It’s 1848, and William Holman Hunt has just been accepted to study at the prestigious London Academy of Art. However, he resents the overly prettified, sentimental landscapes that litter the annual Academy Exhibition. He wants to create art that imitates life-all the color, confusion and even ugliness. A few like-minded young men, most notably John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, share Hunt’s views, and together they form a group called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Like any revolutionary group, the PRB has plenty of naysayers, including the vehemently jealous traditionalist Frank Stone and his more famous compatriot Charles Dickens; Lee litters her novel with mentions of these and other notable artistic celebrities of the period, such as Keats, Tennyson and Wilkie Collins. Her novel-a quick read despite the hefty page count-features many detailed descriptions of the Brotherhood’s artwork, and it could have benefited from an illustrated appendix with paintings shown rather than merely described. Nonetheless, Lee has a talent for making the minutest artistic details sound interesting. She also has a historian’s accurate eye for the period, but she doesn’t allow those details to bog down the story and turn it into a dry, purely factual text. The artists of the Brotherhood are portrayed with distinct personalities, styles and beliefs, which, in the novel’s central dramatic vein, affects their struggle to remain united in the face of adversity. Anyone interested in the culture of Victorian London will find plenty to celebrate.
The wave of revolutions that swept through Europe in 1848 had a mirroring social movement in England when a group of young art students at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Art banded together against what they saw as the staid visual conventions of the day. These young men -William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti – form the so-called Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and set about revolutionizing the 19th century art world, all the while helping each other through crises of family and finance, facing the confusion and outright opposition of the art critics and intelligentsia of the day. On its face it seems unlikely seed-grounds for a dramatic historical novel, but through sharp pacing and some extremely sensitive character study, Lee pulls it off. Her awkward, immensely talented young artists are all dramatically drawn and expertly differentiated, and her midcentury London is so vividly drawn that readers will feel like they’re seeing and hearing the chaotic world in which these men strive and laugh and seek to establish their careers. Lee’s book also brings alive the famous Pre-Raphaelite works Hunt et al created; her readers will never look at those works the same way again. Highly recommended. – Historical Novel Society Reviews, Steve Donoghue
“He longed to be living in Paris, or Munich, and have a gang of like-minded friends who would build barricades, march in protests, print pamphlets, and proclaim against injustices. See what could happen if you just tried? If you were united in a cause, you could overthrow a government, expel foreign invaders, topple kings. It filled his daydreams and fed his art.”
It’s not hard to imagine Elisabeth Lee as she writes her coming-of-age novel, placing herself squarely in the midst of the nineteenth century and envisioning, perhaps even relishing, the world in which her young protagonists live. Young PRB transports us to mid-Victorian London where on the cusp of revolutionary change, young students William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Everett Millais immerse themselves in their studies at the Royal Academy. They explore and imitate the art of the masters before them while their own youth beckons them to discover their true passion and new ventures.
As they compete with each other, trying desperately to please their instructors and win lucrative spots on the wall for their art exhibition, the three young men gradually form a friendship and discover amongst themselves common beliefs and interests. Their newfound friendship and shared dissatisfaction for the conformity in art binds them together and they create the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB for short). Fueled by dreams and revolutions, the brotherhood allows them the opportunity to explore the art they are most passionate about and to freely blaze new paths with their own work. They daringly choose to present their works at the Royal Academy of Art but, to their dismay, the world rejects them. With nothing but criticism for their efforts, they are denied the passion and vision they hoped to inspire the world. Wounded and vulnerable, their friendship through the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood provides the support and kinship they need to overcome the harsh realities they reluctantly face in the emergence of their adulthood
Lee certainly knows her history and vividly brings to life the elegance of mid-Victorian London with a glimpse into the varied lives of these remarkable young men. She even offers her artistic talents, boasting a beautiful book cover with her own artwork and her website offers more of this gorgeous art to accompany excerpts from the novel. Once you begin reading, you know you’re in the hands of an adept storyteller. Lovers of history, young and old, will no doubt appreciate and be illuminated by Lee’s tale. Recommended – US Review of Books, Dylan Ward
YOUNG PRB, by Elisabeth M. Lee, is a fascinating novel, a study of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who hope to turn the clock back and continue with the work started earlier by artists who brought a lead white, light-filled touch to painting. It is a beautiful book, a literary volume, and an interesting read even for those who are not well schooled in the study of art history. The young artists come alive in this book, and I am amazed at their young age and what they achieved for men not yet at the height of their abilities. I very much liked the cover and printing of the book. It is easy to read, comfortable to handle, and makes the reading a delightful experience just by the feel of the book in one’s hands. This is an accomplishment of which you can truly be proud. It may not be a John Grisham type of book that will gain a large audience, although it should do very well, but it is a masterpiece of history, character study, etc. It is well plotted, and filled with interesting characters and events. I truly enjoyed the reading experience. – Judge, Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards