EFFIE: A VICTORIAN SCANDAL
A digital audio edition of Effie: A Victorian Scandal will be published by Random House on 24th March 2015 (details on my home page). The reader is Rosalyn Landor.
An e-book version is now available for PC and Kindle (see Home page).
Effie Gray was the wife of two distinguished Victorians, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais, in an age when divorce was almost impossible. The annulment of her first marriage was the great scandal of 1854 and would follow all three of them around until the last of them died. Even then, although families and disciples tried to hush it up, it was not forgotten. The story was told again and again, in a mutilated form, and if one of the three was blamed it was usually her. The letters which they wrote during the crisis remained unpublished for another century. Millais preferred to express his feelings in paint, and some of his greatest works are images of Effie and Ruskin.
What was unusual was not that the first marriage went sour but that Effie was able to break away legally and reinvent herself as Mrs Millais. Of course, there was a price to pay. Her reputation would always be slightly spotted; Queen Victoria refused to receive her and many people thought - still think - that she behaved badly. There were no tabloid newspapers in those days but, then as now, there was a great deal of malice, fault-finding, and unwholesome interest in celebrities. Then, Thomas Carlyle said that that no woman had a right to complain about her husband's behaviour; now critics say that Effie was a commonplace woman who dragged down two great men. The real Effie Gray was a brave, gifted and essentially decent young woman who wanted with all her heart to be respectable. But she was trapped in a situation which did no good to anyone, and in extremity, people sometimes find their way around the rules.
Few other careers were open to her, so she became what is called a Muse. Her face looks past the crowds in Tate Britain from The Order of Release; her influence lurks behind Ruskin's King of the Golden River and 'Of Queens' Gardens', which describes the wife he never found. George Eliot, who also had a scandal in her life, brooded over Effie's story and reinterpreted it in
Gladstone, who knew them all, wrote, 'Should you ever hear anyone blame Millais, or his wife, or Mr Ruskin, remember there was no fault: there was misfortune, even tragedy: all three were perfectly blameless'. My book tries to give a sympathetic hearing to all three persons in the story.
Merryn Williams takes us deep into the heart of three tangled lives in her superbly researched and refreshingly unbiassed account of the disastrous Ruskin marriage. Using letters written by the main protagonists, she allows their stories to unfold with scholarly rigour and yet a genuine sympathy for all those involved in what today would be regarded as just another celebrity divorce.
Lancashire Evening Post
A truly fantastic read .... written wonderfully .... This book may read like a work of fiction, but its historical accuracy is not in doubt.
The Review of the Pre-Raphaelite Society.