Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Desperate Anachronisms

I have been watching the BBC's Desperate Romantics about the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (to be precise, about the leading pre-Raphaelites as all the others don't get a look-in). I have been enjoying it despite the suspect dialogue. Did Rossetti really frequently exclaim "shit". Don't misunderstand. I'm not objecting to the coarseness. I simply doubt that it was the expletive of choice in the 1850s.

The latest episode went beyond the substitution of modern Atlantic dialect for mid-Victorian upper class speech. It was historically innaccurate. The brothers suspect that Ruskin is trying to arrange adultery between his wife Effie and Millais in order to begin divorce proceedings against her. His marriage was actually annulled in 1854 and she married Millais in 1855. At that time divorce required a private Act of Parliament, which may have been beyond Ruskin's means. Divorce through the courts only became available in 1858. In the same programme Holman Hunt refers to Rossetti's libido, a term which didn't come into use until Sigmund Freud developed psycho-analysis forty years later. If the writer Peter Bowker can't be bothered to get his history right, surely the BBC also employs researchers and script editors.

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