Author Event: Fiona MacCarthy

30 08 2011

Fiona MacCarthyFiona MacCarthy’s reputation as a historical biographer is second to none. Following critically acclaimed reviews for her work on Byron and Eric Gill, MacCarthy has written a book charting the life of Edward Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelite artist and designer, titled The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination.

“As with all my chosen subjects,” began MacCarthy, “he chose me. It’s very much a case that we were meant to be. I love his work and I love the violence of his responses. How can you not love a man who stuck a red hit poker through a book that he disapproved of?”

Regarding the era she would be working in, MacCarthy said: “The Pre-Raphaelite Victorian era is one I really connect to.”

MacCarthy visited almost 50 churches between 1989 and 1992 curing her research, in order to view the extensive stained glass windows that Burne-Jones designed. “His glass work was amazing and I fell in love with it for its energy and range.”

“Part of the excitement of writing this book,” continued MacCarthy, “was discovering the points at which Burne-Jones and his close friend William Morris diverged. It was a slow and patient process of making your own connections into a past period, which I then had to draw my readers into with me.”

Research is clearly where MacCarthy gets her buzz. “There’s no replacement for tracking the actual steps your subject took,” she said. “You can’t simply do it all on the Internet, and by following his steps I could see and feel how his journeys influenced his art.”

When Burne-Jones split with Morris through his allegiance with the Socialist League, writing those chapters brought her close to tears at the end if each day. “Biographers are in the business of teasing out relations and suggesting tensions, and of unravelling hidden mysteries. The twists and turns Burne-Jones’s characters, I found endlessly intriguing.”

The writing of the book changed its writer in other ways too, when just after MacCarthy had finished the research, her husband died. She recalled how he had been “laid out like King Arthur in one of Burne-Jones’s paintings. I couldn’t write the book for another year after that.”

MacCarthy revealed more sadness when she stated, “Burne-Jones waited far too long for understanding and success to come his way, and as his biographer you develop a relationship with your subject so that by the end, I found myself feeling very happy for him indeed.”

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