The Crimson Bed: Loretta Proctor
I found myself abandoning TV and other distractions in order to spend more time in the sometimes-sad, sometimes-funny, always absorbing world created by Loretta Proctor, author of “The Crimson Bed.”
The reader is carried into the movement of the Pre-Raphaelites, those famed Victorian artists, through wanna-be Henry Winstone and his rich patron-friend, Frederic Ashton Thorpe. Henry is thrilled to acquire a coveted commission: he is to paint the daughter of wealthy Joshua Farnham. Not only does this bring him needed cash, it also provides him with a lovely subject in young Ellie. When Frederic Thorpe sees the work in progress, he falls in love and will not rest until he’s wrangled an introduction through Henry. The rest is history.
Ellie and Frederic’s marriage is destined to suffer challenges, as both possess embarrassing secrets neither wants the other to know. These secrets eventually erode the relationship, aided by Frederic’s rather vicious-minded mother.
The author’s knowledge of this period in history and artists, both real and imagined, is impressive, as is her understanding of the artistic techniques used by the Pre-Raphaelites. I admired her ability to create a real, vibrant, colorful Victorian world. If you like E.M. Forster, Edith Wharton, or Jane Austen, you will probably enjoy “The Crimson Bed” very much, but in one aspect this book is different. The author doesn’t shy away from or gloss over the earthy aspects (the hypocritical underbelly) of life in Queen Victoria’s London. As far as accuracy goes, this book never disappoints, yet happily never bogs down into preaching, explanation or endless description. Unlike many modern books and movies that give action and plot their entire attention and neglect to flesh out the characters, “The Crimson Bed” fulfills all three requirements.
This book is many things: a romance, a historical, a character study. It is also a subtle yet unvarnished look at Victorian mores, beliefs, fears and hypocrisies; this exploration makes “The Crimson Bed” a work that resonates into our modern times. Its protagonists are realistic, flawed, alternately good and selfish, nice and mean-spirited. Ellie, Frederic, Henry, Alfie and the others are a slice of real humanity well worth getting to know.
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