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. 


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