Wives and Stunners: The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Muses

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Pan Macmillan, Aug 30, 2012 - Art - 456 pages
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Essentially a domestic biography whose main concern is the tragicomedy of manners enacted by a closely knit group of friends and lovers, Wives and Stunners tells the story of Janey Morris, Georgie Burne-Jones, Lizzie Siddall, Effie Gray and less well-known, Marie Spartali, Aglaia Coronio and Mary Zambacco. These women were the wives, mistresses andmuses, of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the inspiration behind the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and John Millais. Set against the background of mid-Victorian bohemian England, Henrietta Garnett vividly evokes the world they inhabited and the lives they lived.

She recounts the romances and friendships between the artists and the 'stunners' in a lively and original way and her book will appeal to anyone interested in Victorian England, the history of the Pre-Raphaelites and, significantly, to everyone who wants to read a spellbinding story of a bygone era.

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While I agree that "Wives and Stunners" is rather light fare, and that it brings no new information to light, it is a rather dishy approach to these stories. The writing does focus more on the woman's point of view in these sometimes tragic, sometimes comic affairs of the heart. To suggest that Garnett is at fault for not writing new material of the pre-Raphaelite seems to miss the point. This is a readable, often fun introduction into the soap operas of the muses and wives of these famous artists in mid-to-late 1800s. More in depth information and a more serious look at the "Pre-Raphaelites in Love" is Gay Daly's 1989 book. Where Daly's book is certainly more complete, Garnett's book is more fun. One could always read both, or flip a coin, or choose for style. I decided to read both and to begin my own "historical novel" dedicated to the tragic Lizzie Siddal later in this year, 

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About the author (2012)

Henrietta Garnett is the author of several memoirs, and of an acclaimed novel, Family Skeletons. She is
the daughter of Angelica Garnett, granddaughter of the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and daughter-in-law of the diarist Frances Partridge. Her biography of her ancester Anny Thackeray, daughter of the novelist, aunt of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, was published to great critical acclaim in 2004. She lives in London.

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