Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron (♦♦♦♦)

It’s 1850, London.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal is a young seamstress sewing bonnets in a millinery, and at times shopgirl for the establishment where she works. A chance encounter with a young American painter named Walter Deverell, puts Ms. Siddal on her path to destiny and ultimately immortality, for while posing as a model for a Deverell’s painting, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, becomes besotted, and makes her his muse in painting and poetry; thus beginning a tumultuous relationship that will last for the rest of her life. Not only Deverell’s and Rossetti’s works were inspired by Lizzie Siddal; she became Hamlet’s Ophelia in the famous painting by John Everett Millais, also co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

I thought that Rodin and Camille Claudell’s relationship, as depicted in Rodin’s Lover, which I read earlier this year, had taken the cake for a tempestuous love affair, but apparently I was wrong. Lizzie Siddal and Rossetti’s affair is the ultimate testimony of two people that are destined to bring the best (and the worst) in each other.

Love, loss of it, taking advantage of a less privileged person without intending to fulfilling promises, bouts of illness, manipulation, distortion of self and body image, drug abuse…This affair had it all, and probably the best thing come from all this suffering was the art created by the duo during their years of courtship. I became so repelled by Dante Rossetti’s lies that every time he started to make promises I felt like screaming to the book: “No, don’t listen. He doesn’t mean it!” But do characters listen? Never, so Lizzie kept falling ill and listening to promises that weren’t meant to be fulfilled. I just had to get that out of my system!

Rita Cameron did her research and it shows, because she was very meticulous with her depictions of art and character sketches. I formed a negative opinion of Dante G. Rossetti, but I think it had more to do with my life experiences than the author’s intention to depict him as “less than a gentleman”. Lizzie was trapped in a relationship limbo because of the role women played in society. Rossetti saw marriage as the end of creative freedom and worldly pleasures. Both were right; they just expressed it in a destructive manner.

If you want to imagine how all may have happened, then read this book. Otherwise you can save yourself the heartache and the madness and head to Wikipedia. I did both and felt richer for it.

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free Galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Comments

  1. Historical fiction always gives us a bit of a problem, doesn't it? Just how much is true and how much is the author's imagination? Still, it is probably my favorite genre and this one sounds very interesting.

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    1. You are right, Dorothy, that's the force behind historical fiction, though when I leave a book whose topic left me intrigued, I immediately resort to Wikipedia to find out how much of it was fact and how much fiction there was in it. What I typically don't forgive is the author taking too much creative freedom with a topic that is fairly well known. Nor do I like when there is scant information on the subject and the author fills out the void with whatever strikes his/her fancy; I think that is speculative fiction rather than historical fiction.

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  2. Sounds heart breaking, but also fascinating!

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    1. It was, but also hard to read considering the topic. I just wanted to yell at those two.

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  3. I do that too! I find myself talking (sometimes yelling) at characters in the books I'm reading. I usually don't like it if I have to keep doing it and I tend to give up on the book. I don't want to be frustrated the whole time plus I feel like the author isn't giving the reader enough credit with figuring out characters. I don't need to see a million different ways a character is clumsy, mean, or selfish. A few examples are fine but I don't want the author to just keep clobbering me when they could be spending that time (and words) moving the story along. *end rant*

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    1. My sentiments exactly, Rhiannon, though I think I like suffering because I only give up a book in the beginning. Once I pass 100 pages, I have to finish. I know, bad right?

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