The Pre-Raphaelites had a thing for interesting women and, although perhaps lesser known than Lizzie Siddal, Effie Gray certainly ranks as one of the most remarkable women to inhabit the world of the Brotherhood. This excellent biography covers her life, which was certainly one of the most glittering- and scandalous- of the Victorian art world.
As a young woman, Effie married the famous art critic John Ruskin, only to be ignored by him and bullied by his parents. She eventually was able to obtain a divorce on the grounds of non-consummation (it’s been suggested that he was horrified by the sight of her pubic hair or her periods.) Meanwhile, waiting in the wings and madly in love with her was the Pre-Raphaelite artist- and Ruskin’s friend and protégé, John Everett Millais. The book deals with Effie’s rise, fall and comeback with empathy and style, without being totally biased towards its subject. We also learn about the tragedy of Effie’s younger sister, Sophy, a model for some of Millais’ most stunning pieces.
Dakota Fanning has recently starred as Effie in a film released last month (and written by Emma Thompson)- I’m hoping it’ll be as good as this book.