"I apologize again for my boldness, but I must tell you that you're the most beautiful girl in Oxford. Maybe in all of England. I have to put you in my painting."
With these words, the scandalous, wildly talented painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti changes seventeen-year-old Jane Burden's life forever. Jane's gaunt, awkward figure and grave expression have cemented her reputation as the ugliest girl in Oxford. Raised by a stableman on Holywell Street -- the town's most sordid and despicable slum -- Jane is nearly resigned to marry in-kind. But when she meets Rossetti at the theater, he sees beyond her worn, ill-fitting dress and unruly hair and is stirred by her unconventional beauty. The charismatic painter whisks Jane into Oxford's exclusive art scene as his muse, and during the long and intimate hours of modeling -- draping and tilting, gazing and posing -- Jane finds herself falling in love.
When Rossetti abruptly leaves Oxford with no plans to return, brokenhearted Jane settles for a stable, if passionless, marriage to his soft-spoken protégé, William Morris -- the man who would go on to become the father of the British Arts and Crafts Movement. Jane resigns herself to life as a respectable wife and mother, exchanging the slop bucket for intricate needlepoint, willing away the memories of Rossetti and what could have been.
But Rossetti and Jane are inextricably bound together by tragedy, art, and desire, and no amount of time or distance can separate them. Ultimately this complicated arrangement with which Jane, Morris, and Rossetti must learn to live threatens to undo them all. Richly textured and deftly portrayed, Elizabeth Hickey's latest is a compelling portrait of the ever-changing notions of both love and beauty.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:April 2, 1971
Place of Birth:Louisville, Kentucky
Education:B.A., Williams College, 1993; M.F.A., Columbia University, 1999
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Hickey borrows Tracy Chevalier's concept of focusing on the artist's model. She does a good job of creating a believable character for Jane Burden, but the other characters (Rosetti, Morris, Siddall, Burne-Jones) are rather shallow. I found it a bit difficult to get through the last quarter of the book as my interest in Jane dropped considerably.
Jane Burden knows she is ugly having heard that from her mother as well as family, friends, and neighbors. She is too tall, with a freakishly long neck, arms and legs that belong on someone even taller, which leads to clumsiness and dresses that just never fit right. Adding to her being considered the ugliest female in the Oxford slums is that at seventeen she has no breasts. She expects to wed physically abusive Tom Barnstable as her mother reminds her that he is the best she will ever have. Everything abruptly changes when noted artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti sees Jane and thinks she is a rare beauty he must paint as his Guinevere in a mural. Her mother agrees to allow her to pose because of the fee Rossetti provides. Jane enjoys her short time each week with the painter and his colleagues. She soon realizes she loves Rosetti, but is heartbroken when he weds his ailing fiancée Lizzie. Jane accepts wealthy William Morris¿ proposal mostly because he as Rossetti¿s friend and protégé will enable her to remain near her true love. Over the next few years Jane gives birth to two children, but when Lizzie dies, Rossetti makes it clear how he feels about his Guinevere, which upsets her spouse William, who has always known he was a second choice. --- The key to this terrific historical biographical tale is the ability of Elizabeth Hickey to bring to life four real people from the latter half of the nineteenth century. The story line is driven mostly by the heroine who thanks to the artist turns from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan considered the ideal of pre-Raphaelite beauty and the muse for her spouse and the artist. Fans of period pieces will enjoy this deep rich Victorian Era tale starring real persona. --- Harriet Klausner