Franny Moyle has chosen a riveting subject and has dashed it off in a rollicking spirit. Her subtitle refers to the ‘Private Lives’ of the Pre-Raphaelites, but just how private any of their lives were is debatable. The publisher’s blurb says, ‘Everyone can picture a Pre-Raphaelite in their head. But do they know the complex stories behind them?’ I should rather imagine that they do. I can hardly think of any more heavily trawled archives (Bloomsbury apart) than those of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Not that it matters two hoots how many times the same story is told. If you put, for example, seven authors in the same dungeon with an invigilator and asked them to write the story of Cinderella, you would come up with seven very different versions. Franny Moyle’s version of the lives of the Pre-Raphaelites is certainly a novel one.
The English have always been crazy about Clubs, Sets, Groups and Circles – the Kit-Kat Club, the Hellfire Club, Samuel Palmer and the Ancients, to name but a few. All members appear to be under the illusion that they are unique. The Pre-Raphaelites were no exception.