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Marriage of Inconvenience

What really happened in the most scandalous love triangle of the nineteenth century? Was it all about

impotence and pubic hair? Or was it about money, power and freedom? If so, whose? What possibilities were there for these young people caught in a world racked by social, financial and political turmoil? And whose interests were helped by turning an intensely private tragedy into a national scandal?

Once the accepted story of celebrity, sex, and art had entered the public psyche it never lost its fascination. Books, plays, television series, an opera, films (including Emma Thompson’s Effie Gray, shortly to be released) have all shown Effie taking her destiny in her own hands and breaking free of a repressed and repressive husband. It is an easy take on the Victorians and how we have moved on. But the story isn’t true.

In Marriage of Inconvenience Robert Brownell brings together a huge range of contemporary documents – some never seen before, some hitherto suppressed. Together they make up one of the most detailed and fascinating accounts of an historical marriage ever written – with much of it in the words of the protagonists themselves.

And perhaps most importantly of all, as the myths were propagated by enemies of Ruskin’s social and

artistic reform, this new account will give fresh understanding of Ruskin and the potency of his ideas for us today.

Illustrated with maps, documents and portraits, and with seldom-seen drawings by John Everett Millais that chart his developing relationship with Effie Ruskin.

Dr. Robert Brownell is a freelance writer and lecturer specialising in Victorian art and æsthetics,

particularly Ruskin and Morris. He has spent twelve years researching this book.


‘Robert Brownell weighed in with an enjoyably obsessive re-examination of the marriage of Effie and John Ruskin and the pubic hair question.’

Observer Books of the Year

‘Painstakingly researched and forensically detailed portrait of a doomed marriage. Brownell explores how its failure actually had much more to do with wider social mores, and especially with money.’

Sunday Times

‘It is not Brownell’s purpose to deal with the well-known facts but to disinter a scandal and shake the dust off it. With the film Effie Gray due out this year – in which Ruskin is again cast as the bewhiskered prude of legend and his wife as a childlike victim of patriarchal repression – this can only be welcomed.’

The Oldie

‘Well-illustrated and much footnoted... The evidence Brownell adduces is impressive and his thesis convincing.’


‘Robert Brownell wants to give the biographical pendulum a hefty shove in the opposite direction. In 600 closely wrought pages he argues that it was Ruskin, not Gray, who was tricked into a fraudulent marriage. What’s more it was Ruskin and not Gray who manoeuvred the whole miserable business to its sensational close.’

The Guardian

‘Serious Ruskin scholars have tended to be briskly impatient with the story of Effie and Ruskin, seeing its undeniably gripping twists and turns as an unwelcome distraction from the complexity and majesty of Ruskin's thought. But Robert Brownell’s valuable research into the finances of the Gray family and the intricacies of Victorian matrimonial law recasts Ruskin as a man of practical action and a surprisingly worldly figure.’

Literary Review

‘A page turner, even for those familiar with the subject...The surprising truth that emerges is no less human, and no less revealing about the Victorians than the myths; on the contrary it gives a far more compelling insight into what relationships, family and money really


Country Life

‘One of the two or three most important books about Ruskin of the last thirty years.‘

James Dearden, former Master of Guild of St George

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