The Glass House by Jody Cooksley

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What is a life without Art and Beauty? Not one that Julia chooses to live. And so she searches the world for both, discovering happiness through the lens of a camera.

A fictional account of pioneer photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, and her extraordinary quest to find her own creative voice, The Glass House brings an exceptional photographer to life.

From the depths of despair, with her relationships strained and having been humiliated by the artists she has given a home to, Julia rises to fame, photographing and befriending many of the days most famous literary, artistic, political and scientific celebrities. But to succeed as a female photographer, she must take on the Victorian patriarchy, the art world and, ultimately, her own family. And the doubts are not all from others. As Julia’s uneasy relationship with fame grows into a fear that the camera has taken part of her soul, her search leads her full circle, back to India, in her lifelong quest for peace and beauty. A poignant, elegant and richly detailed debut.

My thoughts

This is a fascinating insight into the life of a pioneer in her field, Julia Margaret Cameron. Although told from a fictional point of view, what is known about her life is incorporated into this book. I was intrigued enough to Google search her and read more about her and her family as they were so convincingly written I felt as though I knew them. It was also interesting to see some of the particular photos that were referred to in the book.

Julia faced a lot of prejudice as she struggled to make her art and search for Beauty be taken seriously, first in her oil and watercolour painting and then in her soft focus photography. In her time the Arts were solely the domain of men and prospective new artists could only be confirmed as such by men. I could feel her frustration at being continually disregarded and belittled because the results she strove for did not meet the accepted norms of the time.

Oddly enough, in the book at least, although Julia was an outspoken rebel with a cause when it came to fighting for the right to be taken seriously despite being a woman I thought it was strange that with very few exceptions she put her female models into female stereotype roles.

I really liked the way her character was written, and also those around her. I could feel their love and frustration at the way her passion for what she was doing overrode everything else, resulting in some relationships suffering as a result. And the author has a beautiful way of capturing the essence of the places she lived: India, England, the Isle of Wight, and Ceylon.

I’d not heard of Julia Margaret Cameron before reading this book but I’m glad I have now as she had such an interesting life and contribution to modern art photography.

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