Julia Margaret Cameron
Regular readers will know I’ve always had a soft spot for Julia Margaret Cameron whom I first encountered many years ago when working as a trainee in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. As a result, I took up an interest in photo-history and the following year I picked photography as a ‘specialist subject’ on my library school course at U.C.L. Back then this involved poring over reference books but also visiting photography exhibitions and libraries, some of whom – including the Ilford photo company out in Essex – were quite perplexed to know why on earth a dim-looking library student had turned up out of nowhere! Moving to Bristol brought the bonus of being close to the Royal Photographic Society (at that time in Bath and now ensconced in Bristol’s creative quarter) but for a while I let all of that slide until I bumped into the Newhaven Calotypes and realised I had met Messrs Hill and Adamson on that first library school foray into photo-history.
And so In the Blink of an Eye was born, but anything to do with JMC has always brought a flutter to my heart. I blogged here about visiting her house on the Isle of Wight and went hotfoot to London to the 2018 National Portrait Gallery exhibition Victorian Giants where I picked up this nice little book as a memento.
Did it ever cross my mind to put Julia into a novel? I think it did, but that moment has passed, because Julia has been very well served by Jody Cooksley in The Glass House which does a great job of fleshing out an unforgettable Victorian woman who in the words of one character ‘could never have done anything ordinary’. We are lucky that in the end she found the perfect medium for her determination to succeed.
The Glass House by Jody Cooksley
The book begins (pace a teasing prologue) with Julia’s early life in which we understand her family background and her crucial meeting on a long voyage with both Sir John Herschel and the man who was to become her husband. As someone eager to get to ‘the photography bit,’ I like the way these early parts are intercut with vignettes from some of her later sitters, allowing us a tantalising glimpse of what is to come.
Before she came anywhere close to that climactic part of her life, Julia had to endure living in the shadow of her younger sister, who married a patron of the arts and lived at Little Holland House in London (Julia and her family had a neighbouring cottage) where she gave a home to the painter ‘Signor’ G. F. Watts. From an early age Julia was determined to become an Artist (the capitalisation made its point but got a bit wearying) but living in an artistic milieu was frustrating when she struggled to put paint on canvas and saw her sister as more interested in celebrity than art (or Art!). Her escape to Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight brought freedom from the suffocation of London but, being Julia, also earning her the enmity of the local society of lady artists. In the end of course her interest in science paid off and the chance gift of a camera as a birthday present set her, despite opposition from the male photographic hierarchy, on the course, she was destined for.
Julia’s life was a series of struggles and her ambition came between her and her ever-expanding family (her realtionship with her daughter is especially poignant). That she lays aside ambition towards the end of the book is an odd little coda which, although entirely historical, I’m not sure belonged in this story. Still, she remains an unforgettable character in whose life photography played a crucial if surprisingly short-lived part and I’m grateful to Jody Cooksley for expanding the very limited insight I had before I read The Glass House.
You can buy the book here and if you want a regular helping of JMC, follow @theglasshousenovel on Instagram
I’m aiming to contiue my photohistroy travels with a report of last month’s trip to Oxford where Bodleian Libraries are still very active in the photohistory field.
One thought on “Julia Margaret Cameron and The Glass House by Jody Cooksley #photohistory #PhotographyinFiction @theglasshousenovel”
An interesting review – I must read this work.
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