Around two years ago I happened to see a youtube video on the making of "Desperate Romantics" about the Pre-Raphaelites. Looked like something I would like, so I ordered the book Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle and the DVD and fell in love with the works of the pre-Raphaelites. Not only are their works a marvel, I managed to view some of them at the Tate Gallery in London on a visit. I find the group and the people around them fascinating. At the wonderful museum shop I found several interesting books, which I have now finally read. The first one was Lizzie Siddal - The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawksley, the second one Effie by Suzanne Fagence Cooper and last but not least, A Circle of Sisters by Judith Flanders, review will follow.
Effie's story is extraordinary for a woman in the Victorian times. She is another one of those remarkable Victorian women who managed to make a life of her own, in spite of the not so many rights of women at the time. I recently read Mrs Robinson's Disgrace (The Private Diary of a Victoria Lady) by Kate Summerscale. In her case it was her husband who filed for a divorce. Effie filed for an annulment after six years of marriage.
At 19 she married John Ruskin, a well known art patron, social thinker and philanthropist. They were very much in love, and it was a good marriage for Effie, as they said in those days. However, already on the wedding night something went wrong. Something which was never to be healed. Ruskin was living with his parents, doted by them and probably affected by his mother's strong religious beliefs. The young couple moved in with them, which was probably not a good idea. The relationship with her parents-in-law was never good. A very tight family who did not let anyone else into their sphere.
Effie had some problems as well and was often ill. She felt it was her husband and his parents against herself. She was even accused of being mad and one can only imagine the pressure this situation caused her. Ruskin was much involved in the architecture and art world of the day and saw the pre-Raphaelites as something new and different. He invited one of them, John Everett Millais, to paint his wife. He later became ne oof the the most famous of the group. He fell in love with Effie, and she enjoyed his company.
As the years went on and the strains of the marriage increased, she finally confided her secret to a friend in high society. It was something she could not even speak to her parents about. The marriage was never consummated and she felt no affection from her husband. Appalled by the whole situation her friend advised her to get an annulment of the marriage. One can only imagine how desperate she was to go through this public display of such a very private thing. However, she managed to get the marriage annulled and returned to her parents place. Millais continued his courting and the year after they married. They got eight children.
Ms Fagence Cooper has written a fascinating biography, thoroughly researched with numerous quotes from letters and articles of the time. Her writing takes us right back to the times and the circumstances and we follow Effie and John Ruskin from the nature of Scotland, to the city life of London and the romantic trips to Venice and other places in Europe. A biography that keeps you tied to the pages, a life of sadness and happiness, and the story of another remarkable Victorian woman.