Leanne Barrett: Artists their Stunners and Love: Beauty in Thorns

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Artists their Stunners and Love: Beauty in Thorns


Art, poetry, love, beauty, dreams, betrayal, pain and fairy tales are all included in Kate Forsyth's new book, Beauty in ThornsKate's Canberra book launch was held at the National Library of Australia (NLA) on 20 July 2017, for the audio and transcript of the talk see here.

I love the stories that Kate Forsyth brings to readers; 

I first met Kate at an event in Canberra for the launch of her first children's picture book Grumpy Grandpa and was impressed with her gentleness and passion. It is this passion, gentleness and strength that comes to the fore in how Kate writes, researches and how she connects with her fans.

Kate's strength shines through when she talks about the physical hurdles she has had to conqueror during her life. At the age of two years and two months old she was attacked by a dog, leaving her with major injuries to her head, Kate explained, "I was very, very badly hurt, I lost my ear and nearly lost this eye. I was in surgery for hours and hours and had more than 200 stitches putting my head back together again". 

Kate was often in and out of hospitals and she recalls that at the at the age of seven, "...my mother kept a box of books hidden so that whenever we had an emergency dash to the hospital she could grab something because books were ...my only source of sunshine, my only solace. This particular occasion the book I tucked into my hands was this one, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, a beautiful hardback red leather version of it." Kate's passion for fairy tales was born. A passion especially for the stories of Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel

The stories of Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel resonated with Kate. Kate and Sleeping Beauty were both miracle children who were awakened by a kiss. While Rapunzel gave Kate hope to escape and to be healed. When Kate was twelve years old she wrote her first retelling of Rapunzel but it wasn't until later, when her own three children were at school, that Kate researched the fairy tale of Rapunzel and wrote the book Bitter Greens. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Proserpine, 1874
Photo (c) Tate
Creative Commons CC-BB-NC-NC 3.0 (Unported)
As a fan of Kate's work, especially her fairy tale retellings, I knew that Kate was going to release a new book based on the story of Sleeping Beauty in 2017. Initially, I thought that Beauty in Thorns would be a retelling similar in style to Bitter Greens, where the story unfolds like the fairy tale. Instead I discovered a tale that shows the love, obsession and heartbreak of the women in the circle of the Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets. 

At the NLA book launch Kate introduced the audience to the Pre-Raphaelite artists, poets and their muses. These artists and poets masterpieces often intertwined with folk lore and fairy tales.

Kate showed us the painting of Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1874). The painting is based on the Greek myth of Persephone. When Persephone is in the underworld with Hades the earth is in winter. Rossetti used Jane Morris (Janey Burden) as the model for this painting - Janey looks like she longs to be with the person that she loves and this is probably not her husband, William (Topsy) Morris, but the artist Rossetti.

Kate shared the story about how Lizzie Siddal got pneumonia while posing in a bath tub of cold Thames water for the painting Ophelia, by John Everett Millais in 1852. This was the beginning of many health issues that plagued Lizzie's life and one part the origin of her pain and heartache, especially regarding her relationship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-2
Photo (c) Tate
Creative Commons CC-BB-NC-NC 3.0 (Unported)

Towards the end of the NLA talk Kate explained how the artist Edward (Ned) Burne-Jones was linked to the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. Georgie Burne-Jones (Georgie Macdonald) was the queen that longed for a child. The princess is Margaret (Margot) Burne-Jones, Georgie and Edward's third child and only daughter. Edward, the king, was terrified of death (his mother died a few days after his birth) and wanted time to stop.  

In Edward's attempt to stop Father Time, he began to paint his daughter Margot at the age of fifteen, wanting her to stay beautiful and innocent forever. He began to paint her as Sleeping Beauty.

In the story Beauty in Thorns, Kate Forsyth described the painting, The Rose Bower through Margot's eyes in the following way... "Perhaps the queen was the woman slumped beside the princess, her hair bound beneath a black hood, dressed in dark colours as if in mourning, a medieval lute cradled in her arm. She had Mammy's chestnut-brown hair, her straight nose. But no crown, no jewels, no cloth of gold, no sliver thread. She was as dark a presence as the prince...Margot watched her father paint, and wondered what it all meant." (p.420)   

Kate has also included the verse For the Briar Rose by William Morris into the story, below are the four lines for painting The Rose Bower

"Here lies the hoarded love, the key
To all the treasure that shall be;
Come fated hand the gift to take,
And smite this sleeping world awake." 
William Morris


File:The Rose Bower Buscot Park.jpg
Edward Burne-Jones, The Rose Bower: The Briar Rose Series, 1890
Photo David Nash Ford
located at Buscot Park, Oxfordshire, England.

To find out more about the women featured in Beauty in Thorns see Kate's Blog.

Kate has spent an inordinate amount of time researching the characters in this story and she expertly incorporated other historical characters into the story;
  • Rosalind Howard (activist for women's political rights and the temperance movement)
  • Marian Evans (better known as writer, George Eliot)
  • Rudyard Kipling (nephew of Georgie Burne-Jones)
  • William Holman Hunt (artist)
  • Ford Madox Brown (artist)
  • Bernard Shaw (friend of William Morris' sister)

Upon reading the story Beauty in Thorns I fell in love with the strong female characters that Kate portrayed. As a lover of art I appreciated the creativity of characters, both the men and women. I championed the women willing them to survive their trials and tribulations. At times I was as conflicted as the characters, hoping that they would find happiness and love but not at the expense of the other characters that I loved. At times I wanted to shake the men and yell "Wake up you have a wonderful wife stop your cheating you prat!" and at other times I wanted to console the character whose love was not returned and wanted them to find comfort elsewhere.

All I can say is thank you Kate and how brilliant!
Plus - look forward to your next book.


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