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

Merryn Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 May 2010
The true story behind Desperate Romantics

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.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Book Guild Publishing; 1st Edition edition (27 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846244188
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846244186
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,019,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Merryn Williams read English at New Hall, Cambridge and obtained her doctorate from Darwin College for her work on Thomas Hardy. Formerly a lecturer at the Open University, she is now editor of The Interpreter's House, a national poetry and short story journal. Her published critical works include Women in the English Novel, 1800-1900 (Macmillan, 1984), Six Women Novelists (Macmillan, 1987), Preface to Hardy (Longman, 1993) and Wilfred Owen (Seren, 1993). She has published three volumes of poetry and was winner of the Second Light Network Poetry Competition 2003, judged by Elaine Feinstein. A new anthology of her poetry, The Georgians 1901-1930, will be published by Shoestring Press in 2010. Merryn William lives in Oxford.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Which of two wonderful books is the best? 25 Feb 2011
Format:Hardcover
"Effie Gray and John Ruskin were married quietly by a Scottish minister.... Their wedding night would go down in history." writes Merryn Williams Effie: A Victorian Scandal - From Ruskin's Wife to Millais's Muse(p.24). "We know a surprising amount of what John Ruskin did, and did not do, in bed." writes Suzanne Fagence Cooper The Model Wife: Effie, Ruskin and Millais(p.23).
With two books published in 2010 on the fascinating story of Effie Ruskin, who left her husband to marry the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Millais, many will ask themselves the question, `Which one should I read?'. In fact, although they appear to cover much the same ground, I found the two books to be somewhat different in their emotional content and I recommend readers to buy both. Each book is very well written and is difficult to put down because of the riveting story told. Cooper had the advantage of access to diaries and a huge volume of correspondence and between the key players that was made available to her. She has thoroughly digested this new material and has written an outstandingly clear narrative. Her interpretations are balanced and she weaves into her account much of the background that she found described in the letters. Some of her comments on Millais paintings are especially interesting. She focuses mainly on Effie and her family and there is an insightful chapter on Effie's sister Sophie. Williams, on the other hand, paints a rather broader picture in that we learn more about Ruskin and his parents. For me, Williams was even more moving and this may be because her she includes quite long extracts from letters and diaries.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real Ruskin 27 Oct 2010
By R Evans
Format:Hardcover
My friend recently got a kitten and called him Ruskin. Then I told her what I'd learned from this book and she wished that she hadn't!! How revealing, I never knew Ruskin was such a difficult man, who treated his wife terribly and was more interested in very young girls. The author is very fair in her description of him actually, explaining why he was the way he was, largely due to his over protective and controlling parents. How blind of him not to appreciate his beautiful and intelligent wife and thank goodness Effie had the courage to eventually break free and get an annulment, even though this was practically unheard of and scandalous at the time. This is a really good read and has excerpts from very interesting letters written by Effie and Ruskin, by both sets of parents to each other during the turbulent marriage and then from Millais, who had fallen in love with Effie. An intriguing story, very well told.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Victorian woman takes control of her own life 20 Dec 2010
Format:Hardcover
The perceptive Victorian political critic John Ruskin had less insight into himself. His personality problems made his marriage a fiasco from the start. His young wife Effie found the courage to reveal the truth and win her freedom. Williams shows how, with the support of her family, Effie was able defy taboos to gain control of her own life, although some stigma remained even after success. A gripping story told with sympathy for all those concerned, and dealing also with the new Pre-Raphaelite school of painters with whom the Ruskins were involved.
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