Monday, April 28, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest

Thanks to my friend on Live Journal, cinemafantasy, who pointed out in an entry that the movie The Importance of Being Earnest has several "fantasy daydream" scenes in Pre-Raphaelite theme. I had to see for myself, and rented the movie. I enjoyed it greatly, and got a huge kick out of the scenes in which Cecily's admired Pre-Raphaelite images came to life in her mind.

I had to take screencaps!

Early in the movie, Cecily is being tutored, and sneaks a peek at a page in her book with a chivalrous artwork:
and then later fantasizes about it coming to life:
Later on, when she actually meets her beloved, she turns to a page in her journal:
And dreams of how it is now reality (my favorite scene!)

I love it when the Pre-Raphaelites show up unexpectedly in movies like that!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stunning Portrait of Effie

I love stumbling across new sources for lovelies! Today I somehow came across the website for the Delaware Art Museum's Pre-Raphaelite collection. I'm not even done searching through all the stunning art on there, and I'm enjoying myself immensely.

This is my favorite image I've seen so far. This is Millais' artwork of his lovely (and infamously backstoried) wife Effie. It's the most stunning portrait I've ever seen of her. You simply must click the image to enlarge it to get the full effect of those's called A Highland Lassie.
The love triangle between John Ruskin, Effie Gray, and John Everett Millais is one of the most famous in Pre-Raphaelite history. Effie was originally married to John Ruskin, a famous patron of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but the marriage was never consummated, reportedly because when Ruskin saw Effie on her wedding night, he was appalled to discover that real women weren't like Classical statues....they had know...down there! How outrageous! Ruskin treated her extremely poorly, and when he invited Millais on a trip to Scotland and brought his wife along. Although Millais at first viewed the relationship between Ruskin and Effie as being ideally romantic, it didn't take long in close quarters with them to realize that there was serious trouble in the marriage. There is no indication that Millais and Effie ever acted on their mutual feelings while she was still married to Ruskin, but when Effie later requested and obtained an annulment on the grounds of 'incurable impotency,' she and Millais married, and found their happily ever after.

It's amazing to me how straight out of a movie or fiction book the relationships of the Pre-Raphaelites were! I've seen numerous portraits of Effie, but none that really made her seem as real a person as the one above.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Webber's Wonderful World of Women...

Ok, so I got carried away with the alliteration there.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has what is perhaps the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in private ownership. Apparently this includes my favorite piece of all, Waterhouse's blue Ophelia. But did you know that he almost bought the (arguably) most famous Pre-Raphaelite style artwork of all time...Flaming June...for 50 pounds??

The start of the article on Webber's official site is below. Click here to read the rest.

'I will not have Victorian junk in my flat.' Thus uttered my grandmother in response to my request to borrow £50 to buy Frederic, Lord Leighton's Flaming June from a Fulham Road shop in the early 1960s.

Her refusal was irritating. I had just bought a set of beautifully illustrated tomes by Dugdale about English monasteries entitled Monasticon Anglicanum with the proceeds of selling a best-forgotten tune to a music publisher, and the chances of repeating such a sale were slim. Granny had been tolerant about allowing the huge set of books into her flat but was emphatically not prepared to finance the purchase of a large, dirty and unframed canvas that a West London dealer had described to an art-obsessed schoolboy as the work of a former President of the Royal Academy.

Today Flaming June hangs in the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico, having been confirmed as the real thing by the great pioneer dealer in Victorian art Jeremy Maas. But much as I frequently still curse my grandmother for denying me the chance to buy a painting that is today billed as 'the Mona Lisa of the southern hemisphere', I can't really blame her. How could she have been expected to take Flaming June seriously? Born in 1898, she had seen the young men of her generation decimated in the First World War and had lived through another. Leighton's sensuous image must have seemed appallingly irrelevant to her.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Last Pre-Raphaelite fiction blog for now, I promise, and then we can move on with other PRB related thoughts and blogs. But there's a new one coming out this year that looks great to me, and I thought I'd give you all a heads up! The book is Ivy by Julie Hearn.

Ivy is used to being overlooked. The youngest in a family of thieves, scoundrels, and roustabouts, the girl with the flame-colored hair and odd-colored eyes is declared useless by her father from the day she is born. But that's only if you look at her but don't see. For Ivy has a quality that makes people take notice. It's more than beauty -- and it draws people toward her.

Which makes her the perfect subject for an aspiring painter named Oscar Aretino Frosdick, a member of the pre-Raphaelite school of artists. Oscar is determined to make his mark on the art world, with Ivy as his model and muse. But behind Ivy's angelic looks lurk dark secrets and a troubled past -- a past that has given her an unfortunate taste for laudanum. And when treachery and jealousy surface in the Eden that is the artist's garden, Ivy must learn to be more than a pretty face if she is to survive.

The book's release date is June 17th.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pale as the Dead

I really wholeheartedly enjoyed Pale as the Dead, by Fiona Mountain, which is why I saved it for my last review. Incidentally, if anyone else knows of any recently written fiction that directly relates to the Pre-Raphaelites, I'd love to read more...sadly it seems to be a pretty slim selection.

Amazon's Synopsis:
Students of the Pre-Raphaelites, perhaps more than whodunit fans, will welcome British author Mountain's literate debut mystery introducing genealogist Natasha Blake. Still struggling with the scars caused by her belated discovery that she was adopted, the sympathetic Natasha finds herself venturing beyond her usual line of inquiry when Bethany Marshall, a young woman who had modeled for a series of art photographs, disappears. Suspecting that there may be a connection between Bethany and the Victorian model Lizzie Siddal, the suicidal wife of the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Blake taps her network of researchers to test her theories. Her activities lead her into an ambiguous relationship with Adam Mason, Bethany's boyfriend, and possible peril from mysterious figures who follow her and break into her flat. She diligently pursues numerous trails, encountering a fair number of dead ends before hitting on a clue to Bethany's past that could provide evidence relevant to some suspicious sudden deaths.

My opinion:
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It was an enjoyable contrast to the somewhat heavy Pre-Raphaelite non-fiction I've read recently. It's as though the book was written expressly with kindred spirits to myself in mind...a main character my age, with pretty nice fashion sense, a gorgeous little cottage in a small English village (ok, have I mentioned that this is a lighthearted book with plot that may require you to suspend disbelief at times?), visits to Kelmscott and Lizzie Siddal's grave, and to the Tate to look at the artworks we know and love. And perhaps most enjoyable of all, a plot that involves a photographer working to recreate the "feel" of Pre-Raphaelite art in photography! Yeah...with all those things going for it, it would have been tough to ruin this book for me. But the author also brings in some interesting knowledge of the Pre-Raphaelites...mentioning things I didn't know, like the fact that apparently Rossetti summoned the doctor to his house a few days after Lizzie died, frantically insistent that she was still alive, just in some sort of coma from her overdose. Mountain takes anecdotal stories like this and extrapolates from them to create a (ok, somewhat unbelievable but interesting) fictional storyline that revolves around the Pre-Raphaelites.

I really enjoyed this book, and definitely recommend it.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Today's book review is for Possession, by A.S. Byatt.

Amazon's Summary:
"Literary critics make natural detectives," says Maud Bailey, heroine of a mystery where the clues lurk in university libraries, old letters, and dusty journals. Together with Roland Michell, a fellow academic and accidental sleuth, Maud discovers a love affair between the two Victorian writers the pair has dedicated their lives to studying: Randolph Ash, a literary great long assumed to be a devoted and faithful husband, and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known "fairy poetess" and chaste spinster. At first, Roland and Maud's discovery threatens only to alter the direction of their research, but as they unearth the truth about the long-forgotten romance, their involvement becomes increasingly urgent and personal. Desperately concealing their purpose from competing researchers, they embark on a journey that pulls each of them from solitude and loneliness, challenges the most basic assumptions they hold about themselves, and uncovers their unique entitlement to the secret of Ash and La Motte's passion.

And my two cents:
At times, the plethora of mediums in which the author speaks can be overwhelming...this one book includes straight-forward narrative, exerpts of fictitious literary criticism, poetry, epic poetry, letters, journal entries, more straight-forward narrative between non-contemporary can be overwhelming. But one cannot help but be impressed by the sheer *believability* the author is able to exude, whether she's creating fictional 19th century epic poetry, or describing the investigations of modern scholars. The one place where I felt this book was weak was in her attempt to create a "new version of love" in which two people can remain cool and separate, unemotional, and yet still conduct an affair. I never felt any kinship or enthusiasm towards the contemporary romance for this reason.

Also, Byatt's philosophizing can get rather heavy-handed in a book that is already rather overwhelming. Don't be surprised if you have to skip certain segments of this book, but try not to skip too much of the journal entries or the poetry, as both are enjoyable and well written.

As far as applicability to the Pre-Raphaelites, the link is more indirect, although names of movers and shakers in the P.R.B. are mentioned throughout, but the *tone* of the book feels rather Pre-Raphaelite, as the poets and artists of the day dealt with a lot of the same issues.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mortal Love

Today's review is Mortal Love, by Elizabeth Hand. The Amazon summary says:

Hand (Black Light) explores the theme of artistic inspiration and its dangerous devolvement into obsession and madness through three interwoven narrative threads in this superb dark fantasy novel. In late Victorian England, American painter Radborne Comstock makes the acquaintance of Evienne Upstone, a model who's inspired members of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and driven painter Jacobus Candell completely insane. More than half a century later, Radborne's grandson Valentine ends up institutionalized after viewing intensely erotic paintings grandpa produced under Evienne's spell. His experiences echo those of Daniel Rowlands, an American writer in contemporary London whose research into the legend of Tristan and Iseult brings him into contact with Larkin Meade, a fey lover whose passion leaves him physically and emotionally deranged. Subtle parallels and resonances between the subplots suggest that Evienne and Larkin are, impossibly, the same being: a force of nature incomprehensible to mortals, whom countless doomed artists have translated imperfectly into aesthetic ideals of beauty and love. Hand does a marvelous job of making the ineffable tangible, lacing her tale with references to the work of artists ranging from Algernon Swinburne to Kurt Cobain and capturing the intense emotions of her characters in exquisitely sculpted prose. With its authentic period detail and tantalizing spirit of mystery, this timeless tale of desire and passion should reach many readers beyond her usual fantasy base.

It has been over a year since I read this one, so the details are foggy, but I do remember it was highly atmospheric...the most supernatural/fantasy of the directly Pre-Raphaelite novels I'll be reviewing. I did enjoy it very much, and would recommend this fact, I might read it again myself sometime, with the new knowledge I've gained in the past year about the P.R.B.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sleep, Pale Sister

Well, when a sickness knocks you off your feet, the blog updates are sometimes the first thing to go. I apologize for not being able to update as frequently as I wanted to this past week. But here we go with another Pre-Raphaelite book review!

Today's title is Sleep, Pale Sister by Joanne Harris. And thankfully, I found it to be a much more interesting read than the previously mentioned book on the Jane Morris love triangle. Here is the Amazon synopsis:

In the first American release of her 1994 second novel, Chocolat, author Harris dives headlong into a ferocious Gothic ghost story. Henry Chester, the son of a stern Oxford minister and his unapproachable wife, develops an unhealthy interest in virginal young girls and a chloral habit after a life-altering experience during puberty. A gentleman artist of independent means, he disguises his unsavory sexual preference in his painting, frequenting lower class neighborhoods in search of models. On one trip, he encounters the hauntingly beautiful, fatherless Effie .She spends more and more time with Henry as model and protégé, and, despite a 23-year age difference, they marry when she's 17. Soon Effie becomes pregnant then miscarries. Though Henry keeps her drugged with laudanum, Effie eventually falls for Moses Harper, a rival painter and ne'er-do-well. Harper in turn introduces her to Fanny Miller, the occultist madam of a brothel that Henry frequents; she mothers the fragile Effie, and this trio cultivates a scheme to deal the despicable Henry a loaded hand. The pages fly by through multiple plot twists in a wash of drugs, ghosts and illicit sex in a tale that easily ranks among the best of the genre.

And my thoughts:

It is fascinating to see how the author weaves together inspirations from the biographies of John and Effie Ruskin, as well as Rossetti and Siddal. This book is brilliantly done to give a peek into the twisted thinking of many men during the Victorian era towards women. Henry is obsessed with simultaneously trying to capture the innocence of woman, and convinced of their inherent sinfulness. As the book continues on, it is a downward spiral into madness and supernatural revenge. It's especially interesting for the aficionado of all things Pre-Raphaelite to see how Henry's art style changes as he grows more dependent on chloral.

Also, I have to admit that this book made me look at the portrayal of Pre-Raphaelite women in a different light, and to see the dark and rather disturbing side to the Victorian obsession with the dichotomy of a woman as either fully innocent or fully sinful. Although part of me hated to view these artworks I loved through such a disturbing lens, it was also thought-provoking, and far be it from me to deny further educating myself, even if it may be disturbing.

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.