‘Young PRB’ by Elisabeth M. Lee: A novel of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

My compliments to Elisabeth M.Lee.  To write a novelization of the early days of the Brotherhood must be an arduous task.  The Pre-Raphaelites are complicated, there is so much going on that there is a danger of the tale becoming muddied and all of the scintillating bits could overtake the narrative.  This book is not only true to the facts surrounding the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but it focuses on their intentions and their artistic integrity (something the recent miniseries, Desperate Romantics, failed to do).

‘Young PRB’ is about the earliest phase of Pre-Raphaelitism,  beginning with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1846 and ending with Hunt embarking on his trip to the Holy Land.  Lee follows the founding members of the Brotherhood chronologically and -to her credit- emphasizes their artistic ambitions and goals.

You may be familiar with my other website, LizzieSiddal.com.  I feel protective towards Elizabeth Siddal and how she is portrayed.  So I am proud to report to you that I am quite pleased with how Elisabeth Lee has shared Lizzie’s part of the story.  Written with respect and feeling, her account of Lizzie is one of a young Victorian girl who is intelligent and curious about the art world she has entered and develops her own ambitions.  Well done.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

William Holman Hunt wants his own revolution. In the year 1848 Europe erupts in turmoil, but Hunt is an art student, with many dreams and limited funds, in a London where revolution is just not done – especially one against the art establishment.

Hunt, along with six friends and fellow students – including the prodigy John Everett Millais and the artist-poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti – proclaim themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB). They plan to display their new art at the most prestigious exhibition in the country: The Royal Academy of Art.

They were expecting criticism, praise, or even ambivalence. What they were not expecting was the violent abuse hurled at them by the art elite, journalists, and even Charles Dickens. The stale and stodgy art world of mid-Victorian London will not tolerate these upstarts. The defiant PRB will not back down. Now it really is a revolution.

Can the young PRB survive the attacks against them? Can their friendship survive growing up?

Visit Elisabeth M. Lee’s website:  youngprb.com

On Amazon.com: Young PRB: A Novel of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

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7 Replies to “‘Young PRB’ by Elisabeth M. Lee: A novel of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood”

  1. Thank you for posting about this new book (I saw your post on Facebook). I can’t wait to read this! I was very disappointed with the miniseries, Desperate Romantics, and look forward to seeing the PBR to get their due in this novel.

  2. Stephanie, how exciting! I was on Elisabeth M. Lee’s site, youngprb.com, and her novel sounds fascinating and well-researched. All these exuberant personalities are so compelling; one wants to know them and walk with them. I fell in love with the PRB (and, by extension, the Sisterhood), when I was a college student in London during the Tate Gallery’s stunning exhibition of The Pre-Raphaelites in the spring of 1984. But a few years earlier, I had seen Millais portrayed in Masterpiece Theatre’s mini-series, “Lillie.” I was captivated by all the figures brought to life, and the way they interacted with each other. In “Lillie,” Millais was nearing 50, beloved by his countrymen for his youthful rebellion and acquiring wealth through painting portraits of aristocrats and notables (including the Prince of Wales’ first official mistress, Lillie Langtry). Millais is a character in my book as well — “The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot.” Millais and Tissot, who had fled Paris after the Franco-Prussian War, were friends. My story takes place thirty years after “Young PRB,” and touches on what became of the original PRB during the decade that saw the birth of Impressionism and modern art. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts allowed me access to a great resource on Millais:

    “The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, President of the Royal Academy, by his son, John Guille Millais,” with 319 illustrations, including nine photogravures, Vol. II, Methuen & Co., 36 Essex Street, W.C., London, 1899.

    Another riveting account of Millais is provided in “The model wife: the passionate lives of Effie Gray, Ruskin and Millais,” by Suzanne Fagence Cooper, Duckworth Overlook, London, 2010. And, of course, Emma Thompson’s “Effie” will be in theatres before long!

    Tissot greatly admired Millais — some say he plagiarized from him. In 1879, a commentary on James Tissot’s work from The New York Times showed that the three young Pre-Raphaelites had made a lasting mark on the art world:

    “Mr. James Tissot, one of the eccentrics of the Grosvenor, has sent in eight pictures. They are always of a girl lying in a hammock, or in a swing or lying down, always surrounded by the green grass and green trees so you have to hunt for the figures, and you want to call him names for prostituting his talents to a silly affectation of Realism. Pre-Raphaelitism gone mad is the motive power of this wild man of the studio. Under Mr. Tissot’s eccentricities lurk a laughing giant.”

    Congratulations to Elisabeth M. Lee for pouring her passion into “Young PRB”!

    Lucy Paquette, author of The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, available for e-readers, Fall 2012

    1. Thank you for your comment, and now I am dying to read your book! It sounds interesting and wonderful, I will have to purchase a copy ASAP.

      1. By the way, ‘Lillie’ has been in my Netflix queue for quite a while. I had no idea that Millais is in it, now I am even more eager to watch it. Thanks for mentioning that!

        I am lucky enough to own a two-volume set of ‘Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais’. It’s a happy coincidence that you can see a bit of them behind the ‘Young PRB’ book in the photo I shared in this blog post.

  3. Stephanie, you’ll like “Lillie,” though the production values are not up to par with the wonderful series we’re now used to, e.g. Bleak House, etc. But who cares, when you get to be immersed in Victorian London for thirteen episodes!

    I meant to add that Suzanne Fagence Cooper’s book is non-fiction. She was granted access to Effie Millais’ private papers. Spoiler alert! Millais’ family was affected by his enormous success and fame: one of his daughters was a spendthrift, one of his sons became an alcoholic, and of course, Effie wasn’t invited to many functions that Millais attended, especially those at which Her Majesty the Queen was present, because as a divorced woman, she was considered to have “two husbands still living.” One of his daughters just wanted to live a “normal” life, and she became a very modern working woman. I find the stories behind the story so interesting; they make these people come alive, and that’s what sounds most intriguing about Elisabeth M. Lee’s “Young PRB.”

    Lucy Paquette

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