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Effie: A Victorian Scandal - From Ruskin's Wife to Millais's Muse Hardcover – 27 May 2010
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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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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. 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.