Manuscripts and Special Collections

Effie Ruskin in the Marlay Collection

March 7th, 2011 at 08:03

In a previous blog posting I described the early-19th century correspondence of the Countess of Charleville with many female authors. The late 19th-century papers in the Marlay Collection are focused around the Countess’s daughter, Catherine Louisa Marlay, née Tisdall (1796-1882), and her son Charles Brinsley Marlay (1829-1912). Like the Countess of Charleville, they moved in aristocratic circles in London and Europe, and their correspondence reflects their place in society and their interest in art and culture. It includes a remarkable series of letters from Effie Ruskin, some of which were written around the time of the annulment of her marriage to the art critic John Ruskin.

C.B. Marlay seems to have met John Ruskin in March 1851, thanks to his interest in Ruskin’s paintings (My 2647). Effie recalled to Marlay that she had met him at the Great Exhibition opening day, 1 May 1851, through Lord Glenelg (My 2614). They were well acquainted by 20 August 1851 when Effie sent a letter (My 2610) to Marlay to express regret that they had missed each other at Chamonix, and to give kind greetings to his mother. In October Marlay met them in Venice and spent most mealtimes with the couple. Effie’s letters describing this time are published in Mary Lutyens (ed), Effie in Venice: Mrs John Ruskin’s letters home, 1849-52 (new edition, Pallas Editions, 2001), pp. 198-199. The Marlay Collection contains a further 12 letters sent by Effie to Marlay between December 1851 and April 1853 (My 2611-2617).

In June 1853 Ruskin and Effie went to Scotland for the summer with Ruskin’s protegé, the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais, and his brother William. Millais fell in love with Effie, while painting a portrait of Ruskin standing by a waterfall at Glenfinlas. Very few letters written by Effie from Scotland have survived; most of those written to her mother appear to have been destroyed (Mary Lutyens, Millais and the Ruskins (John Murray, 1967), p. 53). But the Marlay Collection contains two, one dated 27 July (My 2618) and one dated 27 September (My 2619). The earlier letter describes their small cottage:

We are here in a very nice cottage where Mr Ruskin sleeps on the floor, Mr Millais in a place where he can open the door, pull flowers from the Hill and do every thing without the trouble of leaving his bed, I have another such hole, and our servant Crawley who passes his time in trying to catch Trout suspending himself from the rocks in true Cockney style with attitudes so unlike a Highlander that it is impossible not to laugh.

The next letters from Effie date from February and April 1854 (My 2620-2625), when she was secretly making plans to leave Ruskin. On 25 April she served him with a suit for an annulment of their marriage on the grounds of non-consummation. The details of the annulment were kept from the general public at the time, many of whom were greatly shocked when she married Millais a year later. However, close friends knew why Effie’s marriage had been so unhappy. Effie wrote to Mrs Marlay on 13 May 1854 (My 2626) describing the progress of the suit and the support that she had received:

I have had such masses of the kindest & tenderest letters that these services of comfort and support from the wise and good I have received as blessings sent in the midst of the trial to cheer me.

Mrs Marlay was as intrigued by Effie and her story as anyone else, and in September 1855 wrote two letters to C.B. Marlay, describing a visit she had made to Effie’s parents’ house in Scotland, on the off-chance of seeing Effie (My 2671 and My 2672). Effie was there, and told Mrs Marlay everything about her marriage to Ruskin, details which Mrs Marlay eagerly passed on to her son.

C.B. Marlay did not approve of Effie’s conduct in marrying Millais so quickly (My 2151), but kept in touch with her. Four further letters from Effie to C.B. Marlay and his mother survive, dated 1860, 1864, 1872 and 1873 (My 2627-My 2629, and My 3329).

All of the letters are available for researchers for consult in our Reading Room at King’s Meadow Campus.

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