Describe Beauty in Thorns in three words:
Art. Love. Betrayal.
Beauty in Thorns is noted as being “a gorgeous tribute to the riches of the Pre-Raphaelites’ art, their unconventional bohemian lifestyles, and their ability to shock and shake up Victorian society”. To that end, you’ve fashioned the novel to be told from the perspectives of four women in the Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood. What sparked this concept for you and why did you feel it important to bring life to this particular story?
I loved the art & the aesthetic of the Pre-Raphaelites ever since I discovered them as a romantic adolescent, and was soon fascinated by their lives as well. I read a great deal about them, and bought many pieces of their art and design over the years. My interest was re-ignited when I was studying my Doctorate of Creative Arts a few years ago, and wrote a chapter on William Morris and his fairy-tale-inspired poetry. I began to read about them again, just for interest’s sake, and then one day stumbled upon the extraordinary love story behind Edward Burne-Jones’s obsession with ‘Sleeping Beauty’. It is a fairy-tale that is very much concerned with female power, and so I knew that I wanted to tell it from the points of view of the women involved. It was a really fascinating project, since the mid-19th century was such a time of protest and change, particularly in regard to women’s rights.
You’re renowned internationally as an expert in the field of fairy tale retellings, what in particular led you to this unique manner of storytelling?
I’ve loved fairy tales & fairy tale retellings since I was a child. I first studied them as an undergraduate, which fed my interest. After finishing my Masters of Arts, I wanted to go on and do my doctorate but I had three children in quick succession and so I waited until they were all at school before returning to further postgraduate study. I had wanted to write a retelling of Rapunzel for a long time, and it seemed to be a fitting subject for a doctoral thesis. I wrote my novel Bitter Greens as the creative component and a mythic biography of Rapunzel as my theoretical component (called The Rebirth of Rapunzel, it has since been published along with a number of essays on fairy tale, folklore & fantasy). My doctoral research led me on to write other novels that were in some way inspired by, or connected to, fairy tales, including The Wild Girl which tells the story of the forbidden love affair behind the Grimm Brothers’ collection of their famous tales.
What was your biggest challenge in writing Beauty in Thorns?
There were so many so many wonderful paintings with intriguing stories behind them, and so many fascinating women of the time whose lives I would have liked to have explored. I had to focus on my core narrative else the book would have been three times as long!
Was there anything in particular that shocked or intrigued you whilst researching this novel?
So many things! The story of how Dante Gabriel Rossetti buried his manuscript of poetry with his dead wife, then had her body exhumed seven years later to retrieve them. And how he then became a recluse, living in a shuttered house behind high walls with an extraordinary menagerie of animals including a wombat. How William Morris’s wife Janey had been brought up in a slum, the daughter of a groom and an illiterate laundress, but was sent away to be trained as a lady once she became engaged to him (she was the inspiration for Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady’). And, of course, Edward Burne’-Jones’s obsession with the Sleeping Beauty fairy-tale which he returned to again and again over the course of his life.
What’s next for you?
I plan to start a new novel very soon! It will be set in the late 17th century in France and China.
About the Author:
Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel aged seven & has now sold more than a million books worldwide. Her most recent book, Beauty in Thorns, is a reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty set amongst the passions and scandals of the Pre-Raphaelites. Other novels include Bitter Greens, which won the 2015 American Library Association award for Best Historical Fiction; and The Wild Girl, the story of the forbidden romance behind the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales. Named one of Australia’s Favourite 15 Novelists, Kate has a doctorate in fairy tale studies and is an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers. Kate is also a direct descendant of Charlotte Waring Atkinson, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia.
Beauty in Thorns
A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets.
The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention.
Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be racked with grief and scandal.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum.
William Morris fell head-over-heels for a ‘stunner’ from the slums, seventeen-year-old Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.
Meanwhile, fifteen-year-old Margot Burne-Jones was her father’s muse. He painted her as the ‘Sleeping Beauty’, a fairy-tale that had haunted him all his life. Yet Margot was growing up, and longed to be awakened to love.
Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.