catapult her from the Oxford slums to the drawing rooms of London. After Jane is discovered by painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, her domineering mother allows her to sit for a mural of Guinevere because of the much-needed income it brings the family. Jane relishes the few hours each week she's allowed to sit and eavesdrop on Rossetti and his clique of artists and writers, inspiring verses in their poetry and a declaration of love. But after Rossetti leaves her for his sickly fiancée, Lizzie, Jane agrees to marry his rich friend William Morris so she can stay close to him. Jane bears two children and becomes an uneasy confidante to Lizzie, but Rossetti's feelings for Jane resurface after Lizzie dies, and William can't help noticing. Hickey handles her characters with a light touch and steers them clear of brooding cliché territory. Marvelous period detail adds appeal to an alluring story.

Now for my opinion of the book...

The author's actual writing ability? Awful. It read like a cheesy romance novel. Beyond that, the ridiculous way the author paints William Morris is deplorable. Yes, he was teased by friends, but he was a great name in philosophy, arts, politics, poetry, and other topics. Yet she makes him seem like a bumbling idiot.

Really....the love triangle between Jane Burden-Morris, William Morris, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti is exciting enough without having to add the cheesy romance tone. It's too bad.

So if you're a "completist" so to speak....someone who really wants to read anything and everything about the P.R.B., both fiction and non-fiction, go ahead and read it, but be prepared for a book that comes nowhere close to really fully capturing the feel of the Pre-Raphaelites. So many wonderful details are skipped, and the biggest pity is that Jane Morris, a woman whose life and enigmatic character could be expressed in such fascinating ways, comes across as a love-struck teenager throughout.


Katherine said...

Unfortunately, I read this book too! I picked it up in the bookstore and read a few pages, thinking, "This is terrible!" Then I saw it at the library last month and decided to try it, thinking that perhaps it improved later on. Nope. I can't believe it got published (gives me hope for my own writing career). What a waste of a great novel topic!

Margaret said...

What a shame! I haven't read it, but I'll take your word for it! The story would make such a great novel if it was handled well. So many people have basically approached William Morris like he was a pathetic fool because he couldn't keep hold of his wife (I get this feeling whenever I'm reading historical writing about them--even from well-respected authors). Anyway, I think it's demeaning to him and to Jane. Great review! Enjoy your weekend, Grace!

Aurora said...

Thanks for the review--I'll make sure I avoid the book! :D

I admit, I'm pretty wary of historical novels in general...there are some marvelous ones, but so often, they're just so much noise--and worse, are in the higher priced Premium Paperback Edition, as well! ;)

Grace said...

Katherine, I'm glad to know I'm not alone in this assessment! The book was such a complete waste of a scintillating true-life story line!

Margaret, I totally agree that William Morris is often treated as a bumbling character in his biographies. It's too bad they approach the story in such a way.

Aurora, I normally avoid historical novels, to be honest, preferring fairy tale type stories. But I'm a sucker for all things Pre-Raphaelite (no, really? ;)

Owlfarmer said...

Thanks for the review. I'm with Aurora on this (avoidance of historical novels in general), and the cover should offer a clue (the publisher couldn't spring for rights to a portrait of Janie, or even a bit of Morris wallpaper?).

Interesting blog; I look forward to reading more.

Grace said...

I thought the same thing about the cover. Would it have been so difficult to put one of Rossetti's many hundreds of portraits of Jane on there??