Twenty-five years ago, instead of studying for my year 10 exams, I immersed myself in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I read every book of biography, art and poetry I could find, and fantasised about one day living in an Arts and Crafts house with William Morris wallpaper.
That has not come to pass, yet.
But, I did draw on my early attachment to all things PRB earlier this year, when I wrote a historical fiction novella about the little known interlude of the PRB sculptor, Thomas Woolner, in Australia in 1853.
He came out with his friends, Edward La Trobe Bateman (cousin of the Victorian Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe) and sculptor Bernhard Smith. At first, he tried his luck in the gold diggings with Bateman’s neighbour from England, William Howitt (brother of the poet). Unable to make his instant fortune which would see him back in England and creating art with the Brotherhood once more, he stayed on in Melbourne seeking commissions of bronze medallions and statues.
He stayed with William’s brother, Godfrey Howitt, who was a physician and patron of the arts. During his stay, Woolner fell in love with Godfrey’s daughter, Edith Howitt. They became engaged, though Godfrey opposed their relationship on the basis that Woolner was penniless and arrogant. As commissions dried up in Melbourne, Woolner moved to Sydney where he gained a reputation for his work. To be considered for the lucrative commission of the Wentworth statue, Woolner had to return to England. He briefly visited Melbourne and Edith before making the journey back, committed to securing the commission and returning to marry Edith.
Melbourne, 1853. Edith Howitt is torn between being a muse for Pre-Raphaelite sculptor, Thomas Woolner, and being a dutiful daughter.