Title: The Wayward Muse
Author: Elizabeth Hickey
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 293 pgs
Summary: It is the beginning of the Victorian era, and Jane is a very ugly girl. On an outing with her sister, Jane is spotted by two artists that consider her the most beautiful woman in the world, thus changing her life forever.
pg 1 – Jane Burden was considered the plainest girl on Holywell Street, and that Oxford slum was home to many worthy candidates for the title. Mary Porter, who was afflicted with a lazy eye and copious freckles, lived there, just across the street from Alice Cunningham, who had crooked, discolored teeth and thinning hair. Number 142 was the residence of Catherine Blair, whose neck and ear had been horribly burned when she was a baby, and whose left leg was somewhat shorter than the right. But even she was considered marginally better looking than Jane.
pg 2 – But it was her expression that truly made Jane Burden plain. For she seldom smiled, and her green eyes, which might have been considered striking on another girl, were empty. They weren’t sad; sadness could be fetching. They were not grave and serious or soft and pleading or tearful and melancholy. They were blank. Jane’s eyes told everyone who met her of her misery and her despair. They told of a girl who had ceased to hope for anything, who had gone deep inside herself to withstand her lot. It made the others uneasy.
pg 53 – Jane only laughed. Rosetti knew something that the people of Holywell street did not. He knew she was a fairy queen. […] Her silence was now called dignity. Her height and her skinniness were regal rather than ugly.
pg 286 – “What is my mind made of?” asked Jane.
“Oh, I think it’s a willow basket,” said Morris. He put down his pipe and stood up. “Soft and pliable but incredibly resistant. The only way to unravel it would be with great violence and a pair of very sharp scissors.”
Why should you read this book?
Excellent writing, as you’ll find in the excerpts I’ve posted. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite Jane’s character, which makes me respect Hickey even more. Once I realized the plot, I almost put the book away, except Hickey’s writing and depiction of the characters stayed my hand. This book is one of the best fiction depictions of a real Victorian marriage that I have read yet; the main characters are real people, and while the story may not be entirely factual, the plot seems to follow the real time-line faithfully. The writing style is simple yet lush, the scenery vivid, the characters organic and sympathetic. Anyone working on making their characters flawed, especially the main character, should read this book as an example of how to maintain your reader’s interest.