Monday, July 19, 2010

Effie: A Victorian Scandal - From Ruskin's Wife to Millais's Muse

by Merryn Williams
Book Guild Publishing (27 May 2010)

Victorian scandals don't come much more intimate and revealing than a wife seeking an annulment from her famous husband because their marriage has not been consummated. When Effie Ruskin sought escape from her desperately unhappy life with art critic John Ruskin, she shattered the Victorian illusion of the perfect marriage. That she could then dare to hope for respectability and even happiness as the wife of artist John Everett Millais fuelled a scandal that was to reverberate around Victorian society for years to come.

Ruskin, Millais and Effie were exposed to the kind of gossip today's wannabe celebrities can only dream of. Effie was regarded as mentally ill, immoral and certainly tainted - Queen Victoria initially refused to receive her - while Ruskin was seen either as noble and virtuous or deranged and impotent. Ruskin was repelled by Effie's body; Millais used her as a model in some of his greatest paintings. Millais went on to become one of Britain s most popular painters, but the stigma of his wife's past would never be forgotten.

From the heart of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood comes a story as fascinating today as it was shocking in the 1850s.


Hannah Stoneham said...

Gosh I would love to read this. I have come across Effie in my reading before but never read anything that is entirely about her. Good tip, thanks.


Hermes said...

Thanks, I haven't read it myself yet as my keyword searches missed it. She seems a most interesting character - and thank goodness it worked for her, though she is blamed (probably unfairly) for Millais' insipid later work.

Hels said...

Super story, isn't it.

Unfortunately the wedding took place in 1848. Only a couple of years later, there had to be a BIG clue to Ruskin's thinking about sex. It came soom after JMW Turner's death in 1851. Ruskin was putting the artist's affairs in order and found paintings done late in Turner's life, while the artist was living blissfully with an unmarried woman.

Ruskin adored Turner but he nonetheless destroyed the offending paintings, because of their "obscene" content. Ruskin did it, he said, to protect Turner's reputation.

If only Effie understood how revolted Ruskin had always been by a] adult women's bodies and b] the thought of consenting adults having delightful and carefree sex.