• Effie

  • The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais
  • By: Suzanne Fagence Cooper
  • Narrated by: Sophie Ward
  • Length: 12 hrs and 29 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (149 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Effie Gray, a beautiful and intelligent young socialite, rattled the foundations of England's Victorian age. Married at 19 to John Ruskin, the leading art critic of the time, she found herself trapped in a loveless, unconsummated union after Ruskin rejected her on their wedding night. On a trip to Scotland she met John Everett Millais, Ruskin's protege, and fell passionately in love with him. In a daring act, Effie left Ruskin, had their marriage annulled, and entered into a long, happy marriage with Millais.

Suzanne Fagence Cooper has gained exclusive access to Effie's previously unseen letters and diaries to tell the complete story of this scandalous love triangle. In Cooper's hands, this passionate love story also becomes an important new look at the work of both Ruskin and Millais, with Effie emerging as a key figure in their artistic development.

Effie is a heartbreakingly beautiful book about three lives passionately entwined with some of the greatest paintings of the pre-Raphaelite period.

©2011 Suzanne Fagence Cooper (P)2012 AudioGO

What listeners say about Effie

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating Story--Victoriana

Effie Gray was only twelve when she met the celebrated young art critic John Ruskin in 1841. A friendship developed, and within a few years, he proposed; the two married when Effie was nineteen, Ruskin 29. Effie imagined the two of them as the perfect couple, her social charm as asset to his brilliance. But on their wedding night, something went terribly wrong. Despite her innocence, Effie knew that there had to be more to marriage than taking walks along the riverbank: Ruskin either would not or could not consummate their union. In a letter to her parents, she wrote:

"He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason... that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April 1848."

Ashamed, Effie remained in the marriage for six years before formally filing for an annulment. She was subjected to a physical examination to verify her chastity and humiliated by Ruskin's testimony that "though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it." The doctor who examined her declared that she was normal in every way; it has been speculated that Ruskin might have been repelled by his wife's pubic hair, or that she was menstruating. As one would expect, the case created a scandal in Victorian England.

Fortunately, a happier future was in store. Effie had posed for Ruskin's friend, the artist John Everett Millais, who accompanied the couple on a trip to Scotland. The two fell in love and were married a year after the annulment was granted. Fagence devotes the first half of her biography to the scandal, but the second details Effie's 42-year marriage, which, despite some losses and difficulties, was a happy one. Effie continued to model for Millais (as did her siblings, her eight children, and later their grandchildren), and "Everett," as she called him, eventually earned great success as a painter, as well as a baronetcy. But her one disappointment was that the queen would not receive "a divorced person" at court. It seemed she would never quite shake the scandal of NOT being a wife to Ruskin. And Ruskin, who apparently never learned when not to speak, publicly blamed Effie for 'ruining' Millais's potential as an artist, the necessity of feeding a family turning him to a more lucrative style.

Cooper does an admirable job of presenting this slice of Victorian scandal and a peek into the world of art. We learn not only about the three persons mentioned in her lengthy title, but also about her travels in Italy, the elder Ruskins, Effie's family in Scotland, the Millais children, and the friends who stood by her. I did find the second half a bit confusing at times, partly because of the profusion of Johns, Georges, Sophias and Effies, but also because of the author's tendency to jump back and forth through time.

18 people found this helpful

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Beautiful story, well-read and written

I stumbled across this book after stumbling across Millais’ name while listening to a Great Courses audio about the Victorian era. The story did not disappoint. While John Ruskin was a cornerstone of Victorian history, you’ll certainly learn to see him in a different light after learning of his treatment to his wife. Effie herself is the portrait of a Victorian lady, and the story of her and her family is engrossing and touching. Beautifully narrated by Sophie Ward. I highly recommend this story to anyone with an interest in Victorian history.

2 people found this helpful

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It doesn’t feel like a historical piece

The author did a great job of piecing together hundreds if not thousands of letters and pieces of news and pictures and created a beautiful, yet often sad,story of the life of Effie… I thought I was going to be bored when I found out the piece was all just about her and not a story… But she did a great job putting the true life facts together and it flowed smoothly as a story. I feel like I know Effie, her family and the art involved. Well done

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very good book

I really enjoyed learning about Effie, John and Everett. I spent quite a bit of time looking for some of the paintings mentioned throughout the text. truly incredible works.

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Wonderful

Very interesting and well narrated! I was fascinated by Effie’s story. Ms Cooper did an outstanding job giving the subjects of this historical biography balanced focus and insight. I was very moved by the full scope covered in this book. Ms Ward did a wonderfully expressive job in the narration.

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lewd and insulting to women

Not at all worth the listening. Very disappointing story with an excellent narrators! Search elsewhere !

1 person found this helpful

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well written biography

I've long been familiar with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and knew some of the story of Effie. But this is so much more thorough. Very well done.

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Refreshing insights!

I loved listening to Effie. It is so refreshing to hear accounts of women’s lives during the reign of Queen Victoria. Effie lived a middle class to upper class life and we hear a lot about the challenges and stressors placed on her during her lifetime. Her marriage to art critic John Ruskin was a sham and annulled after 6 years because he refused to consummate it. After hearing about his relationships with females, I have to wonder if he wasn’t a pedophile? Fortunately, Effie was granted an annulment, after undergoing an intrusive physical examination. Effie Grey then married the artist John Everett Millais in a love match and bore many children.

I found this book particularly insightful (the author relies on letters that Effie and her family wrote) to hear about Effie’s day to day life because so few female lives were documented in the Victorian Era.

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I did not expect a documentary

Great story but would not have listened to it if I had known it is a documentary.

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Decent biography

I’ve been fascinated with the story of Effie Gray for some time so I was pleased to stumble upon this biography. As an architectural historian, I was definitely familiar with John Ruskin but wow—he was quite the odd one. Even somewhat sinister.

The biography includes many of the characters surrounding Effie and her husbands, children and siblings, both. At times I felt this was unnecessary, but ultimately it was interesting to know what happened to everyone. I think there could have been more effort put into describing the Pre-Raphaelite friends of John Everett Millais and the women they were involved with, particularly in regards to the ones that were closest to Millais and Effie. To some extent, I would have preferred to hear more about them than some of the others that the author chose to explore.

Overall, a very good portrayal of a fascinating woman.