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Book Review: Effie Gray

 

This comment on the story of a very woman’s woman opens with a slight hint of sadness - and also a touch of cynicism - about the censorship activities of cinema chain management Why is it that the more intriguing and rewarding productions get sidelined in favour of here today gone tomorrow nonentities? Looking on the internet for a cinema screening of the film of the title released on October 10th was sadly disappointing; one screen in Coventry, miles away, and nowhere on Cineworld. Tut tut.

The original biography was published in hardback in 2010, this paperback version issued to compliment the film, but there’s no point in asking the question of what should one do, read the book or see the film first? You have to read the book, and why not?

It is a well-worked and very readable biography, with all the elegant detail of a Victorian epic in the era of the Pre-Raphaelites. Effie - Euphemia - was a honeymoon child born in Perthshire who grew up to be an extremely pretty girl and, it was rumoured, had ‘twenty seven offers of marriage’ by the time she was nineteen. But it was John Ruskin, he with an enviable reputation as a promoter of the arts, who first married her - and we discover just what a sham marriage it turned out to be. Poor Ruskin! He could not appreciate her womanly traits, (before the days of depilatory processes) perhaps being overly satiated on artistic representations of beauty, and they drifted apart on his wave of nausea and discontent.

By the time she was twenty five her marriage still hadn’t been consummated - and logically for such a feisty lady, she loses interest in him. A far more satisfying connection with Everett Millais - the painter and a protégé of Ruskin’s - blossomed instead; Effie became his model, his muse and eventually, after traumatic divorce proceedings which of necessity in those days were accompanied by a medical inspection of her virginity, she married him. Her life with Everett gave her all she needed - though she never had the full blooming health which would have so suited the couple. She died a widow in 1897.

Review by Bruce Edwards

 

 

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