Effie Gray


Last night a film titled ”Effie Gray” was broadcast on TV. Based on a real scandal that shocked Victorian England, the film tells the story of Euphemia “Effie” Gray, the woman who married the most influential art critic of the age, John Ruskin.
Just after the marriage, John takes young Effie  away from her parents in Scotland and deposits her into his family home in London. The couple has to live with his parents who control everything, and the young woman is repeatedly denigrated by his over possessive mother. She feels isolated and unhappy in the repressive atmosphere of the Ruskin family. In addition, her husband shows no interest in consummating the marriage and refuses to discuss the subject.

Lonely and frustrated Effie, grows ill with neglect, losing her hair and retreating into inexpressible misery. Her doctor advises fresh air and more attention from her husband. Therefore she can spend some time in her native Scotland with her husband,  and Millais, one of the Pre-Raphaelites, and Ruskin’s protégé, who is to paint his portrait. The painter supports Effie, and becomes increasingly disturbed by John’s indifferent attitude to her. The two fall in love but in a culture where divorce is forbidden, this presents a problem.
Effie finds a friend and champion in Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, the wife of the influential president of the Royal Academy and she finally gathers up  the courage to defy the rules of Victorian society after five long years trapped in that  loveless marriage.  She is  examined by a doctor, who confirms her virginity, therefore her lawyer is able to tell her the marriage can be annulled.
One day Effie leaves for Scotland, supposedly to accompany her young sister, who has come to keep her company but, in reality, to leave John forever. Before quitting London, she communicates with Everett via her sister and the painter promises he will wait for her.
In the last scene we see Ruskin’s family, horrified when Effie’s lawyer arrives with a notification of annulment proceedings on the grounds of John’s impotence.


John Everett Millais – 1855


15 thoughts on “Effie Gray

  1. the hypocrisy of Victorian society has always disgusted me: in many cases a woman had already died alive. Brave Elfie … an interesting film, a faithful portrait of the society of the time. good afternoon… V.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. In an artiche on The Guardian, I read that Ruskin stated, “… though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it.”
      The artice contunues :”Those “certain circumstances” have been the cause of much salacious speculation. The reasons mooted range from his aversion to children, his religious scruples, a wish to preserve Effie’s beauty and to keep her from exhaustion so they could go Alpine walking, to a revulsion with body odour and menstruation. Effie herself was the inadvertent source of the most famous of explanations: Ruskin, she said, “had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening”. From this emerged the canard that Ruskin, used only to the smoothness of classical statues of the nude, was repulsed by the wedding-night revelation that Effie had pubic hair. It may not rival Cleopatra’s nose, but poor Effie has gone down as the possessor of the most famous genital coiffure in history.”


  2. […] Euphemia Gray, affectionately known as Effie, met John Everett Millais while she was the wife of John Ruskin, the great artist, architect, poet and political thinker of the Victorian age. Five years had already passed since their wedding but she was still a virgin, Ruskin had persistently put off consummating the marriage because he had been shocked by a flaw in her beautiful body. (see here) […]

    Liked by 1 person

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