Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais by Suzanne Fagence Cooper is an impressive research about this fascinating and legendary “love triangle” of the contemporaries. I would like to accumulate more information as regards the concept and idea of the Pre-Raphaelite art beforehand; apart from that, this is a satisfying read being ample to resonate and interconnect with themes and ideas on some novels I have read by Wilkie Collins alongside other Victorian social novels, and non-fiction on notable lives of Caroline Norton, and Josephine Butler in these years. I found that these authors and activists were definitely the vanguard in expressing state and welfare of Victorian women. This biography makes the concerns for women in the nineteenth century alive on paper, and elaborates the state of females according to their domestic and social spheres. Particularly, I could sense the ideologies and perception shaped by both sexes of the time that contributed to the birth of passive and vulnerable Victorian women in real life.
Passivity of body and mind of a married Victorian women
I watched Effie Gray the movie around a year ago. I thought the court case and content of the annulment in 1854 was not detailed enough. The movie also deliberately makes John Ruskin such a villain and put Effie into the incarceration that trod her life and youth for the whole six years, with Effie saying that “he never touched me“. Not until I read this biography do I realize the brevity of this procedure was due to the fact that Ruskin never argued and vindicated his case. Nevertheless, I find the essence of passivity is underlined in this sentence in the movie as well as the book regarding the “weaker sex”.
“I often think I would be a much happier, better, person if I was more like the rest of my sex in this respect.” – Effie Gray
First of all, I don’t want to say who it was to blame, and suspecting that “there is hardly a girl’s school in this Christian kingdom where the children’s courage or sincerity would be thought of half so much importance as their way of coming in at a door; and when the whole system of society, as respects the mode of establishing them in life, is one rotten plague of cowardice and imposture…” – lines from Of Queen’s Gardens, written in the 1860s, was implicitly stating the flaws of girls including his former wife. Effie might be marrying Ruskin for his fame and intellect, she could be as frivolous as that of what her father-in-law had stated; on the other hand, Ruskin, who was full of idealized thoughts and ideology, could be so frustrated that Effie did not live up to his expectations of fulfilling wifely duties. Whether it was because of (a) Sexual impotence, (b) married during Lent term, (c) avoiding intercourse to get prepared for travelling through the continent, or (d) Ruskin’s disappointment of the desire of female body that actually underlined the reasons for the unconsummated marriage, the reason was uncertain.
However, it should be noted that in the case of Effie’s side, her mother kept being confined fifteen times (only eight survived childhood) until she was 47, and with her life being in a state of indisposition (she was even contracted cholera once) reflected the heavy occupancy and poignancy of domestic duties, or the maternal martyrdom, that women need to assume of the time. As in many case, including the marriage of Dickens’s family, fulfilling maternal love and duties constitutes a Victorian marriage. (It reminds me of the views of Margaret Sanger that “endless childbearing was ‘tyranny'”, that women should have a say to control her own body so as to lay the “key to the temple of liberty”). In this case, the courageous and monumental act of Effie to seek for an annulment provided additionally on the ground of her publicity. A married women should be traditionally regarded as unassuming and submissive to her husband, but it involved her initiation to undergo procedures to prove her virginity in this marriage on both the women’s moral and physical aspects, and it was rare in this case of women to seek a separation from the husband even in the case of violence and adultery (even in 1857).
Apart from that, the resentment endured by both families as being told from the correspondence throughout these six years of their in-law son and daughter echoes the clinging relationship of Mrs Thornton towards John in North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – her son ended up being her only ownership under the entity of the feme covert of the marriage. He was her only expectations of accomplishment and hopes. (Child Custody Act, Caroline Norton)