I can’t say for sure, but I think the first time I ever saw something remotely Pre-Raphaelite was in elementary school upon visiting the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. It very well could have been this painting, though I’m not sure when it was acquired. Regardless, I remember returning from the museum on an absolute high, my mind alive with the images I’d seen and thrilling at the prospect of such visual imagination.
Throughout college, I learned a great deal more about the Pre-Raphaelites, and they and their brotherhood (and sisterhood, et al) continued to crop up during my Arthurian studies.
And the more I read of Arthur, the more books and romances and poems I crammed into my head, the more I wanted the vision of the Pre-Raphaelites. Malory is fun, but he is also quite brutal. Even T.H. White on his best day can be a little laughable, a little more distant. I could never find that “true” telling that I was looking for, that pure Arthurian vein.
When I sat down to write Queen of None I was simply working a retelling of the story of Arthur, his knights, and his family; in a way it’s the Masters thesis I wish I’d done. But it became abundantly clear, as I was writing, that the female-driven storyline was in many ways a vision much in line with the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. Hwyfar, the scarlet-haired, earthy seductress; Gweyn, so rounded and lovely and sad; Morgaine, dark and severe; and of course, Anna, Arthur’s sister, another golden child. Their faces are so striking to me in my mind, their clothing so resplendent and sumptuous…
I digress a bit. While I wouldn’t ever say that Queen of None is not, technically, medieval, it is however a medieval vision through the eyes of the Victorian, as well as through my own. It’s almost utopian in that the religious aspect is mostly eradicated and, at least I’ve attempted, to convey a sense of visual depth. Free from historical timelines, fashions, and customs, I’ve concentrated on one thing: characters and stories. Because, well, there are lots and lots of them.
My sources have been all over the place. I mean, we’re talking about almost 1500 years worth of poems and romances. But because I’m just looking at the stories, I totally cherry picked. I had thought I was going for a more pure retelling at first, since Anna herself is in that first wave of Arthurian characters along with Gawain, Bedevere, Cai and other early well-known folks.
But all along the way I’ve been surprised, and I want to share some of the insights I’ve had with you.
Throughout the month of December, I’m going to be writing a little series on rewriting Arthuriana. Next up will be “Loving Lanceloch” – a look at what happened when I to exclude my least-favorite knight, only to find that he shouldered his way into the story and, in the end, became one of my favorites.
Suggested Arthurian texts for the curious among you:
The triune – Start with Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (good translations are easy enough to find) – then move to Tennyson’s take on Malory, with his own Victorian colorings in Idylls of the King and, finally, see what T.H. White does to the whole story in his brilliant The Once and Future King.
Photo by Lisa Fotios