Friday, August 1, 2014

A Curl of Copper and Pearl

This morning, right before leaving for work, I closed Kirsty Stonell-Walker's new novel, A Curl of Copper and Pearl, on the final page.  The novel is the story of Alexa - nee Alice - Wilding, one of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's most often used, yet little known, models for the opulent and sensual female portraits we know so well.  Kirsty creates a wonderful story based on careful research and some knowledgeable and careful extrapolation, with Alexa at its center. 

I have to admit the book really got interesting for me when familiar faces and names became more prevalent, especially when Alexa started visiting Kelmscott and met the Morris family.  I was a little sad that she never met my personal favorite Pre-Raphaelite, Edward Burne-Jones, but that's entirely a biased opinion based on how much I would have enjoyed Kirsty's description of the man.  I especially adored Kirsty's vivid descriptions of Fanny Cornforth, the mysterious Mrs. Jane Morris, and the man of the hour himself, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 

The most exquisite part of an already engrossing book to me was its last few chapters, as we joined Alexa Wilding in hopelessly watching the decline of this incredible light, Rossetti, who drew so many to him like enchanted moths to a flame.  To see the experiences of his last few months through the eyes of a single observer, and one so close to him, was heartbreaking.  As Alexa laments when she hears of his death, "what am I without him?"  We can see, through the constructed character we have grown to know throughout Kirsty's book, why this man would inspire such devotion and dramatics.  Indeed, Alexa Wilding would be no more than a name on a census, were it not for this face that looks back at us from Rossetti's canvases. 

A wonderful book, and highly recommended to anyone who enjoys the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and especially to anyone who wants to understand the facts of their lives more intimately.