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Ophelia's Muse by Rita Cameron: A Book Review

Ophelia’s Muse
Author: Rita Cameron
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: "I'll never want to draw anyone else but you. You are my muse. Without you there is no art in me." 

     With her pale, luminous skin and cloud of copper-colored hair, nineteen-year-old Lizzie Siddal looks nothing like the rosy-cheeked ideal of Victorian beauty. Working in a London milliner's shop, Lizzie stitches elegant bonnets destined for wealthier young women, until a chance meeting brings her to the attention of painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Enchanted both by her ethereal appearance and her artistic ambitions--quite out of place for a shop girl--Rossetti draws her into his glittering world of salons and bohemian soirees. 

     Lizzie begins to sit for some of the most celebrated members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, posing for John Everett Millais as Shakespeare's Ophelia, for William Holman Hunt--and especially for Rossetti, who immortalizes her in countless paintings as his namesake's beloved Beatrice. The passionate visions Rossetti creates on canvas are echoed in their intense affair. But while Lizzie strives to establish herself as a painter and poet in her own right, betrayal, illness, and addiction leave her struggling to save her marriage and her sense of self. 

     Rita Cameron weaves historical figures and vivid details into a complex, unconventional love story, giving voice to one of the most influential yet overlooked figures of a fascinating era--a woman who is both artist and inspiration, long gazed upon, but until now, never fully seen.

     My Review: Ophelia’s Muse details the life of Elizabeth Siddal. She was the model for some of the Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood. Some of whom have immortalized her are William Deverell, John Millais, who used her for his famous painting, Ophelia, and her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She was also a painter in own right. One of her notable works is her self-portrait. In Ophelia’s Muse, we see that Elizabeth’s life was just as tragic as the subject whom she modeled, Ophelia.

     Lizzie comes from a London middle class family. She works as a milliner in Mrs. Tozer’s shop. One day, she is noticed by William Deverell, and he painted her as Viola. While sitting for Deverell’s painting, she meets Dante Rossetti. Upon seeing her, he becomes immediately infatuated. She becomes his muse and the model for his paintings. Soon, Rossetti and Lizzie embark on a passionate and tempestuous affair. However, these star-crossed lovers would take a downward step into tragedy while ultimately creating masterpieces.

     Lizzie is a tragic heroine. She yearns to be a proper woman in society. She wants to marry a respectable gentleman. She also has an interest in art and poetry. However, when she meets Rossetti, he awakens a passion of adventure and chivalrous tales of romance. Even though Lizzie insists they marry, Rossetti is reluctant to love her. He believes that if he settles down with her, he may grow tired of her, and no longer would he feel inspired to paint her. Yet, Lizzie has an unwavering love for him. She gives up everything; her job, family, reputation, happiness, and eventually her life for him. 

     I really did not like Rossetti. He was a bad boyfriend and husband. He was selfish, spoiled, and immature. He did not care for Lizzie unless it suited his needs. He ignores and shuns her, instead focusing on his paintings. He makes empty promises of marriage, lies to her constantly, and dominates her. He does not care for her well-being. It is not until Lizzie is almost at death’s door that he reluctantly marries her. After their marriage, he goes back to ignoring her until her tragic death.

     The relationship between Elizabeth and Rossetti was definitely unhealthy. While they helped each other to bring out their best art, they were not really suited to each other. They both had different goals. Rossetti was career-driven. He had no intention of settling down. Marriage life did not appeal to him. He viewed marriage as a trap and he wanted his freedom as a bachelor. As a woman in the Victorian era, Lizzie felt pressure from society to marry. She wanted Rossetti to marry her, have children, and to become an artist and a poet. Rossetti put Lizzie on a pedestal and saw an ideal vision of her beauty. He never really saw the true Lizzie. Lizzie wanted Rossetti to see her as a real woman and paint her as she is. Thus, the two of them were doomed from the start.

     Overall, this story is about a woman’s pursuit to find happiness, love, and security. It  is beautifully written, and the characters are very flawed. I liked how the author depicts Victorian society and how society greatly impacted the characters. Ophelia’s Muse is a haunting, lyrical, and tragic tale that is reminiscent of Shakespeare. I recommend this story to anyone interested in in Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and to fans of Rodin’s Lover.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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