William and Lucy: The Other Rossettis

Yale University Press, October 2003
With integrated illustrations throughout
Buy now in hardback

william and lucy rossetti angela thirlwellAngela Thirlwell’s biography Into the Frame: The Four Loves of Ford Madox Brown, Chatto & Windus 2010, is a sort of prequel to her first – William and Lucy: The Other Rossettis published by Yale University Press in 2003. Lucy was the eldest daughter of Ford Madox Brown with his first love, first cousin, and first wife, Elisabeth Bromley. Lucy grew up to know intimately the subsequent three loves in her father’s life: her step-mother, Emma Hill; her fellow art-student and best friend, Marie Spartali; and Mathilde Blind whose portrait she painted and whose radical feminist views she shared – but with whom she implacably fell out. In a curious irony, the only one of Ford Madox Brown’s loves she did not know at all was her own mother Elisabeth Bromley who died before Lucy was three.

When Lucy Madox Brown married William Michael Rossetti in 1874, she made him the son-in-law of Ford Madox Brown and cemented the enduring friendship between the two men. William Michael Rossetti was the younger brother of Dante Gabriel Rossetti who with his girlfriend Lizzie Siddal had been tempestuously close to Madox Brown and his second wife, Emma Hill, especially during the 1850s.

William Michael Rossetti

William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919) was the only Pre-Raphaelite to work for the Inland Revenue. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s ‘catalytic agent’ and mythmaker, William kept their PRB Journal and edited their magazine, The Germ. Radical author of the Democratic Sonnets, true cosmopolitan, liberal pragmatist, scholar, writer and romantic, William had a mission to popularise contemporary art for Victorian audiences. Swinburne thought his poem Mrs Holmes Grey ‘beats everything but Balzac’ and artist John Brett called him ‘the best judge [of art] I know after John Ruskin’. His marriage to Lucy Madox Brown in 1874, documented by hundreds of surviving letters, was passionate, modern but ultimately tragic.

Lucy Madox Brown Rossetti

Lucy Madox Brown Rossetti (1843-1894) was the eldest daughter of Ford Madox Brown, ‘father of the Pre-Raphaelites’. Brilliant and fractious, art was the mainspring of her life. She blossomed in her father’s studio, painting romantic and sometimes macabre pictures drawn from literature and history, exhibiting during the 1870s both at the Royal Academy and the more avant-garde Dudley Gallery. Although art was her true metier, she wrote a biography of Mary Shelley when tuberculosis made the physical energies involved in painting at an easel almost impossible. She married William Michael Rossetti in 1874 and poured her thwarted artistic ambitions into the ferocious education of their five frighteningly intelligent children.

Reviews

On BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, Kathryn Hughes chose William and Lucy as one of her favourite biographies of 2004. She said the author ‘goes right into the story from the very beginning – it’s brilliant’. She also picked it as one of her two best biographies for Christmas reading in The Mail on Sunday, 12 December 2004.

‘Angela Thirlwell’s splendid Life…breaks the mould of biography…Various other biographers, have done something similar, but none with quite the success of Thirlwell…

Frances Wilson, Sunday Telegraph

‘Thirlwell’s book…is a remarkable achievement, impeccably researched.’

Frances Spalding, The Independent

‘It is a testament to Thirlwell’s skill as a planner and grace as a writer that the narrative pulse of The Other Rossettis never weakens…a wonderfully illuminating study of a whole slice of 19th century cultural, social and intellectual life.’

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

‘Thirlwell’s excellent book…her study of these two vivid and engaging people is meticulously researched and magnificently illustrated…the picture which gradually and unemphatically emerges from its quiet, lucid pages is evocatively detailed and absorbing.’

Rupert Christiansen, Literary Review