Author Suzanne Fagence Cooper reads from her novel Effie Gray.
Effie Gray, a beautiful and intelligent young socialite, rattled the foundations of England's Victorian age. Married at nineteen to John Ruskin, the leading art critic of the time, she found herself trapped in a loveless, unconsummated union after Ruskin rejected her on their wedding night. On a trip to Scotland she met John Everett Millais, Ruskin's protégé, and fell passionately in love with him. In a daring act, Effie left Ruskin, had their marriage annulled and entered into a long, happy marriage with Millais.
Suzanne Fagence Cooper has gained exclusive access to Effie’s extensive and previously unseen letters and diaries to reveal the reality behind this great Victorian love story. A major critical reassessment of the Victorian art world, the book addresses the careers of Ruskin and Millais from a new angle, with Effie emerging as a key figure in the artistic development of both men. Effie, her sisters and daughters appear in many of Millais’ most haunting images, embodying Victorian society’s fears about female sexuality and freedom. 'Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais' is a compelling portrait of the extraordinary woman behind some of the most beautiful and celebrated pre-Raphaelite paintings.
What I thoroughly enjoyed about this novel was the fact that the author went to great lengths researching the life of Effie Gray and those around her. What she didn't expect was to be given, by surviving family members, boxes of correspondence of the Gray, Ruskin, and Millais'.
Could you ask for anything better as a writer? As a result, Effie Gray comes to life before your eyes. The reader takes a genuine interest in the life of this young innocent Victorian girl who meets John Ruskin early in young adulthood thinking he is the answer to all of her romantic dreams. How mistaken she was. John Ruskin although fond of young Effie never truly was physically attracted to her. He never truly fell in love with her. So, why he decided Effie was the girl to marry, no one will ever know. The treasure trove of letters only touches upon various moments throughout their six year marriage. The letters give a wonderful glimpse into the mindset of Effie Gray but what provides other clues are the extraordinary Pre-Raphaelite paintings of second husband John Everett Millais whom she called 'Everett'.
From left to right: George Gray Jnr. with John and Albert, Sophia Gray (Effie's mother), Jeannie with baby Everett, George Gray snr. (Effie's father) with Alice and Sophy, Melville, Effie and Everett Millais sitting and standing together far right. Private Collection.
The love story truly begins in Scotland during a working vacation for The Ruskin's when John asks Millais to come along. In a tiny cottage in The Trossachs of the Highlands in Scotland, a young, still virginal, married Effie Gray falls in love with a young handsome painter Everett. Everett pays attention to her, enjoys spending time with her and their friendship gives her the confidence and courage to divorce John Ruskin. As a woman during the Victorian age, this was unheard of and legally could not have occurred without the support of biological family members of the long suffering wife as well as other factors.
The author uses Millais' Pre-Raphaelite paintings, of which Effie modeled for most of them, to bring their love story to life, as well as, providing a fundamental understanding for the depth of their love for each other.
This might have been my favorite aspect of the novel and something which has not happened to me before. Being able to look at paintings that you've known and loved for years with 'fresh eyes'. Having read the letters between Effie and her parents she provides background anecdotal information as to the how, why, and where the paintings might have taken place shining a fresh light on its surroundings and reasons for being!
If you are curious or just want to learn a bit more about the lives of John Ruskin, Effie Gray, and John Everett Millais, I urge you to pick up this novel. If you love Pre-Raphaelite art then this is a no brainer, buy it!
Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,