Franny Moyle’s new book, Desperate Romantics, catalogues the lives and loves of the Pre-Raphaelites, while occasionally touching on their art. The book, which serves as the inspiration for the upcoming BBC miniseries of the same name, sounds like it will be a delight for those looking to dwell on the shallower aspects of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
First, I will confess that the bohemian lifestyle of the Pre-Raphaelites has held a certain fascination for me ever since I first picked up Beth Russell’s Traditional Needlepointand suddenly found myself entranced by the beauty of Morris and Rossetti’s art and the sordid details of their personal lives. Whether for good or ill, the countless affairs, intrigues, love triangles and suicides that pepper the Pre-Raphaelite movement have undeniably added to their allure.
It still seems a shame that the book ignores the Pre-Raphaelites’ art almost entirely, in favour of tabloid coverage of their exploits. There is so much more to the Pre-Raphaelite vision than sultry models and randy artists. William Morris himself was a fascinating man with beautiful ideas that are still pertinent today. The same is also true for the inspiring John Ruskin, who is sidelined as a mere deviant in Moyle’s work. In her defence, however, I notice that Moyle is a television producer, which probably explains her conviction that sex is the best way to sell art. And perhaps she’s right. It certainly worked for me. Today my interest in the Pre-Raphaelites goes far beyond their sordid personal lives, but in the beginning, their fascinating lives were instrumental in drawing me into their world.
For more information, read the Times review of Desperate Romantics