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Historical Fiction set in INDIA and THE ISLE OF WIGHT

11th November 2020

The Glass House by Jody Cooksley, historical fiction set in INDIA and the ISLE OF WIGHT – a fictionalised account of 19th century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

Historical Fiction set in INDIA and THE ISLE OF WIGHT

 

Have you heard of Julia Margaret Cameron? No, nor had I, I’m ashamed to admit. Until reading The Glass House, a fictionalised account by Jody Cooksley of the remarkable life of this creative pioneer.

Born in 1815 into a life of colonial privilege, Julia Pattle spent her childhood years in Calcutta, before living in France with her grandmother whilst receiving a formal education. Always somewhat in the shadow of her parents and more socially acceptable siblings, she spent the first half of her adult life trying to fulfil what she thought was her destiny: to be an artist. It wasn’t until her late 40s, by which time she was living in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight and her artistic ambitions had been humiliatingly thwarted, that she embarked upon the path to fulfilment and success.

Journalist and writer Jody Cooksley has long admired the work of Julia Margaret Cameron. In The Glass House, Jody’s first published novel, she has woven together a fascinating, entertaining and often surprising account of the life of a woman clearly far ahead of her Victorian peers, both in terms of social mores and her understanding of the art and science of photography.

Julia is a free spirit from a young age, but feels compelled to prove herself to her family and to the outside world. What is a life without Art and Beauty, she wonders? But despite having access to great artists of the day, such as George Frederick Watts, through her sister Sarah’s salon in London, she fails to fulfil what she believes is her own artistic destiny. A final act of humiliation from a cadre of bonneted watercolourists on the Isle of Wight, led by haughty Lady Caroline Eastner, leads to an apparent suicide attempt:

Their words still rang in Julia’s ears as she ran to the shore. Stumbling on a pile of tide-strewn pebbles, she put out a hand to steady herself against the breakwater and howled at the stars. How could she ever speak to the islanders again? All her plans had dissolved like dreams, leaving her defenceless. A silly, middle-aged woman, filled with the impotent rage of ambition. Only now could she see it clearly.

Salvation comes in the form of her first camera, a Christmas present in 1863 from estranged daughter Juliette. Julia’s interest in this new medium had originally been piqued by astronomer and scientist John Herschel. In 1835, whilst convalescing in South Africa, Julia had met Herschel and also Charles Cameron, an Indian law reformer twenty years her senior, whom she married just two years later.

Using light to reveal the sitter’s inner life is a trick that painters have used for years. It’s a technique I believe other photographers will emulate.

In a frenzy of fresh ambition, Julia converts a chicken coop in the grounds of their Freshwater home Dimbola into her photographic studio. Initially she drags passers by, local farmers, children, anyone into the Glass House to allow her to experiment with her new equipment, forcing them to sit for hours as she plays with chemicals, slides and light. In time, she takes portrait photographs of famous people of the day and then develops a series of tableaux vivants, finally achieving recognition from stuffy governing bodies of the art world. Only with eventual fame does Julia realise that the camera has perhaps taken a part of her own soul, and she and Charles leave Freshwater in 1874 to live out their final years in Ceylon, at peace with life amid the beauty of the Indian sub-continent.

Julia remained a free spirit throughout her life, caring for others less fortunate than herself, adopting children as well as having several of her own, and laughing in the face of many social conventions of the time. The author brings this large personality and intellect to vivid life through what must have been immensely detailed research, combined with fine writing and intelligent interpretation.

Highly recommended, and for lovers of TripFiction vibrant colonial India, stuffy Kensington and open-skied Freshwater are an integral part of the fascinating life of the remarkable Julia Margaret Cameron.

It was the prettiest of days to travel the narrow tracks through green meadows, seagulls wheeling and diving above the neat thatched cottages. As they neared the house, the sun lowered, throwing a pale gold light across the sky and studding the waters with sun-diamonds. Proud to share the view with these newcomers, the farmer stopped at the headland of Freshwater Bay. Fine white sand stretched around a wide curve of shore, littered with small stones and shells, lapped by foam-edged ripples.

“Beautiful”, breathed Julia. Before anyone could stop her, she had thrown off her boots, hitched her skirts and was dancing along the sand….’

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

Jody Cooksley’s bio on the Cinnamon Press website

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