Frances Spalding

Adventures In Dreamland

The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination


Faber & Faber 656pp £25 order from our bookshop

Finding the right artist for a portrait can be a difficult task. Similarly with biography, unless the subject and author are well matched, no amount of careful scholarship and artful analysis can make the story come alive. Fortunately the artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833–98) has attained posthumously a marriage made in heaven. Fiona MacCarthy has not only won prizes with her biography of William Morris, with whom Burne-Jones is so intimately associated, but she is also a design expert and a cultural historian. Part of the fascination of Burne-Jones’s life is the steady unfolding of his phenomenal career as his arresting, highly wrought images take hold of the Victorian imagination, and how Ned Jones, a lower-middle-class boy from Birmingham, was translated into the much sought-after Sir Edward Burne-Jones. There is never a moment in this long narrative when the interest flags, nor a page that is not richly informative. Rarely are biographies both as authoritative and engaging as this.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,