In her newest historical romance novel, ‘Arresting Beauty’, Cowes author Heather Cooper explores family, romance, Victorian culture and self-realisation through the previously unheard voice of a young girl called Mary Ryan, known as both Julia Margaret Cameron’s parlour maid and muse.
Published by Beachy Books, this fantastic celebration of real voices from real women highlights a part of history which has become all too forgotten.
The novel is based on the real-life Mary Ryan, who was found begging on Putney Heath at the age of 10 by the celebrated Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
Whisked into her eccentric world of bohemian culture and rigid class disparity, Mary finds herself poised between 2 worlds – that of a servant girl in 1, and in another, artistic assistant to the Cameron and socialising with Tennyson and his circle, while battling attitudes of the time to fulfil her own goals and perhaps find love.
“‘I’ve long been an enthusiastic fan of Julia Margaret Cameron and her work. I often noticed a particularly interesting face among her photographs – the face of a young woman whom I learned had been Julia’s parlour maid.
“When I also read that this girl, Mary Ryan, had begun her life in extremely impoverished circumstances – in fact as a beggar child – I began to imagine her story told in her own voice.”
The novel is already gaining great reviews from notable people including Island screenwriter Dominic Minghella who said:
“The reader yearns for Mary’s success and, with some nods to Austen along the way, Cooper delivers. For anyone who knows and loves the Isle of Wight, there had to be a right way to tell the story of life in Julia Margaret Cameron’s Dimbola Lodge, and Tennyson’s Farringford, and Cooper has found it. ‘Arresting Beauty’ is a gem.”
Cooper’s earliest interests in the novel arose through her very own contributions in preserving history as she goes on to explain:
“I became a supporter of the campaign to save Dimbola from near demolition. Julia was such a pioneer – a woman taking photographs at such an early stage in the art of photography -and it would have been unthinkable for her house to be destroyed.
“We still owe so much to that amazing band of volunteers who managed to rescue the house and create the vibrant museum and arts centre it is today. Julia herself was a most extraordinary personality and the ‘Tennyson Circle’ of which she was part was a wonderful, eccentric, colourful group of people.”
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The launch will be on on Saturday 30th September at Dimbola between 17:00 and 19:00.
It is a free event with a suggested donation of £3 to the JMC Trust. Refreshments will be available.
Heather will be signing hardback copies of Arresting Beauty which will be on sale priced at £20.
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