Friday, November 27, 2020

Virginia Woolf reflects on Christina Rossetti and Annie Thackeray Ritchie from Virginia Woolf's A Writer's Diary


Virginia Woolf by George Charles Beresford
platinum print, July, 1902

What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking  through them.

Christina Rossetti by Lewis Carroll
albumen print, 7 October 1863
National Portrait Gallery

Monday, August 4th

Christina (Rossetti) has the great distinction of being a born poet, as she seems to have known very well herself. But if I were bringing a case against God she is one of the first witnesses I should call. It is melancholy reading. First she starved herself of love, which meant also life; then of poetry in deference to what she thought her religion demanded. There were two good suitors. The first indeed had his peculiarities. He had a conscience.She could only marry a particular shade of Christian. He could only stay that shade for a few months at a time. Finally he developed Roman Catholicism and was lost. Worse still was the case of Mr. Collins a really delightful scholar an unworldly recluse a single-minded worshiper of Christina, who could never be brought into the fold at all. On this account she could only visit him affectionately in his lodgings, which she did to the end of her life. Poetry was castrated too. she would set herself to do the psalms into verse; and to make all her poetry subservient to the Christian doctrines. Consequently, as I think, she  starved into austere emaciation a very fine original gift, which only wanted licence to take to itself a far finer form than, shall we say Mrs. Browning's. She wrote very easily; in a spontaneous childlike kind of way one imagines, as is the case generally with a true gift; still underdeveloped. She has the natural singing power. She thinks too. She has fancy. One could say she is profane enough to guess, have been ribald and witty. And, as a reward for all her sacrifices, she died in terror, uncertain of salvation. I confess though that I have only turned her poetry over, making way inevitably to the ones I knew already.

Anne Thackeray Ritchie
Daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray
Albumen print taken by Julia Margaret Cameron
Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight, 1867

Wednesday, March 5th

But oh, dear, what a lot I've got to read! The entire works of Mr. James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, so as to compare them to the entire works of Dickens and Mrs. Gaskell; besides that George Eliot; and finally Hardy. And I've just done Aunt Anny on a really liberal scale. Yes, since I wrote last she has died, a week ago today to be precise, at Freshwater, and was buried up at Hampstead yesterday, where six or seven years ago we saw Richmond buried in a yellow fog. I suppose my feeling for her is half moonshine, or rather half reflected from other feelings. Father cared for her, she goes down the last, almost of that old nineteenth century Hyde Park Gate world. Unlike most old ladies she showed very little anxiety to see one; felt, I sometimes think, a little painfully at the sight of us, as if we'd gone far off and recalled unhappiness, which she never liked to dwell on. Also, unlike most old Aunts she had the wits to feel how sharply we differed on current questions; and this, perhaps, gave her a sense, hardly existing with her usual circle, of age, obsoleteness, extinction. For myself though she need have had no anxieties on this head, since I admired her sincerely; but still the generations certainly look very different ways. Two or perhaps three years ago L. and I went to see her, found her much diminished in size,wearing a feather boa round her neck and seated alone in a drawing room almost the copy, on a smaller scale, of the old drawing room; the same subdued pleasant air of the eighteenth century and old  portraits and old china. She had our tea waiting for us. Her manner was a little distant, and more than a little melancholy. I asked her about father, and she said how those young men laughed in a "loud melancholy way" and how their generation was a very happy one, but selfish; and how ours seemed to her fine but very terrible; but we hadn't any writers such as they had, "Some of them have just a touch of that quality; Bernard Shaw has; but only a touch. The pleasant thing was to know them all us ordinary people, not great men" And then a story of Carlyle and father; Carlyle saying he'd as soon wash his face in a dirty puddle as write journalism. She put her hand down, I remember, into a bag or box standing beside the fire, and said she had a novel, three quarters written, but couldn't finish it. Nor do I suppose it ever was finished; but I've said all I can say, dressing it up a trifle rosily, in The Times tomorrow. I have written to Hester, but how I doubt the sincerity of my own emotion!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A review of The Glass House by Jody Cooksley


What is a life without Art and Beauty? Not one that Julia chooses to live. And so she searches the world for both, discovering happiness through the lens of a camera. 

A fictional account of pioneer photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, and her extraordinary quest to find her own creative voice, The Glass House brings an exceptional photographer to life. 

From the depths of despair, with her relationships strained and having been humiliated by the artists she has given a home to, Julia rises to fame, photographing and befriending many of the days most famous literary, artistic, political and scientific celebrities. But to succeed as a female photographer, she must take on the Victorian patriarchy, the art world and, ultimately, her own family. And the doubts are not all from others. As Julia's uneasy relationship with fame grows into a fear that the camera has taken part of her soul, her search leads her full circle, back to India, in her lifelong quest for peace and beauty. A poignant, elegant and richly detailed debut.

PaperbackFirst290 pages

Published October 5th 2020 by Cinnamon Press
Original Title  The Glass House    
ISBN13    9781788649117  

Julia Margaret Cameron holding her daughter, Julia, 1845
Science Museum group collection

Her face, though plain, was delightful in its earnest animation and she cut a striking figure in her flowing garments as she walked, her head bent in thought as though she did not expect a single eye to appraise her and would not notice if it did. 

The Glass House a debut novel by author Jody Cooksley is a wonderful endeavor to tell a story of a strong, fiery natured independent woman who would become a prominent photographer in her own right responsible for soft focus photography. I admire the author's ambition to attempt to cover the years 1822 through to 1874 of this photographer's life in The Glass House.  However, stated in the afterword, the author explains how she, "has taken a great deal of liberty with their careful facts". Unfortunately, because I am somewhat familiar with Julia Margaret Cameron's life, although not difficult to google, some of the liberties include:  keeping Julia's father, James Pattle, alive by two years; he died September 1845 and it is captured in the chapter, 1848 Calcutta, where father gives daughter, Julia, financial advice as to making a move with her husband. This is a real life part of her life but her father would've had to make a ghostly visit to give this advice.  There are a few more 'liberties' that I won't go into here. 

Instead of chapter numbers there is a year and geographical location which provides a clever chronological timeline.  I enjoyed The Glass House immensely overall. I loved how the author retold the Pattle family story with sisters: Julia, Sarah, and Virginia mainly. She meets mentor and lifelong friend John Herschel, who introduces her to her soon to be husband Charles Hay Cameron in Calcutta. When Julia and husband Charles move to Kensington and Putney, you meet poet Alfred Tennyson and his wife Emily and painter G.F. Watts at Little Holland House where sister Sarah lives with husband Thoby. Such fun reading scenes of artists painting and discussing their works of art in really nice dialogue scenes. 

It wasn't until Part II of The Glass House that the author brings to life scenes of Julia Margaret Cameron asking famous friends, Tennyson, Carlyle, Rossetti to sit for her so she could set their image eternally. Some of Julia's 'famous' maids immortalized are found in The Glass House, Mary Hillier, Mary Ryan, May Prinsep. The problem I had was the author included too many well known artists in so many chapters that after awhile I felt an overload in reading the novel and I love these artists! For readers who are not familiar with Julia Margaret Cameron and her 'menagerie' one could be overwhelmed with it all. 

All of the important aspects of the life of photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron are reinvented within the pages of The Glass House by Jody Cooksley. Finding this novel was a delicious surprise. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about a free spirited woman whose desire was to capture Art and Beauty in all its forms and Julia Margaret Cameron definitely succeeded.  

NOTE THE GLASS HOUSE on the right behind the maids.
The Idylls of the Village or The Idols of the Village, Oscar Gustaf Rejlander possibly in collaboration with Julia Margaret Cameron, c. 1863, albumen print. Museum no. PH.261-1982 @ Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Glass House by Jody Cooksley is available worldwide on Amazon and wherever books are sold. 


Saturday, November 14, 2020

Review of Portrait of a Muse by Andrew Gailey


Frances Graham, Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Dream

The first biography of Frances Graham, the muse of leading Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones for the last 25 years of his life. Her life is a study in power – artistic, social, political, familial, sexual – and fascinating for being played out from a perennial position of weakness. The tale of a remarkable woman living in an age on the cusp of modernity. 

‘You haunt me everywhere.’ So wrote Edward Burne-Jones to Frances Graham, his muse for the last 25 triumphant years of his life: ‘I haven’t a corner of my life or my thoughts where you are not’.  He drew her obsessively, included her in some of his most famous paintings, and showered her with gifts. Even when she betrayed him to marry, he would return to her.  To him ’all the romance and beauty of my life means you.’ This is the first biography of his muse. 

What makes a muse? The word conjures up for the artist a human cocoon of sexual allure and worship: part inspiration, part lover and protector. Yet however beguiling, demanding and volatile a muse could be, it remained a life surrendered to the art of another. In Victorian England this was especially so with the hierarchies between the sexes so firmly entrenched. The life of a muse to a Pre-Raphaelite artist was no different: Ruskin and Effie Gray, Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal, both powerfully destructive relationships that ended respectively in divorce and death. The one who survived was Frances Graham. She had a restless, irrepressible intelligence, able to mix at her small dinners politicians and aristocrats with writers, artists and the up and coming, be they Oscar Wilde or Albert Einstein. In time, she became the confidante of three government ministers, including Asquith, the Liberal leader.

ISBN: 9781913394479
ISBN-10: 1913394476  
Format: Hardcover 
Language: English 
Published: 20th September 2020
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press Ltd. 

The Wizard by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Birmingham Museum, UK, 1896/98

All my life I have known him and admired him, when I was fifteen we used to see much of him and he was the first man of genius I had ever met and that flung open the world. {Frances Graham}

Andrew Gailey has done such a beautiful job on, Portrait of a Muse. As a biography, it is a life to death retelling of the muse of Pre-Raphaelite painter, Sir Edward Burne-Jones.  Bringing a muse out of the shadows into the spotlight is no mean feat. Anyone familiar with Burne-Jones's paintings undoubtedly has seen Frances Graham who later became Lady Horner when she married Jack Horner and lived a long life until 1940. It is quite an accomplishment researching and detailing Frances's life; although growing up in a wealthy family, having a father who was a patron of the arts and very good friends with a few of the Pre-Raphaelite painters including Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Andrew Gailey tells a charming story of a young teenaged Frances going with her father to visit 'Gabriel's' home in Cheyne Walk while her father conversed with him in his studio about upcoming requests and possibilities.  

The reader will get to know Frances very well as she grows up; her personality and passion for art matching her father's, while her mother's a total opposite not liking art at all. Frances was twelve when her father's friendship with Burn-Jones began. William Graham, M.P., regarded Burne-Jones highly as a painter and artist. Burne-Jones was always around the house and he noticed Frances right away never letting on until she was around fifteen years old. She sat for him several times while he drew, sketched, and then painted her throughout his life.  Edward Burne-Jones would have been a married man, a father and in his forties.  According to Frances, 

When I was about 18 or 19, Edward Burne-Jones, who was about 40, and living a quiet life, became my friend and poured into my lucky lap all the treasures one of the most wonderful minds that was ever created.

I was so torn reading, Portrait of a Muse, fully knowing that I would discover further details about the human side of Edward Burne-Jones. I am well aware of two of his affairs (or friendships) but Frances makes it three. According to his circle of friends he had a very sensitive and emotional side to his personality; getting 'infatuated' early on with young girls who struck his fancy. His surviving letters tell in his own words his 'attachment' and his desire to bring his fantasy world to life regardless of how his wife, Georgiana (Georgie) felt about it. Sadly, she was well aware of his 'friendships'. My heart just broke for her. The muses are equally at fault.  Burne-Jones wrote to Frances,

For you fit me through and through and only to look at you is to live splendidly.  Oh dear one, you are so deep in my life that you are a part of the air I breathe-are you jealous of my surroundings? You said yourself that triangular company was perplexing and anxious work. And often I thought of you-for it was as if you and I at the end of life were chatting together over the past.

I would highly recommend, Portrait of a Muse, to any art lover who enjoys reading about beautiful paintings, beautiful people, and the comings and goings of artists during their lives. Frances Graham led a very full life having married, had children, even naming one son Edward. It was a pleasure getting to know her.  

Thank you to Wilmington Square Books An imprint of Bitter Lemon Press for their beautiful hardcover edition to review. 

Portrait of a Muse by Andrew Gailey is available worldwide at online retail stores. 


A book review of The Ghost Ship by Kate Mosse

New York Times  bestselling author Kate Mosse returns with  The Ghost Ship , a sweeping historical epic of adventure on the high seas. The B...