I've really been missing the University library lately. I need to get an alumni membership, but I'm afraid I haven't gotten around to that yet. But as you can see from the picture above, I am starting my own collection of Pre-Raphaelite materials!
The other day my husband and I took a stroll near our home in Edmonton to enjoy the last of the lovely fall weather. He spied this beautiful book in a shop near Whyte Avenue and made me get it! We had been scouring the used book stores near our house for books on the Pre-Raphaelites. Generally I don't see much of anything, but this book was quite a find.
The Pre-Raphaelites and Their World is William Michael Rossetti's reminiscences about his brother and the rest of the members of the Pre-Raphaelites. For those of you who are familiar with William Holman Hunt's more gossipy version of the PRB's history, William Rossetti's account is something of an adjustment. His book is far less sensational, but as a historian, I think it's a great deal more reliable! Although William acknowledges that he cannot recall minute details about conversations that had taken 50 years before (unlike Holman Hunt, who transcribed full conversations), Rossetti fills the book with fabulous anecdotes that reveal a different, more thoughtful side of the Brotherhood. I would hugely recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the Pre-Raphaelites.
Of course, one of the main things that stood out to me immediately about this book was its beauty. It's a 1995 Folio edition of William Michael Rossetti's writing, and the whole volume is filled with lovely photographs (most by Margaret Cameron) and Pre-Raphaelite paintings. It's a truly lovely book and it's so nice to see a relatively new book that has been so beautifully made (it even came with a lovely little case to keep it looking pretty!). I don't think it's original owner had ever even opened it--I was really lucky!
So far, my favourite aspect of the book is William Michael Rossetti's recollection of his childhood. The Rossetti household must have been such an exciting place to grow up. No wonder that Christina and Dante Gabriel were such prolific writers and artists! Their home was really the ultimate in terms of a nurturing environment (and as I mentioned in an earlier post, this was really true of Millais' home as well). How lucky the Rossetti children were! They had the chance to actually converse with all of their father's artistic and literary friends from the time they were small children. I love William's story about four year old Dante Gabriel terrifying the milkman, who "saw a baby making a picture." Perhaps he was as much a prodigy as Millais, though it's hard to know.
Although this book doesn't offer theories about the Janey-Topsy-Rossetti love triangle, I appreciate its more subdued approach. There are so many books that dwell on the scandals of the Pre-Raphaelites that it is refreshing to be reminded of the exciting ideas, talents and aspirations that this group of people had.