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woofwoof

Stunner: The Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth

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I did this review a couple of years ago but it seems to have got lost probably in last year's kerfuffle!

 

Fanny Cornforth is probably the least known of the three women who dominated the personal and professional life of the painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Elizabeth Siddal (his wife) is seen as the typical Victorian oppressed woman, a talented artist and poet in her own right, driven to an early and tragic death by her husband's lack of commitment and flighty ways. Jane Morris is the archetypal artist's muse: silent, superior, and mysterious, a keeper of many secrets and inspirer of fabulous portraiture. Fanny Cornforth in comparison has been regarded variously as a thief, a liar, a gold digger and a prostitute. Walker has written an excellent account of the life of this lesser regarded muse. She traces her life from its origins in the Sussex market town of Steyning, through her "glory days" in London when she was virtually Rossetti's "partner" for 20 or so years, and finally to her probable end back in Sussex in the early years of the twentieth century. Walker does a valiant job, trying to defend the reputation of her heroine against the various charges which have been levelled against her by Rossetti's biographers. I personally think she succeeds. Life was very hard for a working class woman in London in those days and it is easy to see why money became such an important factor in her life. It is also touching to see the genuine affection which Rossetti and Fanny had for one another. The author (who writes The Kissed Mouth blog) also describes every painting in which Fanny appeared. I greatly enjoyed reading these sections while accessing the images in question on the web. This is an excellent book that will be enjoyed by all pre-raphaelite enthusiasts.

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    • By woofwoof
      Most people when they think of the women associated with the great nineteenth century painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti split into two camps - there are those who are enthusiastic supporters of his wife and first muse, the long suffering and ill-used Lizzie Siddal, and of course there are those who are fascinated by the strong, silent woman who dominated his later work, Jane Morris, the wife of his friend William Morris. In her earlier excellent book, Stunner, Walker made a case for a third usually forgotten muse, the earthy, commonplace Fanny Cornforth. In her latest work, A Curl of Copper and Pearl, the author reminds us that there were other women in the life of this larger than life artist by presenting in the form of a novel the last 20 or so years of Rossetti's life through the eyes of Alexa Wilding, now virtually forgotten, but who actually looks out at us from more Rossetti paintings than any of Rossetti's other models (including Siddal, Morris and Cornforth). Readers who are familiar with the author's blog, The Kissed Mouth, will be aware of the huge amount of research and scholarship which Walker undertakes and this is borne out in the many fascinating details which she has included in the novel, especially concerning Wilding's humble origins in the London meat trade, and the mystery of her birth and parentage. A fascinating and beautifully written account which I am sure will be enjoyed by all pre-raphaelite enthusiasts.
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