The story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is being made into a TV drama. Desperate Romantics will follow the vagabond group of English painters, poets and critics who rebelled against the art establishment of the time. The BBC2 "colourful and rude gang drama" will see the men strive to find fame, fortune, success, love and " quite a bit of sex along the way". The six-part series will be set among the alleys, galleries and brothels of 19th century industrial England.
I love the PRB; I teach them in my Victorian lit classes all the time, and one of the highlights of my recent trip to Chicago was seeing Beata Beatrix, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, at the Chicago Art Institute. (Though, truth be told, the Frank Lloyd Wright stuff was even more to my taste...) I'm not even above a little gossipy stuff when I teach them--how can you not talk about Ruskin's failed marriage to Effie Gray (who later was very happy with a younger member of the PRB, John Everett Millais) or, even more sensational, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's exhumation of his wife Lizzie Siddal when he decided that, actually, he did want the manuscript of his poems that he had thrown into her grave? But I fear a bit that this BBC production will emphasize these and other sensational points to the exclusion of the really quite remarkable art and literature they produced. Seeing Millais's "Mariana" in person at the National Gallery some years ago was a revelation to me: the things he could do with light and color! (The reproduction doesn't do it justice.) And Rossetti's poetry--and, even more, his sister Christina's poetry--is stunning. So if the BBC2 production makes it here, I'll no doubt watch it--but I'll be worried as I do.
Here's one of my favorite Christina Rossetti poems. (She also wrote, among many other things, "Goblin Market," and the Christmas carol "In the Bleak Midwinter.")
In an Artist's Studio
One face looks out from all his canvasses,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans;
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer greens,
A saint, an angel; -- every canvass means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyfull as the light;
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.