Physical or theoretical empire builders often seem to be repelled by their own mortal existence. That’s probably why they seek immortality through empire. This is a manifestation of emergence. All organisms seek to grow in whatever space is available to them, including the space of their own internal dynamics and identity. This is one reason why men need women: to keep them grounded in reality. And it’s one reason why male genital mutilation reverberates so destructively through society.
Legend says the greatest Victorian was put off sex by the sight of his wife’s naked body. A new film will try to establish the truth
The secret at the heart of the short-lived, notoriously unconsummated marriage of John Ruskin, the great artist, architect, poet and political thinker of the Victorian age, has baffled fans of his work for a century. United on his wedding night in April 1848 with Effie Gray, the girl who had been the object of some of his most beautiful writing during their courtship, something went badly wrong.
A feature film is due go into production written by Emma Thompson and starring the Oscar-nominated Carey Mulligan in the role of Gray. Together with a new book by Ruskin expert Robert Hewison, it will attempt to clear up the speculation surrounding the sex life of the man sometimes referred to as “the greatest Victorian”….
In the screenplay for Effie, which Wise and Thompson hope to start shooting next month in Venice and Scotland, the wedding night is a key plot point. “We will show that night at the start, but it doesn’t play itself out until the very end. I have talked to many different Ruskinians and they all have a slightly different take on it.”
In a famed letter to her parents, Effie claimed her husband found her “person” repugnant. “He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason… that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April.”
During the annulment proceedings, Ruskin made the statement that: “It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it.”
Wise has found that Ruskin scholars tend to dislike Effie and see the marriage “as a six-year hiccup in the great man’s progress”.
“We have tried to stick to what Effie wrote about the incident,” he said, “but you never really know if Ruskin had set her up for it in some way. She had to go to the ecclesiastical court to get a divorce, so if nothing else you have to admire the strength of character of this girl.”
After a trip to Scotland with Millais, Gray and the artist became close, later marrying and raising a large family.
For Wise, the Ruskins’ wedding night is a symptom of the universal problem of the difference between an idealised image and reality. “In the same way now that men are bombarded with images of what is supposed to be the ideal woman, after the Pre-Raphaelite ideal anything is going to be a let down. Real life is wrinkles and smells.”…