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on 7 September 2012
"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). The present book, with a different title, is the paperback version of Fagence Cooper's book published in 2010.
With two recently published books on the fascinating story of Effie Ruskin, who left her husband to marry the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett 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. (More detail on the paintings can be found in the outstanding book by Rosenfeld John Everett Millais). Cooper 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 she includes quite long extracts from letters and diaries. It is perhaps surprising that Cooper did not do the same; at the most we get the odd sentence from a letter. But sometimes the most shocking things can best be appreciated by reading the actual words of the participants. And there is plenty to shock a modern reader here. Overall, both these books provide a wonderful insight into a tragic human story that lay behind the great art that Millais gave us and the great writing that Ruskin produced.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 16 November 2014
Suzanne Fagence Cooper's enjoyable biography of Euphemia Gray has been published in several different editions including this very attractively presented paperback - however, whichever version you buy, you can be assured that you will be reading a well-researched and sympathetic account of a very interesting woman. Born in 1828, in Perth, Scotland, Euphemia - or Effie, as she was known to her family and close friends, was the eldest of the fifteen children (of whom only eight survived) of George Gray, a solicitor, and his wife, Sophia. In 1848, at the age of nineteen, Effie, a very attractive and vivacious auburn-haired young woman, married John Ruskin, ten years her senior and already a literary celebrity having produced two volumes of art theory and criticism, and at the time of the marriage, was at work on a study of architecture. Six years after this seemingly very suitable marriage, a desperately unhappy Effie, sick of living a lie, left her husband and sought an annulment, due to the marriage never having been consummated. Apparently on the wedding night, Ruskin was in some way 'disgusted' with Effie's person - the reason for this was never made entirely clear, but Suzanne Fagence Cooper discusses likely explanations for Ruskin's extreme reluctance to have sex with his wife, and also discusses the possibility that Ruskin was inclined towards prepubescent girls, as his later infatuation with the underage Rose La Touche suggests. Naturally, the proceedings which followed Effie's revelations about their marriage proved very embarrassing to both herself and to Ruskin - Effie had to undergo an examination to prove she was still a virgin and Ruskin, although he stated he was able to prove otherwise, was declared 'incurably impotent'.

A year after the annulment, Effie married Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Everett Millais, who had been an ardent admirer of Effie's and had been on friendly terms with both Effie and John Ruskin during their marriage. In fact, it has been suggested that Ruskin tried to encourage Millais and Effie towards an intimacy that would solve Ruskin's problem of being unwilling or unable to consummate his marriage - but speculation aside, Ruskin soon disappears from Suzanne Fagence Cooper's story, as her focus is now on Effie and on her life after Ruskin. And there is a lot more of Effie's life to learn about as we follow the four decades of her marriage to Millais, and although there were some difficult and some sad times ahead, their life together was a full and productive one, with Effie (when she was not pregnant or recovering from the births of their eight children) organizing the social and business side of their life, running the house, keeping accounts and hosting parties where she helped to promote commissions for Millais' art. However, I shall leave the remainder of Effie's story for prospective purchasers to read about for themselves, and there is a lot more to her story than I have revealed in this review.

As commented in my opening paragraph, this is a well-researched biography - the author had access to a large amount of previously unseen correspondence and was able to use this information, along with additional research, to assist her in writing an involving and interesting account of a woman who was not prepared to accept a passionless and childless marriage, and who risked censure and ostracism in order to live a full and productive life. In fact, although many friends and acquaintances in the Millais' circle, sympathised and supported them in their endeavours, the taint of Effie's annulment never entirely went away, and it was decades before Effie was finally received into Queen Victoria's presence, despite Millais becoming a baronet. Interestingly, Suzanne Fagence takes care to show Effie's story as part of wider shift in women's roles and expectations and her vivid biography which, in places, reads almost like a novel, is full of information which allows the reader to "walk with Effie and observe sixty years of Victorian life through her eyes." Recommended.

4 Stars.
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on 27 March 2015
Once upon a time there were two very bad people. They had a son who was not very bad, just bad. He married a lovely young woman who was, and remained, without blemish. Unfortunately this lovely young woman did not turn her husband on and their marriage ended. Luckily a dashing young artist was on hand. He married the young woman and he was turned on by her and they had lots of children.
Here is the story of Mr and Mrs Ruskin senior, their son John, Effie Gray and Everett Millais, and such, at times is how the book reads, especially up to Millais' marriage to Effie. It certainly reads a lot like a novel and the author is very willing to attribute emotions to her characters withou justification.
But what a story it is and the book is unputdownable. The style is simple and clear. The inherent feminist tack never grates. The tribulations of having a large family in the nineteenth century are graphically described. Illness is never far away and infant mortality too. Constant pregnancies dominate women's lives. Here are family history, art history, and social history skilfully combined. The tale never flags.
The illustrations are disappointing and inevitably there are many paintings referred to which have no illustration. Google is a valuable accompaniment, even an essential one.
A highly recommended book.
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on 19 October 2014
Many will come to this book through the recently released film, a still of which is shown on the paperback edition. I don't think they will be disappointed, though the book covers so much more.

The author spends more time on "after John Ruskin", and also writes as much about Effie's many children - children she would never have been given by her first husband. We read, too, of the great social changes during Effie's life and Victoria's reign, at least or especially for the better off.

The author was fortunate in having first dibs on an extensive family archive donated to the Tate Gallery in 2009, including bundles and bundles of letters by the title character, who was a prolific writer. She thus brings a lot of fresh ideas to their increasingly popular subjects.

She gives her own judgement on why John Ruskin would not consummate his marriage with Effie, not that life with Everett Millais was always a bed of roses. A marriage without sex was followed by a decade of being pregnant or nursing or both. Her domestic responsibilities were onerous but never shirked - Everett was never up to that task. However, Effie wanted and loved her children and grandchildren.

Effie was also a business manager for her husband. Her drive and networking drove his success, propelling him ultimately to a baronetcy and President of the Royal Academy. His art changed, many said he sold out and blamed his wife - a 19th century Yoko Ono or Victoria Beckham . This the author disputes. There are interesting analyses of Everett's wonderful and not so wonderful pictures, not least his projection of an idealised version of young women. She suggests that one of his main models - Effie's young sister - may have paid a high price for his use of her. The chapter on the tragic history of Sophy Gray is the fullest account to date.

Effie comes across in this account as a determined and enterprising woman. Without her Everett would not have achieved the reputation he did. But more than that she was a constant and caring presence in the lives of her family, possibly more to her sons than her daughters, and especially to the family into which she was born. Her father said his heart floated on love when Effie was born and she inspired the same in so many others.

Life in the 19th century even for the Queen was never lived far from personal tragedy and Effie had her share. Joanne writes well of this. The closing chapter as the light literally fades, is exquisitely sad, as Effie returns the home of her birth and both her weddings.

A book for the romantic, desperate or otherwise.
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on 22 April 2013
I really enjoyed this book and learning all about Effie and her experiences with being married to both Ruskin and Millais.

It is generally not a great idea to judge people's behavior and motives based on current thinking as they had such a totally different mindset. That said I could not fail to feel a tremendous amount of empathy for Effie, as a woman who has struggled for the past 30 years with her own body and weight, I can well understand the feelings she must have felt over knowing that her ' person ' was not acceptable to her husband, hence his lack of desire to ever touch her.

She paid a heavy price for her second marriage, but in her place, I would have made the same choice.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 16 November 2014
Suzanne Fagence Cooper's enjoyable biography of Euphemia Gray has been published in several different editions including this film tie-in version - however, whichever version you buy, you can be assured that you will be reading a well-researched and sympathetic account of a very interesting woman. Born in 1828, in Perth, Scotland, Euphemia - or Effie, as she was known to her family and close friends, was the eldest of the fifteen children (of whom only eight survived) of George Gray, a solicitor, and his wife, Sophia. In 1848, at the age of nineteen, Effie, a very attractive and vivacious auburn-haired young woman, married John Ruskin, ten years her senior and already a literary celebrity having produced two volumes of art theory and criticism, and at the time of the marriage, was at work on a study of architecture. Six years after this seemingly very suitable marriage, a desperately unhappy Effie, sick of living a lie, left her husband and sought an annulment, due to the marriage never having been consummated. Apparently on the wedding night, Ruskin was in some way 'disgusted' with Effie's person - the reason for this was never made entirely clear, but Suzanne Fagence Cooper discusses likely explanations for Ruskin's extreme reluctance to have sex with his wife, and also discusses the possibility that Ruskin was inclined towards prepubescent girls, as his later infatuation with the underage Rose La Touche suggests. Naturally, the proceedings which followed Effie's revelations about their marriage proved very embarrassing to both herself and to Ruskin - Effie had to undergo an examination to prove she was still a virgin and Ruskin, although he stated he was able to prove otherwise, was declared 'incurably impotent'.

A year after the annulment, Effie married Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Everett Millais, who had been an ardent admirer of Effie's and had been on friendly terms with both Effie and John Ruskin during their marriage. In fact, it has been suggested that Ruskin tried to encourage Millais and Effie towards an intimacy that would solve Ruskin's problem of being unwilling or unable to consummate his marriage - but speculation aside, Ruskin soon disappears from Suzanne Fagence Cooper's story, as her focus is now on Effie and on her life after Ruskin. And there is a lot more of Effie's life to learn about as we follow the four decades of her marriage to Millais, and although there were some difficult and some sad times ahead, their life together was a full and productive one, with Effie (when she was not pregnant or recovering from the births of their eight children) organizing the social and business side of their life, running the house, keeping accounts and hosting parties where she helped to promote commissions for Millais' art. However, I shall leave the remainder of Effie's story for prospective purchasers to read about for themselves, and there is a lot more to her story than I have revealed in this review.

As commented in my opening paragraph, this is a well-researched biography - the author had access to a large amount of previously unseen correspondence and was able to use this information, along with additional research, to assist her in writing an involving and interesting account of a woman who was not prepared to accept a passionless and childless marriage, and who risked censure and ostracism in order to live a full and productive life. In fact, although many friends and acquaintances in the Millais' circle, sympathised and supported them in their endeavours, the taint of Effie's annulment never entirely went away, and it was decades before Effie was finally received into Queen Victoria's presence, despite Millais becoming a baronet. Interestingly, Suzanne Fagence takes care to show Effie's story as part of wider shift in women's roles and expectations and her vivid biography which, in places, reads almost like a novel, is full of information which allows the reader to "walk with Effie and observe sixty years of Victorian life through her eyes." Recommended.

4 Stars.
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on 28 April 2014
This book is excellent in every way. it is well-written and a good read and a good mix of history, biography and art. The author is drawing on a treasure trove of Millais family letters, it gives a good flavour of Victorian middle-class life. The information about many of Millais' paintings is fascinating. I could not put it down. One tiny negative point is that towards the end of the book, after the death of Effie's father, the book jumps back to the time when he was alive while the author gets her readers up to speed with some details of Effie's sisters' lives. But, all in all, an excellent and informative read.
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on 4 January 2013
This is a bit of a niche novel but is really informative and so well researched. It is the romantic story of Effie Grey who was married to Ruskin and Millais the painter. So it is a love story. It has been carefully reconstructed using a cache of letters amongst other sources and the story is good enough for a novel. It is essentially a history though and perhaps more extraordinary for that as it provides such a vivid window into Victorian life. I enjoyed it and bought a copy to give as a Christmas present.
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on 10 October 2015
I loved this film!

Having recently visited Brantwood - John Ruskin's home in the Lake District, I was keen to learn more about him and this film certainly gave me plenty of food for thought.

The actors in the film have all been brilliantly cast and I was engrossed from the start right until the end. Highly recommended.
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on 13 November 2014
In the biography, The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, author Suzanne Fagence Cooper takes us into Victorian England, Venice, Italy, Scotland, and into the heart of the scandal that haunted poor Effie her entire life.

Based upon a treasure of preserved letters, Cooper has recreated Effie's life in great detail. The book is a comprehensive commentary on the life of this fascinating young woman who had been so shamed and berated because of her first husband's neglect. I liked the fact that three possible reasons came to light regarding Ruskin's strange behavior towards his beautiful wife. And I found the plight of Effie's sister, Sophy, regarding her mental madness and anorexia very interesting.

Numerous photographs are included in the book. My only disappointment was in the physical paperback version I was provided, the typesetting and fonts were so incredibly tiny, it made reading extremely fatiguing and trying. This knocked me out of the story. As I received an advance reading copy, I hope that the publisher has rectified this problem. Or I recommend purchasing the book in e-book format avoid eye strain.

This was a terrific story and definitely worth reading. It is so good it has been made into a movie, which only adds to my belief that this is definitely a book worth reading. An incredibly fascinating tale about a very courageous woman!
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