The film Effie tells the story of the love-triangle of the famous critic John Ruskin, his unhappy wife Effie, and the young artist Millais, who falls in love with her. This tale has been told many times, dating back to an early silent movie from 1912. Why has this story seemed so appealing and what is the truth behind it? In many ways the tale of these three people has come to stand for the repressive sexual culture we attribute to Victorian England, and to the attitude to women it is strongly associated with. We will look not only at the lives of three people in this story, but also at the art it helped to inspire, in particular the way in which Millais creates a new form of painting which sought to express the complex ecologies of both human emotion and natural life. How is this connected to the enigmatic relationship between the three people, and the tragedy of Effie’s mysteriously unconsummated first marriage?
Paul Barlow is senior lecturer in the History of art at the University of Northumbria. He is the author of Time Present and Time Past, a critical biography of the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. He has also written widely on other aspects of British art and culture, including on Ruskin, Carlyle and other Victorian writers. He is currently researching aspects of Celtic culture in Brittany, and representations of Shakespeare.