There is no shortage of writing on the brief, unhappy marriage of Euphemia Gray and the Victorian art critic and polymath John Ruskin. Most of it has tended to be partisan – in Effie’s favour. The first salvo in Effie’s defence was fired by her grandson, Admiral Sir William James. In writing his The Order of Release (1948), he had access to the Gray family archives, now lodged in the Morgan Library in New York. These were skilfully used by Mary Lutyens in her three books on Effie and Ruskin and their respective parents and on Effie’s subsequent marriage to the painter John Everett Millais.
As guides to Ruskin’s thinking, Lutyens’s books are valueless. Effie emerges as the central, beguiling figure. But Effie in Venice (1965), Millais and the Ruskins (1967) and The Ruskins and the Grays (1972) kept Ruskin in the public eye during the years when the shelves of second-hand bookshops groaned with countless copies of Modern Painters and The Stones of Venice. More importantly, it was Lutyens who first suggested that Ruskin failed to consummate his marriage because he was shocked at the sight of Effie naked, knowing women’s bodies only from statues and paintings.
Lutyens seemed to be