If you are a literature snob, this is probably the time to avert your eyes, but if you fancy something a little quick and dirty with a bit of Pre-Raphaelite thrown in for good measure, you'll probably appreciate this. I came across it via very academic means, during a literature search for 'Fanny Cornforth' - may I just add that much trouble can be gotten into during literature searches for 'Fanny'. When this novel popped up during my research, I'm hardly the girl to turn down a bit of unexpected Fanny when I find it, so I read it...
As you can probably discern from the magnificent cover of Abigail Jones, it is a bodice ripper much in the same vein as Amanda McIntyre's very jolly The Master and the Muses, but with some 'paranormal romance' thrown in. For those unaware of what constitutes a paranormal romance, it's where the heroine is in love with a vampire/werewolf/zombie-type affair, most famously in something like Twilight. Well, in Abigail Jones there is some love and some paranormal-ness but also a lot of lust. Tons of lust. Oodles of it. Smashing.
So, what's the plot? Our titular heroine, Abigail Jones, is a maid with a secret. She possesses the power to touch objects and discern the past escapades of their owners. The filthy past escapades to be precise. This is a very bad thing apparently and in order to keep her safe, Abigail is sent to work in the house of the biggest saucepot in England. Filthy visions ensue. Jolly good.
|Lady Lilith (1867) Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
Enter (as it were) our hero, Lord Lucien Langsford, Earl Huxton. He is a troubled gentleman and the owner of Rossetti's Lady Lilith. Without revealing too much of the plot, Lilith is somewhat of an obsession of his and is the subject of the 'paranormal' bit of the book. He's also done rude things to Fanny Cornforth. Lawks! That brings me to the Pre-Raphaelite part of the book. In order to bring everything to a climax (so to speak) Abigail and his filthy Lordship visit Cheyne Walk and pay a visit to Rossetti and Fanny. You have to wait until page 303 for that pleasure but it is a very interesting pleasure when it arrives...
|The Blue Bower (1865) D G Rossetti|
Fanny's jewellery plays a part in the story...
Up until this point the novel is very hard to place in time other than 'Victorian'. The moment we enter Tudor House it is very much anchored in the 1870s. Fanny is described as 'an excess of flesh' and 'puffy' and Rossetti is 'portly'. The house is full of bric-a-brac and disorder and I found the playful antagonism between artist and model realistic. It was also a refreshing change not to have Rossetti mentioned in conjunction with either Elizabeth Siddal or Jane Morris. You know how Fanny-centric I am, which is appropriate for this novel. Also, there's a wombat! Mercifully he makes his escape before anything unseemly goes on...
|Run Wombat! Run, before it gets filthy again!|
Although the chapter at Cheyne Walk is brief, the influence of the painting and its significance is integral to the plot. It's not the sort of book I normally read but it is interesting to see how Rossetti's art can be used in unexpected ways. It seems that the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites can come upon you when you least expect it. Much like his lordship. I am so sorry.
I read the book in a couple of sittings and giggled heartily. It's fun, rude and there are phrases I don't normally get to use in my writing which delighted me greatly, such as 'turgid abundance' and 'engorged magnificence'. On a health and safety note, his Lordship seemed to spend much of the 338 pages engorged in some way and I'm sure that is not good for you. It's a miracle the poor man can walk straight. There were moments of historical inaccuracy for example the use of words like 'trash', 'weekend' and exactly what you call an Earl when he's taking you roughly from behind with his turgid abundance. Debretts say that it is 'Lord --' on the first instance then 'Faster!' on the second. So now we know.
|Grace Callaway, author and purveyor of jolly smut|
It made me giggle, it was easy to read and resulted in various filthy emails being sent to friends over the weekend (for which I apologise) (I don't really) and so I have no problem with it. Also, the inclusion of Pre-Raphaelite art in something like this is as encouraging as it is unexpected and Grace Callaway's author's note at the back of the book talks about the real Rossetti and Fanny and recommends Gay Daly's book on the subject. If you want a biography on the subject, buy Jan Marsh. If you want a jolly diversion, give it a try. It's still more realistic than Violet Hunt's The Wife of Rossetti.
Abigail Jones can be purchased here (UK) or here (USA) and is also available for Kindle.