A Curl of Copper and Pearl. The story of Alexa Wilding
9th April 2014
For those who are intrigued by the Pre-Raphaelite circle of painters, poets and models of the 1800's, today marks the launch of a new novel by historian and Victorian studies specialist Kirsty Stonell Walker. Based on a series of true events, it tells the story of Alexa Wilding.
Alexa was one of the celebrated flame-haired model of Dante Gabriel Rossetti who, along with the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood of painters, took the art world by storm during the middle years of the 19th Century. Told in the first person, entirely from the perspective of Alexa herself, the story takes us from her humble beginnings to become one of the most admired faces in Victorian art.
Here she is, in the cover image, showing Rossetti’s famous painting Venus Verticordia (Venus, turner of hearts) completed in 1867. A well-known image.
More than rags to riches
This is not just another rags-to-riches tale, however. It is also a series of sharp, cleverly delineated sketches. Alexa is able to observe and convey to us many of the conflicts and most infamous incidents that occurred within the Rossetti circle during its final turbulent years. Romances and betrayals, infatuations and mysteries, exhumations and forgeries. If you know your Pre-Raphaelite history, you will know what I am referring to. If not … well, you have even more to look forward to as the story unfolds.
Cheyne Walk, London - as Alexa would have know it. c 1870
With all the irresistible draw of any good fly-on-the-wall expose, mingled with ample servings of romance and gritty realism, here is a story that is both entertaining and totally absorbing.
I enjoyed the obsessional Rossetti with his self-sacrifice to beauty. And loved the formidable Fanny Cornforth with the soft centre that she could never quite conceal. I enjoyed the descriptive details of dress and fabrics, buildings and furnishings, all contrasted with the background of deprivation in the backstreets of London. And I even enjoyed the cads who pursued Alexa Wilding for her beauty. Or the women who kept her dangerous attractions at arm’s length. They would place her behind the barrier of class and social convention whenever her presence made them feel uncomfortable or threatened.
Here is the back-cover description from the author:
Treat yourself and journey back in time to the heart of one of the great art movements of the 19th Century. In our current literary climate in which works of historical fiction are often manufactured to a tightly edited, safely commercial formula, and therefore often indistinguishable one from another, here is a refreshing and original approach. It will appeal not only to those with some prior knowledge of the Pre-Raphaelites, but to the general reader as well. This is due, in no small part, to its easy and intimate style.
Above all, it is a tale of how beauty, whether on canvas or in the flesh, is so often tossed about, manipulated and raised to the heights by those who forget in the rush for exploitation the real origins of the commodity itself. The individual person housed within. Here, we get to see beneath the surface. It's a story, therefore, as relevant today in our celebrity obsessed world, as it was amid the madly conflicting values of Victorian England.