Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How Bubbles beat Hitler

Two weeks ago Disgruntled Radical complained about the anachronisms in Desperate Romantics.
I almost rushed to the defence of the series - I had already praised it because it presents such a refreshingly different view of the Victorians. Anyway, I am sure that Shakespeare's plays are full of anachronisms and no one thinks any the worse of them for that.

In the right hands anachronism is almost an art form. In The Sword in the Stone, T. H. White's long, itemised description of Merlyn's cottage ends with "a complete set of cigarette cards depicting wild fowl by Peter Scott". But then Merlyn was living backwards through time, so he had every excuse.

As Desperate Romantics has gone on, however, my own doubts have set in. I salute it for not making Ruskin a simple figure of fun, but if the Brotherhood had been having such energetic sex so often they would surely not have been able to paint at all.

And the time scheme of the series did worry me last week when Millais produced a sketch for "A Child's World", better known as "Bubbles" - painting he did no complete until nearly 40 years after the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded.

The use of that painting is the key to an interesting little piece of history. The child model was Millais' own grandson Willie James. The use of the bubble as a symbol of the transience and fragility of youthful beauty and innocence was already well established, and Willie's subsequent career bore this out more than anyone could have imagined.

For, as Admiral William Milbourne James, he became head of naval intelligence during World War II. He was known as "Bubbles" throughout his naval career. He was also Conservative MP for Portsmouth North between 1943 and 1945, and wrote a book vindicating his grandmother Effie, who was Ruskin's first wife.

But thanks to Desperate Romantics you all know that.

1 comment:

james.graham said...

You are strangely silent on his downward slide and relationship with Michael Jackson.