‘Who is Maud Franklin?
And expected to play her part.’
Mrs Whistler is a novel by art historian and author Matthew Plampin. Published on 3rd May 2018 by The Borough Press, it is described as ‘stunning and suspenseful, a story of one woman’s progress through a world of beauty and sacrifice, art and ambition; a story which asks what we will withstand for love, and what it means to reach for greatness.’
I have no knowledge of the art world so I knew that this would be a rather unconventional read for me but that’s one of the many reasons I love to blog…it encourages me to read outside of my normal genre.
I would like to thank Harper Collins Ireland for my review copy and I do hope you enjoy my unbiased and voluntary review..
About the Book:
‘Maud could tell the whole story, but she will not’
Chelsea 1876: Jimmy Whistler stands on the cusp of fame, ready to astound the London art world with his radical paintings. At his side is Maud Franklin, his muse, lover and occasional pupil, sharing his house, his dazzling social life and his grand hopes for the future.
But Jimmy’s rebelliousness comes at a heavy price for them both as he battles a furious patron, challenges an influential and viciously hostile critic and struggles with a dire lack of cash. Before long a fight for survival is being waged through the galleries, the drawing rooms and even the courts – and Maud, Jimmy’s Madame and closest ally, is expected to do her part.
The Madame has problems of her own, however. Maud has fallen pregnant, and must now face the reality of what life with Jimmy entails. As the situation starts to unravel, as loyalties are sorely tested and bankruptcy looms, she has to decide what she wants. Who she is. What she is prepared to endure.
I must mention immediately how absolutely stunning the cover of Mrs Whistler is. I received an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) which does vary slightly from the final cover, but I nearly hugged it when I opened the packaging. A thing of beauty!!
Based on the fact that the author, Matthew Plampin, lectures on nineteenth-century art and architecture, it should be no surprise that the main protagonist of the novel is based on the life of an artist, that of James Abbott McNeill Whistler and his muse Maud Franklin. Also known as Jimmy Whistler, he was an American born artist who travelled to Paris to study art and to follow his dreams.
Mrs Whistler focuses in on his years spent in the UK with Maud Franklin, his mistress and his muse. Maud was English born and her relationship with Whistler was fraught with tension and intense drama. His treatment toward Maud was quite harsh, yet she remained with him through some very tough years. Children were never on the cards for the pair and when Maud discovered she was pregnant, she was terrified he would leave her. He didn’t but she did have to hand her child over to a foster family to be reared by a different woman. Maud knew that her life with Jimmy Whistler was not one that welcomed the intrusion and disturbance that children would bring so she sacrificed any chance of motherhood and remained loyal by his side. Maud Franklin quite simply loved Jimmy Whistler but his treatment toward her was most certainly not deserving of her love.
In researching for his novel, Matthew Plampin, had difficulties in piecing together the life of Maud Franklin. In his own words ‘Maud’s experience is a striking gap in a history that is elsewhere immensely detailed, albeit filled with contradictions and inconsistencies. My manipulations are largely those of focus, various minor spats and skirmishes having being omitted or consigned to the edges of the narrative’ Using his own expertise as a historian and his skill as a writer, he created Mrs Whistler, wrapping it’s story around factual details of a man who became known in the art world as a proponent of ‘art for art’s sake’
Jimmy Whistler famously sued the leading art critic of the Victorian era, John Ruskin, for libel. The book delves into some of the details of the case, as Whistler gathers his troops and challenges the competency of a man famous for his artistic intellect and experience. Maud Franklin is supportive of Whistler’s claim and stands by his side through the trial, even though they are basically paupers at this stage living off the generosity of others.
Mrs Whistler is a novel combining fact and fiction, giving the reader a little insight into a time of tumultuous change. James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Maud Franklin had two children together, both babies fostered out. Their relationship was too fraught with emotion and intensity to last. With the excessive lifestyle and the squandering of any money that came their way, it was a relationship doomed to fail.
Matthew Plampin offered me a peek into a world that I have no knowledge of. I have no doubt that there are many who might disagree with what has been written or who might dispute certain facts but for a complete art novice like me it was quite a fascinating read. At times I did struggle with the content but that really is down to my own ignorance of the subject. Definitely not an easy read and certainly not a book that I would consider mainstream but a book that I am very glad to have read. If I ever find myself in a situation where I am in the company of an artist I can speak a little of James Abbott McNeill Whistler and that can only be a good thing!!
Curious. Interesting. Passionate.
Purchase Link ~ Mrs Whistler
Matthew Plampin was born in 1975 and lives in London. He completed a PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art and now lectures on nineteenth-century art and architecture.
He is the author of fourprevious novels, The Street Philosopher and The Devil’s Acre, Illumination and Will & Tom.
Twitter ~ @MatthewPlampin