A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets.
The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention.
Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum.
William Morris fell head-over-heels for a ‘stunner’ from the slums, Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.
Margot Burne-Jones had become her father’s muse. He painted her as Briar Rose, the focus of his most renowned series of paintings, based on the fairy-tale that haunted him all his life. Yet Margot longed to be awakened to love.
Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.
Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the internationally bestselling author of 40 books for both adults and children.
Her books for adults include 'Beauty in Thorns', the true love story behind a famous painting of 'Sleeping Beauty'; 'The Beast's Garden', a retelling of the Grimm version of 'Beauty & the Beast', set in the German underground resistance to Hitler in WWII; 'The Wild Girl', the love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world's most famous fairy tales; 'Bitter Greens', a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale; and the bestselling fantasy series 'Witches of Eileanan' Her books for children include 'The Impossible Quest', 'The Gypsy Crown', 'The Puzzle Ring', and 'The Starkin Crown'
Kate has a doctorate in fairytale studies, a Masters of Creative Writing, a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, and is an accredited master storyteller.
This was a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions that started strong but ended a little weakly.
It's another book where the blurb tells the whole story, which is frustrating but understandable when there's no real beginning, middle, or end. It's a fictional account of real lives, which I suppose makes it a little harder to form into a concise narrative.
So what's it about?
Painters. Poets. Artists. The women they surround themselves with. And all the drama that weaves their lives together.
Ned Jones - kind-hearted, soft. In love with Georgie since they were children. William 'Topsy' Morris - a gentle soul with a fierce temper, always the butt of the joke. Falls head over heels for Janey, a girl from the slums. Gabriel Dante Rosetti - charismatic and fun, playful and romantic. Enamoured by his model, Lizzie.
This novel tells of their lives, their loves, their scandals. Other characters come and go, but the relationships between these six form the backbone of the novel.
Gabriel was the real draw for me, as well as Lizzie, to a degree. He's charming and eccentric, and he's clearly the most talented of them all. I love that his art was so effortless, although so many times I hated his behaviours. I couldn't get a read on him, but I really enjoyed reading about him. I found him to be a fascinating character. His romance with Lizzie was such a colourful part of this story and I was so invested in it without really knowing what exactly I was rooting for.
Topsy seemed like such a sweet fellow, but his violent rages made me less inclined to support him. Whereas Ned seemed the kindest of them all so I took to him immediately. He and Georgie just seemed so perfect.
It's hard to properly rate this one, I think, because it's based on real people and real events, but I didn't like the way so much of it played out. I could never get a proper read on these people and what was driving them, but how can I criticise the author for that?! I think she's done a brilliant job in making me feel compassion for so many of these characters when they had such sordid behaviours.
The research into the subject material is clearly extensive, so if you want to learn more about these characters from history, this novel is a great way to do so. I really enjoyed looking them all up and finding the paintings mentioned, and seeing the real work of these artists. They were certainly a talented bunch.
As far as the story itself goes, though, I mostly enjoyed it but by the last third I found it a little slow and tedious. I felt the ending was drawn out rather long and the whole Sleeping Beauty theme seemed a little stretched to me. I thought the entire last section was a little pointless, despite it focusing on arguably the greatest series of work of Ned's life. I just didn't really care about his life, by that stage.
The character study is really interesting, but the scandals all feel a little watered down which left the story feeling a bit weak. It was drawn out a little too long, and I wanted more Gabriel. However the author has done a magnificent job in bringing it all together, so if you're interested in the historically accurate lives of these people, I highly recommend it.
*https://mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com The fascinating bohemian world of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, headed by well known artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, come to life through the penmanship of revered storyteller Kate Forsyth. Beauty in Thorns is Forsyth’s latest piece of work, inspired by the fairytale Sleeping Beauty. It is also a reimagining of many key historical figures and events that occurred in the art world in late Victorian England.
In 1848, the art world in Britain received the biggest shake up in had ever seen. It was challenged by a group of revolutionary artists, poets and critics, known as the Pre-Raphaelites. The Pre-Raphaelites were on a mission, determined to transform the conventional art world into a visionary spectacle. They were hoping their art would be freed from the constraints placed on them and above all, they hoped that the art world would no longer be subjected to boundaries. Behind this group of powerful and inspiring men were the wives, partners, mistresses, models, muses and daughters. These are the women that selflessly loved, cared and attended to every whim these men required to produce their celebrated masterpieces. Forsyth’s story gives a voice to these women and examines how each played a role in their respective artist’s life. Interestingly, we also discover how many of these women were aspiring artists themselves. With the undercurrent of the well known fairytale Sleeping Beauty guiding the narrative, Beauty in Thorns exposes the intricate world inhabited by these artists.
Beauty in Thorns offers a rousing narrative, focussed on the alluring world of the arts in nineteenth century Britain. The Pre-Raphaelites, a secret society of artists who were opposed to conventional art, come before the reader’s eyes, through the guiding light of accomplished storyteller Kate Forsyth. My knowledge of the Brotherhood only extends as far as observing some of their beautiful paintings in the Tate London and my viewing of the television miniseries, The Desperate Romantics, which recreated the Brotherhood on the silver screen. Forsyth filled the gap in my knowledge in this area and extended my understanding further, by providing me with a unique female centered perspective on the Pre-Raphaelites.
This focus on the female stories behind the Brotherhood brings me to the characters featured in Beauty in Thorns. Forsyth is skilled in the manner by which she is able to bring historical figures back to life. Lizzie Siddal, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s renowned model and lover, is the most vivid character in the novel. Her story was bittersweet, heartbreaking and deeply compelling. Forsyth also uses Lizzie’s story to remind us of the oppression women in this era faced, despite their aspirations. For Lizzie in particular, her gender, as well as her class, determined her social standing and acceptance within circles such as the art world. Not quite as telling, but nevertheless engaging, were the other female voices featured in this novel. These include the loyal and long suffering Georgie, wife of Ned Burne-Jones, through to their dreamy daughter Margot. These unique female perspectives, coming from a male dominated world, are offset by the inclusion of various known influential figures of the time. I really did enjoy the insertion of icons such as art patron John Ruskin, writer Rudyard Kipling and playwright George Bernard Shaw. All of these characters added to the authenticity of the story at hand.
The depth and commitment Forsyth has demonstrated in bringing her ideas to the page for the reader is admirable. Any fan or follower of Forsyth’s work will know that she is open and committed to sharing the depth of the research she undertakes in each of her projects. By reading the author’s note at the close of the novel, I was immediately struck by the sheer amount of resources that were used to form the creation of this lengthy narrative. Forsyth is skilled in her approach to delivering her exclusive style of narrative, she manages to offer intimate period detail, especially historical information within a full bodied narrative. Forsyth takes great care in ensuring that this detail does not bog the reader down, making it accessible, as well as highly appealing to the reader. In a discussion of Forsyth’s writing I must also take the opportunity to highlight the language Forsyth employs within Beauty in Thorns, it is firmly grounded in the societal expectations of the era in which it is set. However, what it also serves to do is showcase Forsyth’s special way with words, there are some simply stunning and lyrical passages for the reader to devour in Beauty in Thorns. It is clear Forsyth has an aptitude for reeling the reader into the world she recreates, so you feel not only a complete part of this story, but also an overwhelming desire to remain with the story until the bitter end.
Beauty in Thorns is another unforgettable and original tale from a writer I hold in deep regard. Forsyth’s ability to provide the reader with a story seeped deep in the alluring art society, deftly merges themes of love, loss, obsession and ambition. Beauty in Thorns, is the perfect combination of fairytale and history. Forsyth works hard to provide a voice to an influential collection of women to have lived and loved in her latest novel. Beauty in Thorns is definitely one for those who love historical fiction, appreciate art history or love the magic of fairytales.
I received a copy of this book via the publisher, Penguin Random House Australia, in exchange for an honest review as part of publicity blog tour.
For well over a year now I have followed the journey of this novel, Beauty in Thorns, from its first draft, through the re-writes, and then onto the finished product. Kate Forsyth is a most generous author to follow on social media. She shares much of her writing life and where her research has taken her and I enjoy interacting with this process immensely. As well as being incredibly interesting, it allows you to become attached to a novel before it has even been finished. The anticipation peaks as the release nears, but as a bonus, when you finally do get to read the novel, the joy at relishing in its brilliance is so much more satisfying. And brilliant it is. Beauty in Thorns is its own work of art and I loved it from the very first word right up until its last. It was well worth the wait and it more than lived up to my anticipation.
Beauty in Thorns is not an easy novel to sum up or outline, however. I liken it to Bitter Greens, in the sense that the novel spans a great deal of time and involves many characters, all pivotal within the story. And while this poses a challenge for review, it is of course one of the main reasons why I loved it, and Bitter Greens before this. Beauty in Thorns simply sweeps you up into its embrace and you are carried along for decades, moving within the lives of these characters and truly never wanting to leave. And it’s not just the characters that hold you enthralled. Kate is an absolute master storyteller when it comes to re-creating worlds gone by. Her detail is rich, yet never wandering, and her words are a delight for all of the five senses. You feel as though you are there, immersed and included.
Beauty in Thorns is a story about the Pre-Raphaelites, a wild bohemian circle of artists and poets who were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention. The story begins in 1852 and concludes in 1898 and is set in a variety of cities and towns throughout England, as well as extending for periods to Paris. However, the real treasure within this novel is that it is told entirely from the perspectives of the women involved with the artists; their wives and later, daughters. I absolutely loved this. It completely changed the story and added so much depth and richness. To see these artists, not from their own perspectives, but through the eyes of those who loved them. Their greatness, their failings, their true beauty, and their many flaws. This is what I meant when I mentioned above that Beauty in Thorns is its own work of art. There were so many moments of quiet devastation within this novel. I find this with all of Kate’s work, but I think when reading about several women and their passion filled love lives, there is always going to be more than your fair share of moments, both magnificent and crushing. It was certainly balanced, but there was a darkness hanging over the lives of these women that never truly receded. At times it was mournful, how difficult life for an artist and their wives and children could be in the 19th century, relying on patrons and churning out work an artist may not wholly believe in just to make a penny to see them through so they could then get to work on what they really wanted to do. And being a woman behind the famous artist, talented themselves, yet not necessarily acknowledged for this, their place as ‘the wife’ carved out for them with pre-conceived notions they themselves had nothing to do with putting into place. Love is of course the over-riding theme throughout this novel, and it comes through with such beauty and truth.
There were so many lines that leapt out at me while reading Beauty in Thorns. So many times I had to pause and reflect on a scene I had just read. One of my favourite lines earlier in the novel is from Topsy to Janey. Topsy had written on the back of a canvas he was working on:
“I cannot paint you but I love you.”
The love Topsy had for Janey was so deep and while at times I simply couldn’t fathom Janey’s mindset, I still admired her on many other levels. Topsy was indeed a ‘top’ fellow, despite his raucous temper, and he always had the very best of intentions towards Janey and his fellow artistic friends. I was disappointed in the state of the marriage of these two, but could entirely understand its demise.
I have to make a special mention now of Lizzie Siddal. She is perhaps one of the most tragic literary characters I have ever encountered, but how I loved her! How she suffered, as much because of the era in which she lived as well as the circumstances of her own making. Life was so very different in the 19th century, understanding about mental illnesses and different compulsions so vague, the treatments archaic. I felt for Lizzie, I truly did, the real tragedy of her situation stemming from a lack of understanding on her original medical illness and a dangerous method of treatment. One of the most beautiful sections of this book, albeit, also the most tragic, is when Lizzie writes her poem, the words of which were so exquisite. It summed up Lizzie’s tragic existence so succinctly.
Georgie Burne-Jones, long-suffering wife of Ned Burne-Jones, the artist who created the Sleeping Beauty series, is definitely without a doubt by favourite woman from the novel. She journeyed so far, personally, and put up with so much being married to Ned, who quite frankly, was about as airy as they come. He truly was a bohemian at heart and entirely without a clue when it came to consequence. Georgie was one of those unfailing women who love fiercely, often to their own detriment, yet still possess a spine of steel, able to endure anything and everything with stoicism. In a nutshell, Ned was a terrible husband. He really was. She could have left him a hundred times over and he would have deserved it. Yet she didn’t.
This is probably a good point to share my thoughts on the title, and why Sleeping Beauty was, to me, so integral to the entire story, beyond the fact that Ned was painting the epic series. Georgie’s most treasured memory was of the day she had first met Ned, and heard the story of Briar Rose for the first time, in Tennyson’s poem. Almost as precious to her was the memory of the day when Ned had first drawn her, as the Sleeping Princess. Georgie believed herself to be quite ordinary to look at, so when Ned created an image of her so lovely, she could scarcely believe it was her. Ned’s later betrayal, immortalising his mistress as the Sleeping Princess before he painted the series, was all the more unforgivable to Georgie because of these precious attachments she had to the story. Their marriage, and indeed, their love, was very much bound up with the tale of Sleeping Beauty, through Georgie’s eyes; their entire marriage was truly a thing of Beauty wrapped up in Thorns. Indeed, I feel the failed marriages of Janey and Topsy, and Gabrielle and Lizzie, also followed this analogy. Was it artistic temperament? The zeal for a bohemian lifestyle? Who really knows, but all three marriages can be aligned with the title of the novel so aptly.
Before I wrap this up, I want to share a couple of moments between Georgie and Ned from towards the end of the novel that reached out to me and remained with me after I had finished reading.
“Ned pointed at his painting of King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid. Don’t you see? The king has everything a man could want, a crown and jewels and a kingdom. But then he sees the beggar-maid…who has nothing…and he realises then that all he has is worthless without love. That is what I want the world to know.” Georgie had to turn away, unable to speak. Whenever she thought she had armoured her heart, Ned pierced all her defences and made her love him more fiercely than ever before.
“You know, Georgie, there are only two types of women. Those who take the strength out of a man and those who put it back in.” He kissed her brow. “You’re the kind that puts the strength back in, Georgie.”
On their 38th wedding anniversary Georgie woke to find a little square of paper: Drawn in the centre of the page was a circle, thorns and wild roses entangled two figures. A knight in dark armour bent over the forget-me-not blue bed of a sleeping princess. The shield on his back looked like wings. He had lifted one of the sweet-faced maiden’s hands to his heart. His other hand tenderly stroked her hair, the same chestnut brown as Georgie’s. In the corner of the page Ned had inscribed, in neat block letters, “Wake Dearest’.
At long last, Ned had made Georgie his sleeping beauty.
And I think now would be a good time to wrap this review up, lest its length begin to rival the actual novel! Beauty in Thorns is a wonderful, sweeping historical fiction novel; one that will immerse you into another world entirely. If you have never read a novel by Kate Forsyth before, then this is definitely a great one to begin with. If you are, like me, a long time fan, then you are in for a treat and this novel will have been worth the wait for you.
Thanks is extended to Penguin Random House Australia for providing me with a copy of Beauty in Thorns for review and for also inviting me to take part in their Beauty in Thorns publicity blog tour.
I know I'm bucking the trend here. All these 4-star reviews! I really, REALLY wanted to love this book. Or at least like it. I've met Kate a number of times, heard her speak at events and on radio, and each time her passion about her subject matter sucks me in. I loved Bitter Greens - the perfect chemistry of real historical characters and fairy tales. And yes, I did come to this book with much anticipation and excitement! But alas, disappointment!!! Yes the book is well researched. Yes Forsyth is a great writer. But the book doesn't gel well. The characters are bland - and a little whiney. There is little to no conflict. And there are far too many points of view diluting the little empathy built for the characters. The narrative meanders along with very little action. In fact nothing EVER happens. And when something does, its glossed over quickly, returning the narrative to the same agonizing slow pace. My apologies to all the fans (and to Kate) for this review, but I really thought this book a great waste of my time.
A fabulous read, as always with Kate Forsyth's books. Though the lives of the pre-Raphaelite women do not make light reading. The story is compelling, if at times, it is horrifying to witness the helpless plight of women in this era. Wonderful tactile descriptions. Some great food for thought on the artistic temperament. Forsyth manages to finish on a high note and leave the reader with some light at the end of the journey. For a fuller review see: http://elizabethjanecorbett.com/2017/...
Beautifully written and researched imagining of the lives of the passionate and somewhat tragic Pre-Raphaelite artists and the women who inspired them. Poignant, sometimes heart breaking but definitely thought provoking I have never been more thankful to be a woman of the 21st century after reading the aptly titled Beauty in Thorns, where no matter a women's beauty, intelligence or talent she was always at the whim of a man.
Kate is a must read for me and I have all her books. Never disappoints – always fascinating and captivating. Again with Beauty in Thorns, this was an exceptionally researched and wonderful historical fiction. Kate effortlessly takes you to another time and place. The lives of the Pre-Raphaelites seen through the lives of the women who were the muses, lovers and wives of these artists is at the centre of this book and usually I give Kate a 5, but dropping one off unfortunately this time because I found it so hard to connect with any of the characters. Not sure why. Still a great read and perfect to escape to an entirely different time and place.
What a story! I had no idea what to expect as I’ve never read a Kate Forsyth book before until now and I can honestly say I will be picking up every one of her books because this was… BREATHTAKING!!! I loved every single thing about this book, the characters, the art work, the poetry, the beautiful descriptive writing… everything! I am now a huge fan of Kate Forsyth - a superlative storyteller.
I love Kate Forsyth’s writing and when Beauty in Thorns was released I couldn’t wait to read it.
It is a story set around the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists and poets, including William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
For many years, I’ve adored their wonderful paintings, so I knew I’d love getting lost in their tumultuous world. I discovered there was so much I hadn’t known about their work and their relationships. Kate Forsyth brings to life their story of love and heartbreak with such care and beauty.
I also loved learning about the women in this circle. Lizzie Siddal, Georgie (Georgiana) Burne-Jones nee Macdonald, Jane Morris nee Burden, and later in the novel Margot Burne-Jones the daughter of Georgie and Ned (Edward)Burne-Jones. I was especially moved by Lizzie Siddal’s tragic life. I think I admired Georgie’s stoicism the most.
Kate Forsyth’s research is excellent and her story telling is superb. If you haven’t read Beauty in Thorns as yet, I highly recommend it.
If you’re unfamiliar with the art of the Pre-Raphaelites, it will add to your appreciation of this book if you look up some of their paintings.
Kate Forsyth writes with the poise and attention to detail that reminds me of AS Byatt. Beauty in Thorns is a remarkable novel that captures the spirit and wonder of the Pre-Raphaelites. I've just finished the novel and I want to go back to the beginning to read it all over again. A sure sign of a very special book. I was fortunate to receive an advance copy from the Australian publisher, Penguin Random House.
Beauty In Thorns is the latest offering by one of my favourite Australian authors Kate Forsyth, renowned for her fairytale re-tellings. I went into this believing Beauty In Thorns was going to be loosely based on the sleeping beauty fairytale. Wrong!
What I discovered instead was a fascinating look at the lives of a group of successful artists known as the Pre-Raphaelites, which included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ned Burne-Jones and William Morris. Yes, William Morris of the medieval inspired wallpaper designs and tapestries. I've long admired his designs so it was a pleasant surprise to find him in this novel.
Joining the young artists in the mid 1850s, the novel covers the next 50 years of their lives, including their dreams and aspirations, work with various muses, struggles and successes, love and heartbreak and in many cases their physical or mental decline and subsequent death.
The women in the novel (some beginning as an artist's muse) were equally important to the story and I enjoyed watching their lives unfold within the group as well. Naturally I was most interested in the life, love and work of William Morris and through this book learned that he was an incredibly industrious man. He left an enormous legacy and body of work in all manner of fields, including writing - poetry, essays and translations - textile designs, fabric dyeing, embroidery, stained glass window designs and tonnes more. I think I'm primed to read a book on William Morris next; any suggestions?
My ultimate wish after reading Beauty In Thorns was that the cover incorporated some kind of reference to the art and poetry that was so very much part of the novel. By the end of the book I understood the reference to sleeping beauty - being one of the major series of paintings by one of the main characters - but to me the novel was about all of the artists and their families. I would much prefer to see one of their paintings on the front than a stylised woman that could be any one of the muses or wives in the novel. I guess I'm saying I have an issue with how this was marketed but the writing and the story was a pleasure to read; even if I did have to put the book down to look up various paintings along the way.
I highly recommend Beauty In Thorns by Kate Forsyth to fans of historical fiction and anyone with an interest in art and beauty.
I didn't intend to read this book this weekend, but I had just finished a Georgette Heyer and was in the mood to keep reading in my hammock. Then I couldn't stop and last night finished it very late, then slept through my alarm and missed my PT session (which I couldn't have attended anyway as my eyes were still swollen from crying). In short: Oh My God
Kate is a dear friend, and I saw her go deep, very deep, in writing this book. I see now what must have happened: her writing sessions must have had her actually astral travelling to the 1840s because the historical period is real and rich. I'm surprised she was able to find her way back to the present. I was completely immersed. She has the deftest touch in integrating research though, so I never felt she was hitting me over the head with details. I can close my eyes now and be there. She took me with her.
But the historical setting, while splendidly rendered, is the least of her magic. The people in this story! All of them wonderfully realistic, flawed, helpless to their hearts, vulnerable, maddening. You'll want to slap them as much as you'll want to give them a hug. I must single out two favourites in particular.
Lizzie Siddal, whose face is so familiar to us all through the pre-Raphaelite paintings she starred in, is one of the most vividly drawn characters I have ever read. She eats up the page, is brightly and brilliantly rendered, even as she tries to fade from life. A shooting star of a character.
But my favourite character (oh dear, I'm crying again remembering the note Ned leaves her... oh dear oh dear) was Georgie Burne-Jones. Her quiet stoicism, her all-too-real frustrated dreams and desires, her ability to just. keep. going: these qualities might not be wild-spirited and shooting-star like, but by God it made her my hero. We hear a lot about 'strong female characters', but THIS is what they are or can be. Complex, evolving, full-hearted. Oh, Georgie, I wish you were my bestie!
I have raved enough. The book looks long, and that's why I had saved it for my holidays. But it reads short. I haven't enjoyed myself this much in years. All hail Queen Kate. She has proven again how she can conquer us all.
Beauty in Thorns – Kate Forsyth Beauty in Thorns is a book I was waiting to read after following Kate Forsyth’s blog during the time she was writing the story. Kate, is a wonderful writer and also one who is generous in sharing her writing skills and knowledge with other authors.
~ Quotes from the backcover blurb. ‘A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets.’ ‘Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.’
The story is written in mulitple view points~Lizzie Siddal, Georgie (Georgiana) Macdonald, Jane Burden, and later in the novel Margot Burne-Jones the daughter of Georgie and Edward (Ned)Burne-Jones.
Beauty in Thorns takes the reader on a journey. With mulitple view points Kate Forsyth has magically brought all the view point characters to life. It is a character driven story with a wonderful backdrop of the Pre-Raphaelite circle including as well as the aforementioned William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (a wonderfully romantic name).
Kate has had an obsession with the Pre-Raphaelite circle since, as a young uni student, she came across a copy of Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, modelled on his lover, Jane Morris nee Burden. Kate bought the print (sacrificing food and bus fares fro a week). Proserpine
Beauty in Thorns is a treasure: exquisite writing, research woven through the story (research you can rely on) that brings the story to life, a book that makes you want to turn back to the first page to read the story again when you finish reading.
I’ve been waiting for this book for a very long time. For 26 years, in fact, ever since I received a framed print of Rossetti’s Proserpina for my 15th birthday. I’m pretty much a Pre-Raph Tragic, so when Kate Forsyth announced she was writing a book on the PR Sisterhood about 2 years ago, I was beside myself. And then I got it into my hands a few days ago and devoured it. Told from multiple points of view — Lizzie Siddal, Jane Morris, Georgiana Burne-Jones and Margot Burne-Jones, the wives and a daughter of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ned Burne-Jones and William Morris, the story weaves a richly sad tale of 19th Century morality, with the thorns of sin that bound women behind high walls at the time, and the pain that was inflicted on them and their loved ones if they should try to pursue their true loves. It is from this suffering of social stigmatisation that I feel the good fairy saved Margot Burne-Jones, as the sleeping beauty of the fairy tale. This is a true romance, in terms of evoking heartbreak and passion, the slough of despondency and obsessive love, when those you love don’t love you, and you cannot love those who do.
A fascinating fictional account of the lives of the Pre-Raphaelites seen through the lives of the women who were the muses, lovers and wives of these groundbreaking artists. I have always loved the art from this period so it was so interesting to read about the inspirations and sometimes traumatic events that shaped each of the key players in this movement. Highly recommended.
An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The release of Beauty in Thorns is one that I've been looking forward to throughout 2017 and I'm delighted that I had the opportunity to read it for review ahead of its release. This book draws again on the historical background of fairy tales, not just their origins but also how those stories were used and told and celebrated throughout history. In that sense, Beauty in Thorns is unique in its retelling of Sleeping Beauty because it situates the story in amongst people using the story and celebrating it, rather than retelling the story of its origin. Beauty in Thorns is steeped in history and offers a window into the middle class where love, families, and being an Artist clash.
I found this a really enjoyable book to read, I fell into the prose immediately and enjoyed each page I turned, it was enjoyable and relaxing to read. Different than Forsyth's previous book The Beast's Garden which was a magnificent and necessarily uncomfortable read, I loved the pacing and how the story with all of the characters unfolded. There's a drama to the storytelling that brings the characters and their motivations to life, from making the 'right' choice, to pursuit of one's passion, the foibles and triumphs of love, of families and children and various achievements. I especially loved Forsyth's focus on the lives of women in and how they influence and inspire aspects of history that are often accorded achievements of men. Often this is absent of the reality of the daily life setting which I feel makes the story and those achievements and aspirations all the more compelling. I was especially drawn into the yearning expressed by Lizzie and Georgie who wanted to pursue art for themselves and found it all but impossible.
Although this book is a gentle read, it does deal with difficult topics around mental illness, disordered eating, addiction, the loss of children, and the other realities of health in that era. The book deals respectfully with these topics as well as I am able to judge but I note this for anyone who would rather avoid them. However, that Forsyth does not shy away from these topics as part of the reality behind this re-imagining is part of what gives the narrative strength and depth, the characters lived for me and I laughed, loved, and mourned as they did.
I've long been a fan of Forsyth's work, but with every new book there is something new and amazing to appreciate about her writing style and its evolution. I loved reading Beauty in Thorns, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or the contemporary retelling of fairy tales, especially one not based in fantasy.
This novel of the women of the pre-raphaelite sisterhood, came recommended by an acquaintance and I'm pleased I took her advice. I had wanted to read some Kate Forsyth since I heard her interviewed by Richard Fidler, and so when the recommendation came up, I purchased the novel.
I enjoyed the way the author, Kate Forsyth, wove in strands of myths and legends, with the tales of the dramatic lives of her characters, and the paintings they were working on. I kept stopping, putting the book down, and searching for the images in my favourite search engine. The paintings are mesmerizing. As I read the novel, I became a little bit obsessed with the pre-raphaelite brotherhood (Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Millais, William Morris, John Ruskin) and I named my new flock of ducks Gabriel, Lizzie, Fanny and Janey. I quite understood how Kate Forsyth had a lifelong fascination about this period of art history where myths, paintings, romance and ideals converged. How fascinating were the lives of this group of creative women and men, both artistically and emotionally.
Two very satisfying elements of the novel were that it was written from the perspectives of the women, and that it covered many of their lives from youth to old age. I thought Kate Forsyth did a fantastic job fictionalising the lives of these creative muses, lovers, wives, and artists in their own right. This is not a biography or an art history. It is a fantastic attempt to take the known facts, and the probable stories and craft an engaging account of who these women might have been, and what they might have felt and said. It was masterfully done and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about women in a creative milieu.
I loved this book. No surprise as I have a soft spot for Kate Forsyth and have loved many of her books. I also *love* the Pre-Raphaelites so I knew before I started this book that I was going to love it. Surprisingly I had never read about the lives of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, - yet I've traipsed through art galleries for years searching for their works (and other painters of that school) - nor had I read about William Morris. And even more so surprisingly I had never read about the woman they painted yet have spent hours looking at them, and countless dollars on them via art gallery shops! Kate had a magical way of bringing them to life, their history, their time, their lives, their tragedies. She really does weave her own beauty in her words and brings these amazing people to life in a lovingly beautiful way. I think if you love art, and beauty, and poetry, and you want a beautiful, sad, but incredible story to be told, this is your book.
4.75 Stars. I am a long time fan of Forsyth’s adult fairytale retellings (Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl, The Beast's Garden) and Beauty in Thorns is one of the 2017 book releases I have been looking forward to ever since hearing Kate speak so passionately about it at the Brisbane Writers Festival last year. Firstly, do not be put off by the size of this beautiful tome. Its 480 pages just fly by… Kate’s writing style smooth as silk. But only after I had emerged from the reading experience did I fully appreciate the artistry of this novel’s structure. Read full review >>
In 1997, I made a pilgrimage to Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England, to pay my respects at the grave of Gabriel Rossetti, the English painter, poet and charismatic co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Gabriel was convalescing from an illness when he died in Birchington. His family and his wife, Lizzie Siddal, are buried in Highgate Cemetery in London. It always seemed to me very sad that Gabriel wasn’t laid to rest near his family and Lizzie. Was it due to his guilt over having dug up his dead wife’s coffin seven years after she died to retrieve a volume of poetry he buried with her? The exhumation and retrieval of the worm-eaten book of poems is one of many sensational stories swilling around the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their life models.
I also visited Lizzie Siddal’s grave at Highgate on a private tour. After years of being obsessed with the Pre-Raphaelites, it was an emotional experience to see the final resting places of these fascinating personalities who continue to inspire the work of artists across time.
I was reminded of Gabriel and Lizzie reading Kate Forsyth’s current book, Beauty in Thorns, which I devoured in a few nights. Beauty in Thorns tells the story of the tangled lives and loves surrounding the famous painting, The Legend of Briar-Rose by Edward (Ned) Burne-Jones. Jones was obsessed with the Sleeping Beauty myth which Kate parallels with the lives of the PRB and their wives, muses, mistresses and daughters. His finished work was rapturously received in 1890 and earned the artist a staggering (for the time) 15,000 guineas. In 1893 he was knighted.
Beauty in Thorns is a very ambitious project but is perfectly suited to Kate with her love of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, poetry, mythology and fairy tales. The story is told via four different women (stunners, as they were known by the artists):
Jane Morris nee Burden, a child of the slums, adored by both Rossetti and William ‘Topsy’ Morris whom she married. Later, with the permission of the wonderfully understanding Topsy, she carried on an affair with Gabriel at Kelmscott Manor in the summer of 1871 while Topsy travelled to Iceland.
Lizzie Siddal who had art and poetry aspirations but whose art was never taken seriously, and who suffered an addiction to laudanum and what appears to be an eating disorder.
Georgiana Burne-Jones nee MacDonald (Georgie in the book), the daughter of a Methodist minister, who married Edward Burne-Jones.
Georgie’s daughter, Margot.
I was very taken with Georgie’s character as I knew little about her, being previously more interested in Lizzie and Fanny Cornforth. I was disappointed that Fanny was only touched upon in the story as I’ve always felt very drawn to her, but I read in a blog post of Kate’s that, with regret, she had to cut Fanny as she already had too many viewpoints and a very large manuscript.
Georgie was wonderfully portrayed. She had to endure a lot from her husband and his affair with the incredibly flamboyant Maria Zambaco, but she managed to keep her relationship strong with Ned. Georgie was interested in socialism and in trying to make the world a better place for women. Margot was her father’s muse for her fairy-tale painting of Sleeping Beauty.
For people who may already be familiar with the stories and scandals surrounding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Beauty in Thorns will still enthral with the skilful way Kate blends the strands of these very different women and their life experiences together. It is fascinating to see the Brotherhood through the eyes of the women in their sphere and how they influenced the artists. Kate really brings out a more empathetic dimension to the women. As unorthodox as the Brotherhood, they modelled for the artists at a time when to do so was considered equal to being a prostitute, but they were happy to defy convention.
If you come to the book with little or no knowledge of these talented, innovative young men and the women who inspired them, you will be enlightened as Kate really brings the world of the artists to life.
The research in Beauty in Thorns is incredibly detailed, although never at the expense of the story. Kate had a couple of research trips to the UK and she has read unpublished poetry of Gabriel Rossetti's to Jane in the Specials Collections Reading Room at Bodleian Library at Oxford. This attention to primary research really shows through in Beauty in Thorns. I can’t imagine how beautifully moving it would have been to read Gabriel’s passionate poetry in his own hand.
I had no idea, about Mummy Brown paint, a mindboggling detail that really shocked me. And William Morris wallpaper sales being badly affected by the arsenic scandal. I loved Kate’s hypothesis that Jane’s ill-health in London may well have been due to arsenic-treated William Morris wallpapers. Jane Morris’s symptoms are the same as arsenic poisoning. Kate has a fascinating blog on this topic on her website.
Lizzie’s childhood was filled with cruelty with her mother’s taunts about how plain she was. It must have been overwhelming to have been accepted as a Stunner by Gabriel and his fellow artists, but it came at a price. Her descent into laudanum is poignantly captured in the book. When Kate first came to writing Beauty in Thorns, she believed that Lizzie had committed suicide but as she continued to work on the book, she changed her mind. Her blog post on this can also be found on her webiste. Kate also became convinced through her research and reading diaries and letters of the period that Lizzie did suffer from an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa was not recognised in the mid-19th Century and was thought to be consumption.
Previously, I’d never felt particularly drawn to Jane Morris, but Beauty in Thorns helped me view her in a different light. Like Lizzie, she had a harsh childhood. She was forced to be sexually active from the age of nine, and had to wring the necks of pigeons for the dinner pot. Jane had to work on her lower-class accent and rough ways to be accepted into Topsy’s world.
Eating an orange for the first time becomes an overwhelming sensory experience for Jane: ‘Jane ate it greedily, then another, trying to think what it tasted like. Sitting with the sun on your back on a hot summer’s day. Orange hawkweed growing out of a crack in a churchyard wall. The sound of singing in a hayfield as women raked the mown grass into piles. The glint of a new sovereign.’
I also had no idea that her later years with her children were as traumatic with her daughter’s tragic onslaught of epilepsy.
Kate’s skill with recreating the world she is writing about is paramount to this book. Deft touches really make you appreciate what it was like to be a woman at this particular time.
I loved Beauty in Thorns and I think it is one of my favourite of Kate’s books. I’ve been reading and enjoying her work since The Witches of Eileanan was published with the first book Dragonclaw in 1997.
I feel very grateful to have seen both Gabriel’s and Lizzie’s graves. I carried flowers to Rossetti and I admit to weeping a few tears over his and Lizzie’s graves. May their vibrant, passion and energy continue to dazzle and inspire artists and writers around the world with their wild, idealistic visions of a more colourful, beautiful word.
A beautifully crafted historical fiction that ensnares the reader with vivacious characters and wonderful writing, slowly drawing you into the tangled, tumultuous lives of the Pre-Raphaelite women.
As part of Kate Forsyth’s fairytale retelling series, this was a little difficult to discern the relation to the tale of the Briar Rose (aka. Sleeping Beauty). It was not until I was deep into the sadness of Part Three that I realised it was mimicking the story perfectly, the initial golden years for all the women faded into addiction, deception and misery - the cursed years that covered the enchanted court in thorny briars. Not all the women and men of the Pre-Raphaelites escaped the curse, but hope for the lifting of the curse was found in children, in particular Margo Burne-Jones who was depicted as the sleeping princess in her father’s famous quartet.
The writing is luxurious, with imagery and emotions as rich as the artists it depicts. I highly recommend this book for anyone with a fascination with late Victorian art, the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood and giving voice to the women to supported and inspired them.
Kate is an adept story teller and this was a story of epic proportion about a group of artist which up until now had not really crossed my path. Since completing the book I've done some reading about the pre raphaelite movement and realised that I was very familiar with their works. I guess that says something about the author, if he or she sparks further inquiry in the reader. I found the story of the interwoven friendships rather somber ( there didn't seem to be a lot of joyful events ) but I guess life is just that at times. For those interested in an historical era , this is an excellent read.
A fabulous immersive story of the women in the preRaphelite Brotherhood. Kate Forsyth knows her subjects well and makes you feel like you're a fly on the wall in their lives. Very hard to know what is the fictional part of their lives and what has been drawn from history, it feels seamless. The women's stories are told in the wonderful setting of Victorian England and all the changes that were taking place at the time but restrained by Victorian Era values. Sleeping Beauty is a theme followed throughout. I've been meaning to read her work for sometime and this seemed like a great place to start. There is a PreRaphelite Exhibition at The National Gallery of Australia at the moment, their work is exceptional, and Kate Forsyth is giving a talk in March 2019. Looking forward to it immensely and also looking forward to reading more of Kate Forsyth's novels.
I love the attention to detail and history in Kate Forsyth’s novels. It’s like reading history come to life. With the addition of a fairy tale (in this case, Sleeping Beauty), her stories really sparkle. I love how she combines the fairy tale with an unlikely setting – who would have thought that the Pre-Raphaelite painters could have this story within their lives? It’s masterful and intricate.
Now I must admit that I’m not terribly big on paintings and drawings (in fact, the last time I went to an art gallery it was for a book launch) so I wasn’t familiar with most of the real life characters. Lizzie Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti I had read about in other fiction, but I’d never heard of the other painters in ‘the Firm’ and their wives. I ended up being quite fascinated with what they looked like because they all painted pictures of each other (plus Lizzie and Janey were originally artists’ models). I tried to keep away from Googling their lives because I wanted to be surprised by the story. Boy, was I! The six main characters are all so entwined with friendships and romantic relationships, hidden or open. The plot follows their lives from jubilant youth to old age. Initially, it focuses on Lizzie Siddal, a young girl who dreams of being an artist. She acts as an artists’ model in her spare time to try and fund a painting course. It’s there that she meets Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who will be her great love and also her downfall. Lizzie is the most complex character in the book and one of the most interesting. She has a weakness for laudanum, is hurt by criticism and has a burning love for Gabriel. He doesn’t quite feel the same way, being more of a ladies’ man than the love of one lady. Lizzie and Gabriel have an odd relationship, portrayed as desperate, argumentative and passionate. Lizzie hangs on his every word, but Gabriel is more casual. It can only be a recipe for disaster…
While Gabriel is the initial one of the group the women all swoon over, it’s Ned Morris who provided the money initially for the Pre-Raphaelites to fund their quest for love and beauty. Topsy, as he’s known, is more stable and less volatile than Gabriel. He’s caring, particularly to their young model Janey in Oxford. He knows Janey will never love him the way she longs after Gabriel, but he tells himself he’s happy to marry her anyway. Janey is glad of a release from poverty and misery, and determined to make Topsy proud by educating herself.
Ned Burne-Jones makes up the third artist of the trio. He’s shy, quiet and riddled with doubt. He loves to paint, but procrastinates at every possible step to keep the people he loves close. His wife Georgie has loved him since she was a child and first told her the story of Briar Rose. Will Ned keep their own Sleeping Beauty, daughter Margot, asleep? Or will he let her be awakened by her Prince?
It’s a testament to Kate Forsyth’s strength as a writer that I can remember all these details of character traits and places after finishing the book. Her work is so intricate and carefully researched that it shines through on every page. I didn’t feel the Briar Rose story stuck out in the narrative; it only became clear to me as Margot was sitting as the model for her father’s Briar Rose paintings. That’s probably a good thing – I was so swept up in the relationships between the characters! I did get a bit sick of Lizzie and Gabriel’s tumultuous relationship but I felt the portrayal of Lizzie was very sensitively done as she battles anorexia/bulimia. I really felt for Lizzie and I wanted to give Gabriel a good smack for being so callous! It’s easy to see from my ramblings how much the characters come to life at Kate Forsyth’s hand. Please don’t miss this book if you’re a lover of historical fiction or just wanting some history through a wonderful story.
Thank you to Penguin Random House for the copy of this book. My review is honest.