Sunday, 21 April 2019

Announcement: My novel is being published!


I’ve been blogging as the Secret Victorianist since 2013, sharing my love of all things nineteenth-century literature and culture. This month I’m delighted to share that a historical novel of my own (set in the Victorian period—of course!) has been acquired by Atria Books, part of Simon & Schuster, for publication in 2020.

Lydia Robinson
What’s the novel about?
Titled Brontë’s Mistress, my novel is based on the true, heretofore untold story of Lydia Robinson and her affair with Branwell Brontë. The novel gives voice to the courageous, flawed, complex woman slandered in Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) as the ‘wicked’ elder seductress who corrupted the Brontë brother, driving him to an early grave and bringing downfall on the entire Brontë family.

When can I read it?
Stay tuned for the exact date the novel will be available for order and pre-order. But it’ll be in 2020.

How can I get MY novel published?
Every writing career is different, but I’ll be sharing blog posts over the next year about my own writing and publication journey. Topics will include conducting research for historical fiction, writing tools, finding a literary agent and more. If you have any burning questions or topics you’d love me to cover please tweet me @SVictorianist.

What about your normal content?
Don’t worry! It’s business as usual. I’ll still be reviewing other twenty-first-century-written/nineteenth-century-set historical novels as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series, covering art exhibitions and theatrical productions related to the period and blogging on the wide array of topics I’ve been writing on for the last six years. If you have feedback about the ratio of writing-related to non-writing-related content, please let me know.

Are you excited?
I am so happy to be able to share this part of my life with you, and my novel itself next year. Reading the experiences of other writers has been invaluable to me as I’ve written my novel and gone through the submissions process. I hope I can be helpful to you too.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Art Review: Boilly: Scenes of Parisian Life, The National Gallery, London


Recently the Secret Victorianist found herself back in London and on the hunt for nineteenth-century culture in the British capital.


‘A Carnival Scene’ (1832)
The National Gallery’s ‘Scenes of Parisian Life’ exhibition is the first dedicated to lesser-known French painter Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845) in the UK. It features around twenty paintings but what the exhibition lacks in scale it more than makes up for in variety, demonstrating the range of Boilly’s subjects and media.

Looked down on as ‘just’ a genre painter in his day without the support of the establishment given lauded neoclassical history painters like Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), Boilly’s output was dictated by public taste and market forces.


'Comparing Little Feet' (1791)

After arriving in Paris in 1785, he did a brisk trade in scenes featuring young woman in elegant interiors, often with a risqué edge. One of these, ‘Comparing Little Feet’ (1791) was on display at the National Gallery. In it, two women strip off their stockings, ostensibly to compare their shoe sizes.

However, in the tumultuous time of the Revolution, Boilly found himself in hot water for his brand of titillating art. He survived with his head but pivoted—to more patriotic subjects, visual illusions and the Parisian crowdscapes for which he is most remembered.


'The Meeting of Artists in Isabey’s Studio’ (1799)
His ‘The Meeting of Artists in Isabey’s Studio’ (1799) (also on view) is a ‘who’s who’ of the Parisian art world at the advent of the nineteenth century, including 31 painters, sculptors and architects and, of course, Boilly himself. Notably, not a single woman is invited to this idealised meeting of the minds, despite the Revolution being an unprecedented period of freedom for women artists.

Crowd scenes featured in the exhibition include ‘The Barrel Game’ (1828), ‘The Poor Cat’ (1832) and ‘A Carnival Scene’ (1832). All depict the colourful menagerie of nineteenth-century urban life, with city-dwellers of every class side by side. Hidden in the paintings are dramatic incidents that provoke a smile—a child grasps at an apple, a man urinates against a wall, a boy picks a pocket, a dog runs off with a carnival mask.


'The Poor Cat’ (1832) 

Boilly’s humour is distinctive, even if his expression in his self-portraits is usually stern. He coined the term ‘trompe-l’oeil’ (a trick of the eye) for works in which uses one medium to imitate another. His painting of crucifix appears 3D, while his signature seems to be pinned beside it, a slightly blasphemous advertisement.


'A Trompe-l'oeil: Crucifix of Ivory and Wood' (1812)
Observing Boilly’s Paris is like reading Dickens’s London. Never has the nineteenth century looked so alive. 

Boilly:Scenes of Parisian Life’ is free and open to the public at The National Gallery until 19th May 2019. Visit if you can.

Do you know of any New York-based nineteenth-century-focused exhibitions you’d like the Secret Victorianist to review next? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.