Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron
To be published: Sept 29, 2015
William Deverell – Twelfth Night
The book is about Lizzie Siddal, a muse and model for several members of the PRB or Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England, in the middle of the nineteenth century. She starts out as a hat-maker’s assistant and shop girl, supporting her family who used to upper middle class but have since fallen on hard times. It is there that she is first discovered by a PRB member named William Deverell, who uses her as his model for Viola (dressed as a red-haired pageboy in his Twelfth Night painting). He falls in love with her only to have his friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti come over to see his fabulous new model, and become smitten with her himself. The difference is that Rossetti hold her up as an ideal, his Beatrice, and does not really plan on marrying her. She, of course being a young woman in the nineteenth century, is well aware of women who become models and how society perceives them and their reputation, and does not paint a pretty picture. The title alludes to one of the most famous paintings she was part of, namely Ophelia by John Everett Millias. It is with this painting that she becomes well-known, and is able to secure a patron in art critic John Ruskin, who also helps to publicize her own artwork. Her tempestuous relationship with Rossetti will eventually lead to her downfall though. 4 stars.
Lizzie Siddal – Pippa Passes, 1854
The artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (which I have also posted about on my previous blog here) are some of my favorites and have been since I was about sixteen and first saw an exhibition of their work. I love the style and subject matter of their art. I actually have a bit of an obsession over Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s work in particular, and his relationship with Lizzie Siddal. So naturally, when I discovered this book on Netgalley, I had to get a copy. I felt sorry for Lizzie, who was stuck in a bit of a sticky situation. Honor was such a bit part of Victorian life and while men could be total whores and get away with it (got to love those double standards), but women who got the slightest whiff of impropriety were deemed “loose women” and shunned (regardless if they actually did anything or not). Lizzie had a very tempetuous relationship with DG Rossetti, who had a very roving eye for all “stunners” as he called them, and probably slept with most of his models. I do kind of wonder what would have happened if she and William Deverell had been allowed to marry. She would’ve had a proper marriage, but it would’ve been really short because of his bad health and she probably would’ve have become as famous as she later did because of her relationship with Rossetti and her association with Ruskin. I would’ve liked to see color plates of the paintings named in the book or links to the paintings on the internet because it is sometimes hard to visualize the paintings if you haven’t seen them before. I will say that the reader really feels like they are part of the world of the 19th century with the sights, sounds and descriptions of the artwork.
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from Kensington Books on Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.