John Ruskin (1819-1900)

There is so much to say about John Ruskin's life and work that is admirable, still influencing the way we view art, architecture and social thinking today. But, to her shame, the VV is here to perpetuate some gossip regarding his personal life, her only defence being that the following tale is related to a previous post about his marriage to Effie Gray.

For a man whose interest in the physical side of marriage appeared to be non-existent, it is interesting to investigate how he came to marry Effie Gray - an attractive and lively young woman whose charms had inspired several offers of marriage and led to some broken hearts.

John Ruskin's interest first began was Effie was a child, their parents already being acquainted and often sharing time together. Ruskin became very fond of the girl and when he was was twenty-one and Effie only twelve she inspired him to write a fairytale. The King of Golden River was published in 1851 and became a Victorian classic.
John Ruskin as a child

There is some evidence that much like his friend Lewis Carroll, Ruskin simply felt more at ease in the uncomplicated and innocent company of the young, perhaps reliving his own happy childhood through them.
 Ruskin's portrait of Rose la Touche

But  it was Rose La Touche, first met when she was nine years old, who eventually won Ruskin's heart. Engaged by Rose's family as a tutor, Ruskin was to write, "...in the eventful year of 1858, a lady wrote to me from - somewhere near Green Street, W., - saying, as people sometimes did, in those days, that she saw I was the only sound teacher in Art...that she wanted her children - two boys and a girl - taught the beginnings of Art rightly; especially the younger girl, in whom she thought I might find some power worth developing."

Ruskin and Rose became very close and when not together they wrote several letters. She addressed him as St Crumpet. He eventually proposed marriage in 1868 by which time he was almost fifty and Rose was but eighteen. However, concerned about Rose's future happiness, her family wrote to Effie Gray Millais to enquire as to the truth surrounding the scandal of her own marriage to Ruskin. Effie's response was to suggest that such a marriage should not go ahead, and whether it was this influence or other religious differences, Rose finally turned the proposal down.

Rose la Touche on her deathbed by Ruskin

The result was great unhappiness. Rose died at the age of twenty-seven having been placed in a nursing home by her parents who feared their daughter had gone mad. The tragedy of her death led to Ruskin's despair and deterioration. During bouts of insanity he became quite convinced that the Renaissance artist, Carpaccio, had included Rose's portrait in his paintings of Saint Ursula. He also employed the services of mediums to contact Rose's spirit.

Whatever misery and pain had been caused to Effie Gray during her marriage to Ruskin, it would seem that he paid the heaviest price. Effie's revenge was a dish served cold, but a dish of the utmost potency.

If you would like to read more about Effie, Ruskin and Rose la Touche, the VV can heartily recommend Suzanne Fagence Cooper's book: The Model Wife: Effie, Ruskin and Millais which is described in more detail in this related post. 



The VV would like to wish each and every one of her American followers a very happy Thanksgiving Day.

The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930)



At this time of year, when the last of the leaves are falling, the air fogged and tinged with bonfire smoke, the VV is reminded of Autumn Leaves, a painting by John Everett Millais in which his wife's younger sister Sophy is posed as the girl who is throwing more leaves onto the smoking pyre. The picture is full of symbolism - the fires of passion about to catch light, the death of youth and innocence, and the questioning look in Sophy's eyes as they stare straight out of the picture's frame. In contrast, the other girls hold expressions very much 'simpler', all still engrossed in the pile of leaves rather than who might be watching them.
Effie Gray (1828-1897) painted by Thomas Richmond

Some time before commencing this work, Millais had been involved in one of Victorian England's most celebrated scandals. The young member of the Pre-Raphealite Brotherhood had been a protege of John Ruskin, the academic, artist and critic - until Millais started to fall in love with Effie, Ruskin's wife.

But, there is so much more to this story than mere gossip and titillation and, having gained access to some of Effie Gray's private letters and diaries, Suzanne Fagence-Cooper has recently written an excellent book which examines the characters actions and motivations in detail.

The Model Wife: Effie, Ruskin and Millais presents Ruskin as a man of great talents but over fastidious inclinations which rendered him as being cold and detached from reality, a trait that eventually caused his passionate and attractive wife to be plagued by nervous ailments.

Effie wrote candidly to her own father: "He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason...that he had imagined that women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person..." 

Later, much gossip was to arise regarding the true cause of Ruskin's disgust - assumed to be a horror of female pubic hair, or else that of menstruation.
But, Effie did not repel all men. Far from it, she was very popular. When Millais was invited to join the Ruskins in Scotland, there to paint the husband's portrait, he was more inclined to spend his time in sketching the wife who modelled for his painting, The Order of Release (shown above)And, at night, when separated by only a thin partition wall in the lodge where the trio were staying, Millais could hear every movement and breath of the woman with whom he became obsessed - and no doubt he also realised the lack of physical intimacy within the Ruskins' marital bed. 
Millais' portrait of John Ruskin

Soon after that holiday Effie left her husband and bravely faced the public disgrace of petitioning for divorce which was granted on grounds of non-consummation, but only after medical examinations that proved she was still a virgin. With her marriage to Ruskin nullified, she and Millais were free to wed and as time went by they found themselves accepted by London society where, due her Effie's hosting skills and her husband's undoubted talent they gained great social standing and wealth. Millais even received a knighthood.

Suzanne Fagence-Cooper's book provides a fascinating insight into this complex story, with much reference to Effie's family and to her husband's artistic works - which brings the VV back to Autumn Leaves, for in addition to the sensation regarding Effie's divorce this book held something of particular interest, specifically in the later chapters which deal with the character of Effie's younger sister, Sophy - for here was another love triangle concerning Effie and her husband.
Effie in middle age

Like Effie before, Sophy was growing into a beautiful young woman. Unlike Effie, she had not begun to be worn down by the routine of domesticity and the trauma of regular childbirths. Millais was known to have an eye for attractive models, and with his wife otherwise occupied he was increasingly drawn to paint his younger, prettier sister-in-law. Through the many canvasses produced the viewer is able to see Sophy's transition from the child on the cusp of adulthood represented in Autumn Leaves, to the alluring vision of sensuality found in later studies - such as the portrait below where the flushed face is all too knowing, where the red lips signify seduction, where the heart embroidered on the breast of the gown is a blatant statement of the growing affection between artist and muse.

Whatever happened, or did not, while Sophy posed for Millais there was talk of Effie being upset and arguments breaking out in the house resulting in Sophy being asked to leave. At the age of twenty-four, Sophy suffered a nervous breakdown, going on to exhibit all the classical signs of annorexia.

Was it the result of a broken heart, of wishing to retain the shape and form that had most beguiled her brother in law? We shall never really know. Suzanne Fagence-Cooper exposes a great deal and the rest we can only go on to deduce. 

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Wilfred Owen (18 March 1893 - November 4 1918)

Wilfred Owen was born in 1893, one of that generation of late Victorians who were destined to lose their lives in the carnage of the First World War.

His poetry was shocking, horrific and beautiful. It captured the essence of the war which ended one week after his death. The telegram informing his mother of this news arrived while her local church bells were tolling to announce the Armistice.

Dulce Et Decorum Est was written in 1917 and published in 1920. The original manuscript was addressed to his mother - and its title was drawn from an Ode by the Roman poet, Horace: "How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country: Death pursues the man who flees, Spares no the hamstrings or cowardly backs, Of battle-shy youths."

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . . 
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest  
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen was a member of the Artists Rifles and for more information on that regiment's origins, please see this earlier post from the Virtual Victorian: http://virtualvictorian.blogspot.com/2010/09/story-of-artists-rifles.html