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Arresting Beauty

"Based on real people, this reels with romance, period atmosphere, and the spirit of a young woman who teeters between her working-class roots and bohemian high society in Victorian England."

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

Through the lives of two extraordinary women, and an engaging first-person narrative, Heather Cooper’s Arresting Beauty reveals how some boundaries of class and gender could not be crossed in Victorian England. Inspired by the real-life experiences of celebrated Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and the young girl she took into her Bohemian household, the author handles her subjects with deft diligence and warmth. 

As a ten-year-old, Mary was plucked “from the gutters of Putney and installed in a real house, a grand one” by Julia Margaret Cameron, an esteemed photographer. In Mary’s view, “I was a project, an enthusiasm, one among so many.” In Julia’s, “I must have this child! Yes, yes; look at her, those eyes!” 

Soon after Mary becomes part of Julia’s bohemian household as a maid, they move to the Isle of Wight, where Julia’s friend Alfred Tennyson, a close neighbour, observes that Mary is an “intelligent girl.” In time, after being educated alongside Julia’s own sons, spirited Mary becomes her mistress’s muse, model and assistant while battling class constraints of the age, and experiencing intense romance.

With a rich cast of characters, top-notch dialogue and vivid sense of its protagonist’s conflicts and desires, Arresting Beauty is a fine example of biographical fiction.

Joanne Owen

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