I recently watched a BBC mini-series about the Pre-Raphaelite art movement of Victorian England. It was a bawdy series that much romanticized the bohemian lifestyle of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and a cast of incidental characters that joined the brotherhood, as it grew in style and influence. Coming away from the viewing, I was curious about one of the models that became central to several of Rossetti's paintings - Lizzie Siddal.
In doing a bit of on-line poking, I found this mystery novel by Mollie Hardwick. It's funny how one thing leads to another when one pokes about on-line! Mollie Hardwick wrote extensively during the second half of the 20th century. She is, perhaps, best known for penning the novel adaptations of the popular BBC series 'Upstairs, Downstairs' - Masterpiece Theatre's 'early version' of the fabulously popular 'Downton Abbey'.
Anyway ... in addition to those novels, Mrs Hardwick also wrote a series of detective novels called the Doran Fairweather series. The Dreaming Damozel is the sixth in the series. The book centers around Doran, an antiques dealer whose shop is in transition. Her long-time partner has departed for life in London and a new career. Her shop is languishing in a 'stale antiques market' and she is restless to take the business to a different level. Poking about an estate sale, she comes upon a small oil painting that is strangely reminiscent of the paintings done by Dante Gabriel Rossetti at the time that Lizzie Siddal was beginning her relationship with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Ophelia - J.E. Millais
Of course, Doran is intrigued and as the plot develops, strange events occur that seem linked in a sinister way. Doran and her husband are drawn into a mystery that revolves around a dead woman found floating in the local river who is dressed in much the same way as the 'Ophelia' of Millais' painting, a chance contact who would like Doran to act as selling agent for a Rossetti piece that looks to be a study for one of his more famous paintings, a chance meeting with a young textile expert at a party in London, a consultation with a retired homicide detective living in Doran's village ... the plot thickens!
Like all stylized detective novels, these series of events build and tension increases to a frantic (as frantic as these types of stories ever get) point. Being new to the genre niche, I'm having fun reading Hardwick's brand of British mystery. I love the British 'voice' within the writing of Hardwick and within the dialogue she gives her characters. I also am happy to learn a little bit more about the art of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and its ties to early photography and photo-realism. A fun read that has helped while away a pleasant summer morning!