We are reaching the end of the series of “Desperate Romantics” – just one more to go, and I for one am glad – I don’t think I can take much more of it. I’m really glad that lots of people out there have enjoyed it, because the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is an interesting subject – and indeed there are grains of truth to be found in even the more salacious aspects of the programme. And it has made me laugh, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, I suspect. But there are so many crucial flaws in the programme, and it is so self-consciously saturated with sex, that it is difficult to relax and enjoy it if one knows anything about the subject. Of course, the PRB were rebellious, and probably DG Rossetti did have that much sex; it’s just that there was rather more painting going on than the programme implies. And while his poem “Jenny” was indeed written about a prostitute, what the programme doesn’t really show is that it is actually a very interesting and seriously-thought-out poem which provided genuine social commentary on the double standards of contemporary constructions of gender.
I am still rather disappointed by the absence of Christina Rossetti – I suppose she just wasn’t sexy enough; the quiet sister who wrote poetry – and indeed I should probably be thankful that she hasn’t been paraded with her assumed lesbianism (one of the potential readings of “Goblin Market”, though not one I agree with). And I am still concerned with the creation of Fred Walters, who was invented by the writers because the other potential narrators (William Michael Rossetti, Fred Stephens, Walter Deverell) had too much “backstory” of their own. Which may be true, but now Fred Walters has his own, what with writing articles to promote the PRB, and falling in love with Lizzie Siddal, among other instrumental roles. I can’t stop myself from shouting at the TV, “You don’t exist!”
Of course, so many people who do exist have been left out. I appreciate that the other four members of the Brotherhood (WM Rossetti, FG Stephens, James Collinson and Thomas Woolner) probably seem less sexy than Rossetti, Hunt and Millais, but this programme does suggest that the PRB only had three members (plus the later hangers-on, Burne-Jones and Morris). But then, “Desperate Romantics” is clearly very much the Rossetti show; the others are only supporting actors – which is probably how the man himself saw it, but art historians usually disagree with this. Aidan Turner is just a little too desperately romantic, I think; the women are more sensitively portrayed. The factual errors are too numerous to mention – and, to be fair to the writers, I think are usually there deliberately for dramatic purposes – but it is all misses the point for me; as far as I can see, the PRB, for all their preoccupation with sex, with drinking and laudanum, baiting Ruskin and whatever else they do on “Desperate Romantics”, were all about the art, and that is just missing here, and leaves a gaping hole.