Afterimage, by Helen Humphreys
This quiet novel features three Victorian-era introverts. Isabel Dashell, modeled after British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, is an irascible workaholic in pursuit of beauty. Eldon, Isabel’s husband, is a bookish mapmaker whose poor health has kept him from a life of Arctic exploration. Annie Phelan, whose character is based on Cameron’s frequent model Mary Hillier, completes the cast.
Annie works as the Dashells’ maid, and finds that the eccentric pair are less concerned with household upkeep than with their own pursuits. Isabel practically lives in her darkroom, covered in collodion and silver nitrate, and co-opting anyone she can find into sitting for photos. Her servants fit in their chores around hours spent motionless in the cramped studio. Meanwhile, Eldon retreats into his own flights of fancy as he and Isabel grow further estranged. Posing for Isabel and reading Eldon’s books, Annie starts to explore her own identity, mourn family lost in the Irish famine, and reshape her faith.
Although we glimpse broader themes like art world sexism and social class, the book mainly explores the relationships between the trio. Much like Cameron does in portraits, Humphreys keeps a soft focus and an intimate frame. She carefully places her subjects in aesthetically pleasing configurations. It’s a little slow at times, but meditative, purposeful, and dreamy.
The 214 in 2014 series chronicles every book I read in 2014. Each review contains exactly 214 words, because 2014 words is too long and 2014 characters is too dang short. And yes, this review is backlogged from 2014.
Want more of my book reviews? Click here!