Victorian Sisters: Sample Chapter

Chapter Four

Pre-Raphaelite Experience (1856-60)

Georgie's euphoria following her engagement was tinged with concern that within three months she might find herself on a train heading away from Edward again, for her father's ministry in Chelsea was due to end in September 1856. None of the family wanted to leave London, so the news that the Wesleyan Conference had appointed the Reverend George Macdonald to Hinde Street Chapel in Marylebone was greeted with intense relief.

Life in that part of London was different from Chelsea, but Edith, the youngest in the family, thought it far more entertaining. For one thing there was a mews behind their house in Beaumont Street, where she and Louisa were able to watch the grooms fetching horses out to wash, then schooling them in their street. Other diversions included organ grinders with monkeys, Punch and Judy shows and street tumblers, and on 5 November, with the Crimean War fresh in people's minds, a group of masked figures were carried through on chairs, chanting a contemporary version of the old rhyme:

Please to remember the fifth of November,
Sebastopol, powder and shot,
When General Leprandy charged Jack, Pat and Sandy
And a jolly good licking he got.

Italians carrying plaster casts of kneeling figures, called 'praying Samuels' by the girls, begged for money, and someone, with a show called A Happy Family, pushed around a cart with a cage containing a real cat sitting next to a rat and tried to collect money, but it was Edith's opinion that both animals were drugged. Two beggars particularly attracted the girls' attention. Edith recalled one morning, when they were sitting indoors reading, the cry of 'Kind Christian friends look out of the window, my wife has nothing on!' sent them scurrying to see, but to their disappointment there was only a scantily clad female beggar shuffling down the road with a man.

Edward moved lodgings at the same time as. the Macdonalds, sharing rooms in a house in Red Lion Square, Holborn, with his Oxford friend William Morris. Once the Macdonalds were installed in 17 Beaumont Street, both young men became regular visitors. The Macdonald family accepted Edward within their ranks with surprising alacrity, considering his uncertain career, his High Church views and his involvement with Bohemian artists. 'His sweetness of temper endeared him to them at once, and as they came to know him better his endless sense of fun and treasures of knowledge that he was ready to share with them in ways portioned to their understanding made them adore him.' This gentle, kindly person brought with him the aura of a world that the family could only imagine. Within a short time he was known by his Christian name, included in visits to Mrs Macdonald's sisters and accompanied the family to many Methodist social events. Fulford, whose moods tended to fluctuate, never achieved this position with the Macdonalds; he was always treated as a visitor rather than a future son-in-law, whereas Edward, though never compromising his beliefs, delighted in the female company and the sense of belonging to a family, and was therefore even willing to attend chapel with them. As Georgie sagely summed up: 'The advent of "Mr Edward", as the children called him, was of infinite importance to more than one of them.'

It was Mrs Macdonald's opinion that Edward would gradually be absorbed into their way of life and any wayward tendencies deriving from the art world thus curbed. In the event her predictions were totally inaccurate, for the family were secretly intrigued by Edward's activities and only too willing to be part of them. Thus it comes as no surprise to find that a little over a year after Georgie and Edward became engaged, Mrs Macdonald and the two elder daughters were being entertained to supper at Red Lion Square by Edward, in the illustrious company of William Morris, Gabriel Rossetti, Arthur Hughes and Ford Madox Brown. What was more remarkable was the presence of the Reverend George Macdonald. At first glance it is hard to comprehend how a minister could reconcile the strict Methodist way of life with the unconventional behaviour of the Pre-Raphaelites. Fortunately Mr Macdonald was blessed with a 'live and let live' attitude as well as a genuine interest in the arts. In any case there was probably more common ground between the two sides than might at first be realized. The cult of medievalism which so preoccupied these anists stressed the virtues of a simple life close to nature, a craftsman's pride in his work and the nobleness of chivalry, all of which would strike a sympathetic chord in a Christian. The young men's burning zeal to transform the world was also quite familiar to a follower of Wesley, and therefore Mr Macdonald, usually so absorbed in his ministry, happily found time to talk with these artists. There was no problem in Mrs Macdonald's mind either. She shared Georgie's view that 'the young men were as good as they were gifted', and since many of them were known personally to Harry through the Oxford connection, she considered they were acceptable company for her daughters. Added to that she trusted Edward completely, and if he proposed to take Alice and Georgie to visit a particular artist, no objections were raised.

The girls were not slow to sense this new atmosphere of freedom and determined to take fun advantage of it. One of their early visits was to Rossetti's studio in Blackfriars where Edward was studying painting. Rossetti's flamboyant life-style induded a succession of female models (and rumour had it mistresses), but Alice and Georgie's innocence kept them ignorant, and they looked forward to the meeting eagerly. Edward carefully prepared the ground beforehand lest Rossetti's language or behaviour should shock the girls. Only a few nights before, Rossetti had attempted to widen his pupil's experience by paying a woman five shillings to follow Edward home. 'She came after me and I couldn't get rid of her. I said, "No my dear, I'm just going home" - I'm never haughty with these poor things, but it was no use, she wouldn't go and there we marched arm in arm down Regent Street - I don't know what my friends would have thought,' he reported, though not to Georgie.

Despite Edward's qualms, the girls' visit was deemed successful. Rossetti behaved like a paragon of virtue and continued painting at his easel without uttering a word. This disappointed Alice, who had hoped for some discussion with the poet-painter about the scraps of his verses that Edward salvaged for them to read. In the end, it was the studio rather than the painter which astonished the girls, because they had never expected anything so untidy. Broken furniture mingled with bits of musical instruments and half-finished paintings, and books - those most hallowed of Macdonald possessions - were relegated to propping up easels or were simply thrown out of the window into the Thames as 'things which obstructed life'. Alice found the whole experience exhilarating, whereas sixteen-year-old Georgie felt completely over-awed. 'I wish it were possible to explain the impression made upon me as a young girl whose experience so far had been quite remote from art, by sudden and close intercourse with those to whom it was the breath of life,' she wrote. 'I felt in the presence of a new religion. Their love of beauty did not seem to me unbalanced, but as if it included the whole world and raised the point from which they regarded everything.'

Georgie tried to explain her feelings to William Morris. She first met him at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1855, at which time Morris was more interested in studying a Millais painting than talking to this slip of a girl whom Heeley had introduced. Once in London permanently, though, Morris fell into Edward's habit of spending several evenings a week at the manse. Georgie did not find Morris an easy person to get to know because his manner towards women seemed too brusque, but gradually both came to appreciate the other's character, and a friendship began which lasted throughout their lives. It was a relationship which amounted to love in later years - albeit a chaste love - and has prompted some of Morris's biographers to speculate that Morris always wished he had married Georgiana Macdonald. It is unlikely that Georgie ever regretted marrying Edward, but she had an affection for Morris which was only transcended by her love for her husband.

Georgie's impression of Morris appeared in one of her letters: 'I am sure you would like Morris so much if you came to know him well, he is altogether the most remarkable man I ever saw - I don't say the greatest, though I think him great, but certainly the most remarkable, and I often call myself names for not quietly putting down for the delight of our old age, if we see it, some of his doings and sayings, which are more amusing and interesting than words can tell. He is so comfortingly far from the "bard" in daily life, and yet so remote from the commonplace man.' Mrs Macdonald, too, thought Morris was excellent company since he would discuss literature with her endlessly: anything from Mrs Gaskell's recent biography of Charlotte Bronte to the works of Fouque. She did have words with Morris about keeping Georgie out talking on the balcony until eleven o'clock at night, but once the family's standards were understood, he was always very welcome at the house.

For Alice it was a marvellous opportunity to study poetry with someone she regarded as a real poet, and she listened with rapture to Morris reading aloud from his own works. In return she expected to be given the chance to read hers, but Morris tended to overlook that courtesy. He gave her the nickname 'my lady Alice de la Barde' to the family's amusement, and Alice was rather flattered to discover their private joke appearing in his collection of poems The Defence of Guenevere published in 1858. The younger girls Agnes and Louisa found Morris's long poetic orations a real trial because his noisy delivery, gasping breaths and sing song intonation gave them the giggles. Even his most ardent disciple Georgie recalled 'with shame often falling asleep to the steady rhythms of the reading voice and biting my fingers and stabbing myself with pins in order to keep awake'. Nevertheless, the girls did not want to lose Morris's company, for he had the same sense of humour as Edward, and when both were present, things came alive.

Morris's standing as a poet rose in Louisa's estimation when she found herself included along with her sisters in another of Morris's poems. A watercolour he bought from Rossetti in 1857 portrayed four young girls in a medieval setting playing a keyboard instrument and bore the title The Blue Closet. To Morris the four damozels in the picture were the Macdonald sisters imprisoned in their manse and making music:

Four lone ladies dwelling here
From day to day and year to year.

He began the poem to the evident delight of two girls:

Lady Alice, Lady Louise,
Between the wash of the tumbling seas
We are ready to sing, if so ye please;
So lay your long hands on the keys;
Sing 'Laudate pueri'.

Following the family's curiosity about art, Morris and Jones began to involve them actively. Agnes and Louisa, who had previously been regarded as too young, were now aged fourteen and twelve respectively and eager to be involved in evening discussions or art lessons. Even Frederic was drawn in: as the boy in the midst of many girls, he was frequently overlooked, but Edward went out of his way to include him. Like his sisters, he was invited to Red Lion Square, not only to watch the artists at work, but to experiment with paints himself. He was sometimes given the additional treat - denied his sisters - of being allowed to stay overnight and indulge in the general horseplay and antics, which were quite alien to his home life. Sessions of horror story-telling in the darkened studio, where each tried to outdo the other with more grisly and gruesome tales, were followed by 'Mexican Duel', which was a sort of hide-and-seek played around the unlit rooms until the early hours.

The studio at Red Lion Square was just as untidy as Rossetti's had been: 'a noble confusion', Frederic called it, for it contained all the flotsam of the artists - canvases, pieces of tapestry and drapery, sketch books, bits of Flemish and Italian earthenware, old pieces of metalwork and lay figures were all muddled in with a pair of Morris's boots or one of Jones's hats. If Mrs Macdonald or her daughters were to be entertained, an open space was created, which Frederic said resembled a clearing in a jungle, so that the ladies could be seated at a table near the fireplace. The furniture in the rooms was always a source of amusement because Morris had designed much of it himself and the proportions sometimes got out of hand. The settle he planned was so large when it arrived that it blocked the passageway and had to be dismembered. 'I think the measurements had perhaps been given a little wrongly,' Jones conceded, 'and that it was bigger altogether than he ever meant, but set up it was finally, and our studio was one third less in size.'

Errors like that seemed of no consequence to Alice and Georgie, who, impressed that anyone could design and decorate such an item, felt it an honour to be associated with him. These were memorable days for the two girls, and indeed the whole family: 'I am surprised on employing the ruthless measure of weeks and months to find how short a time the brilliant days of Red Lion Square really lasted,' Georgie mused, 'for on looking back it seems so much longer. But I believe that it made the same impression upon many of us and that every minute then contained the life of an hour.'

From their time there, they gained a clear understanding of art, for Edward proved a particularly good teacher, able to combine serious concepts with a sense of enjoyment. He showed them pictures, prints and engravings of various sculptures and tried to explain what was good and why, and conversely what was bad and why. None of them got bored because the lessons were accompanied by jests, parodies, caricatures and exaggerations; indeed Frederic frankly admitted that Edward became his hero.

Georgie continued to work at her drawing under Edward's tuition, and the younger girls, who were impatient to be doing something positive, began learning woodcuts with Morris. It proved so popular that they saved up to buy their own sets of tools and blocks, and Louisa designed a monogram to be printed on her writing paper, comprising a Gothic L and M intertwined. For her birthday Morris gave her a copy of Albrecht Durer's engravings, in addition to taking her to the Beast Gardens in Regent's Park, and Edward encouraged her art work with talk of jointly producing an illustrated book.

It was a delight to the girls to find themselves appearing in Edward's pictures as well as in Morris's poetry. During the evenings when Edward sat with them, if he was not actively involved in demonstrating something to them, he would quietly get on with his pen-and-ink sketching. Many of the Burne-Jones drawings produced at this time show the Macdonald sisters in such medieval guises as Kings' Daughters, Wise and Foolish Virgins, Going to the Battle and Buondelmonte's Wedding. Mrs Macdonald recorded in her diary that the sketches for The Blessed Damozel, Edward's first commission, were drawn from Georgie on two evenings in February 1857, whilst she sat working at her drawings for Edward. She was naturally his favourite model, but the fourteen-year-old Agnes came a very close second. According to Georgie, Agnes had the sort of symmetrical features which Edward so admired, but it can also be seen from the way he depicted her that he regarded her heavy-lidded eyes as similar to those of Lizzie Siddal, Rossetti's mistress and favourite model. Agnes was at an age when she was very conscious of her looks, and requests to pose flattered her greatly, so that her vanity became a family joke. Edward would tease her gently by pretending that she was really the plainest of the sisters, who needed encouragement to prevent her being overwhelmed by a sense of her own inadequacies. The resultant wheedling and pleading for her to take up a particular stance for him reduced the rest of them to helpless laughter.

Louisa, then aged twelve, was drawn occasionally, as was Alice, though she developed a complex about her looks. Her face was much rounder than the other sisters' and not the type Edward usually liked to draw. She was never a willing subject of the artist or the photographer, put off perhaps by the typically tactless comments of Agnes, who told Alice on one occasion that though it was a good idea to have her photograph taken again, the chances were that it would not be any better, because her face never came out right. In any case Alice was far more interested in Pre-Raphaelite poetry than art, and whilst being prepared to accompany Georgie to any art studio rather than stay at home, she infinitely preferred the long conversations she had with Rossetti about poetry. Her own writing began to flourish. She always felt she was inspired by the ideas of Morris and Rossetti, but a reading of her work would suggest a much greater debt to the melancholy ideas of her mother than anyone else. With a true sense of Victorian melodrama, Alice's verses concentrated on the idea of the lover lamenting the death of his beloved - as in the poem written in 1856:

Once I wished to live,
Now what matters it?
Life had worn that dream
And death scatters it.
Nay, you must not weep, love,
Nothing is amiss,
Press on my pale forehead
One last kiss
So all here is ended
Is this bliss?

Other efforts contain harrowing descriptions of dying:

The pale lips drink, deep soul disturbing draughts,
A deadly sickness fills the sinking heart

until after throbbing pulses and painful breathing:

One pang, one groan and the whole thing is done.

It seems likely that the last painful days of her sister Carrie provided copy for her. These poems, written at the drawing-room table in the manse and read out to artists at Red Lion Square, were then sent on to the Temple Bar and Comhill magazines in the hope of publication. Although rejected in the late 1850s, some of this material did get into print early in the next decade.

Whilst Alice occupied her mind with love poetry, her personal romance was falling apart. It was quite obvious to her family that although nominally engaged to Fulford, Alice showed far more interest in an evening at Red Lion Square (described by Jones as 'a stunner or two to make melody - victuals and squalor at all hours'; scarcely Mrs Macdonald's impression of events!), than in remaining at home quietly sewing in case Fulford should call. The love affair began to disintegrate once Fulford made up his mind to enter the church, gave up his teaching and resumed serious studies. Alice went with her family to his ordination in St Paul's in December 1856, but felt the net closing round her. She was nearly twenty, and once the Reverend William Fulford was settled in as the curate of Camden Town, with sufficient income to support a wife, she knew that he would expect them to be married. But having entered into the life of Red Lion Square, she realized she could never contemplate the role of a curate's wife, and in any event the vivacious Fulford of former years had disappeared. Some time in 1857 Alice broke off her engagement, but for a while Fulford continued to call at the house, hoping she might change her mind and consoling himself by taking Agnes and Louisa to visit the same art galleries and concert halls he had attended with the two older girls. Then to everyone's relief he ceased calling; William Fulford vanished from their lives and those of his Oxford friends.

Heartened by the freedom their mother now allowed them, Georgie determined to visit Oxford, about which she had heard so much. At first Mrs Macdonald had doubts about the enterprise, but as Alice quickly pointed out, Harry was studying theology there and would value a visit from his sisters. Thus, on the first anniversary of her engagement, Georgie found herself again standing in front of another painting, this time Holman Hunt's Light of the World, which was being shown in Mr Combe's house in Oxford. Here was a situation which twelve months before would have been inconceivable. Oxford had become the city of Georgie's dreams from the time Fulford first described it to her. In her imagination it took on legendary proportions as the fount of intellect and inspiration: Oxford was essentially her spiritual home. Even in later years, when her travel experience included the glories of Italy, she could still say that Oxford was her favourite place in the world. She took holidays there, but more significantly turned to this ancient city in time of trouble, when, once more ensconced in undergraduate rooms, she would try to recapture the sense of mysticism and enchantment felt on that first visit.

Georgie approached Oxford in June 1857 much in the manner of a pilgrim entering a holy place, leaving behind her all the petty irritations and jealousies recently encountered on a visit to Edward's old nanny in Birmingham, and instead opening her soul to the beauties of this seat of learning. With her went Alice, not as awestruck, for she was far more down-to-earth. For her, Oxford provided an opportunity to meet some dashing young men, and for a brief time learn something about the world that had been denied her. Edward and Morris naturally went to Oxford with them, and the university held Crom Price and Charlie Faulkner, both known to the girls, as well as brother Harry.

The first few days were spent viewing the city, visiting Edward's old haunts, admiring colleges and chapels and punting on the River Cherwell in idyllic June weather with various undergraduates all eager to entertain. An invitation soon arrived for the girls to stay with the Maclaren family at Summertown, a village outside Oxford. Georgie had corresponded with Mrs Maclaren the previous year to thank her for an opal ring given as an engagement present. The friendship between Edward and the Maclarens grew out of his frequent attendance at Archibald Maclaren's gymnasium in Oriel Lane. Invitations followed for Edward and Morris to call on the family at home, and there Mr Maclaren sought the young man's help. A fairy-story book was being planned for the Maclarens' little daughter Mabel, and Maclaren asked Edward to illustrate it. There was a further reason why Mrs Maclaren wanted to meet the Macdonald girls. Her sister Peggy Talboys had fallen in love with Harry Macdonald, and it seemed that the two families might well become related shortly. Oxford had wrought changes in Harry unbeknown to his family!

Romantic days spent at Summertown in 1857 and again in 1858 seemed to belong to another world. During the hot weather the girls sat in the garden laughing, talking and sketching, or safe in the shade of the orchard eating cherries and telling tales. Evenings passed listening to Edward reading from Malory or Morris reading from his 'Guenevere' poems, with general music-making and merriment. There was no compulsory attendance at chapel, no evening prayers or sensible subdued behaviour, instead the romance of the Arthurian legends dominated their conversation, their writing and their art. As they wandered to the legendary burial site of the fair Rosamund, the two girls felt they were reliving the noble past. But a sudden jolt into the present came with the arrival of the Reverend Macdonald at Summertown, hot-foot from a preaching mission in the county, and bearing a message from their mother that they had been ten weeks from home and were expected back. Georgie reluctantly returned, her head full of Edward's ideas: 'I came back in a delirium of joy. . . . In my mind pictures of the old days, the abbey and long processions of the faithful, banners of the cross, copes and crosiers, gay knights and ladies by the river banks, hawking parties and all the pageantry of the golden age.'

Back in Beaumont Street, the two girls were plunged into the usual domestic problems: Elizabeth Townley, the housemaid, had just been sacked. She had apparently spent the day complaining about her health, but in the evening got very drunk and rampaged noisily around the house. The quest for the holy grail was set aside in favour of the washing, which had begun to mount up. Set against such mundane chores, the company at Red Lion Square became even more magnetic, and the two elder girls sought distraction there. They immersed themselves in the plans under discussion to decorate the Oxford Union building with scenes from the Morte D'Arthur. It was especially interesting to them now that they had a personal knowledge of the building, but within a couple of weeks they found themselves alone, as the young men disappeared to Oxford and Mrs Macdonald refused to let her daughters go back barely a month after their return. It remained a disappointment to Georgie that she never had the opportunity to see the Union painting in pristine condition. Her mother saw it in February 1858 when Harry took her into the building, but by then work was at a standstill. Many of the artists had left, and Edward too had packed up, disillusioned wirh the way the painting had dragged on. He missed Georgie's company, and his health was poor.

The true purpose of Mrs Macdonald's journey to Oxford was to discover the extent of Harry's attachment to Peggy Talboys and to put pressure on him to make sure he passed his final exams with distinction. The time spent with him seemed to do nothing to prepare her for future developments, for several months after her return home a letter arrived from Oxford which stunned the family. Instead of sending news of the anticipated results, Harry admitted that he had never even taken the exams because he had become petrified of failing and bringing disgrace to the family. Instead he proposed to take Civil Service entrance papers, marry Peggy and go to India, as Wilfred Heeley had recently done. His mother was devastated, declaring with great melodrama that on that day she buried all her hopes and was not likely to survive them herself. His father, taking as his text 'I reckon that the sufferings of the present are not worthy to be compared', collapsed during the evening service and was obliged to retire to his bed. Thereafter his health gradually declined, a fact which weighed heavily on Harry's conscience all his life. The episode with Harry was a powerful lesson for Alice and Georgie, although the conclusions they reached were not the ones their parents would have wished. The girls observed it was possible to rebel against parents and chapel and still survive. Although considerably changed, Harry emerged from the affair without being struck down by a thunderbolt. Gone was the self-righteous brother and in his place was a humble, even abject, figure. Both girls saw the misery that compulsory religion had caused and vowed that when they had children of their own there would be complete freedom of religious choice. This they were to adhere to, but paradoxically both Rudyard Kipling and Philip Burne-Jones were later to bemoan the lack of religious guidance in their childhood.

In the short term, one good thing did come out of Harry's misfortune - Alice and Georgie were dispatched to Oxford to discover what had happened and to persuade their errant brother to come home and face his parents. Although their mission was accomplished in a matter of days, they gratefully accepted the Maclarens' hospitality for a further month, whilst the soul-searching continued at the manse. The carefree atmosphere of the previous year was gone: the problems of Harry cast a cloud, as did the ever-present worry about Edward's health. He did manage to join them for a short time, but was obliged to spend much of it lying on the sofa. Earlier in the year, when he returned to Red Lion Square after the Oxford Union painting, he had been confined to bed, receiving daily visits from Mrs Macdonald and her daughters, who attempted to nurse him. But the sudden shock Harry's news caused brought that arrangement to an end, and Mrs Prinsep, the rich, sympathetic mother of one of the Union painters, came to Edward's rescue and carried him off to Little Holland House to be cared for. Georgie lamented not being able to see him, but contented herself that in this opulent house at the centre of fashionable culture Edward would improve. His recovery was such that he was able to join the two Macdonald girls for a few days at Summertown and revive something of the previous summer's charm.

During their absence, Harry decided to postpone his wedding to Peggy Talboys. He had achieved excellent results in the Indian Civil Service exam, coming sixteenth out of sixty-nine, so preparations began for him to go to Asia, establish a home there and then return to collect his bride. Shortly before he was due to sail, as horror stories of the Indian Mutiny outraged England, Harry changed his passage to New York. Within six days he had gone. Peggy remained behind awaiting his return for several years, then, hearing he had taken an American wife, she deemed the betrothal over and married someone else.

Georgie was very unsettled: she could neither take her place quietly in the family, nor resume the lively activities of Red Lion Square. The doors there had closed when Edward stayed on at Little Holland House and Morris became preoccupied with his impending marriage and designs for his home. None of this dampened Alice's spirits; she turned instead to the company of Aunt Pullein in Lonsdale Square. Ostensibly it was to help with her little cousin Kitty, but Alice quickly discovered that the Pulleins led a more exciting social life than the Macdonalds and were quite willing to incorporate her into their social round. She was a welcome guest on account of her singing and witty remarks, but this life was brought to a painful conclusion when she became plagued by toothache. Several weeks of agony followed, and despite liberal doses of wine and morphine, her face became so swollen she could not be seen in public. Eventually she was forced to consult a dental surgeon. Like her father, Alice was always willing to try something new and agreed to have her tooth drawn under the influence of electricity, a recently mooted form of anaesthetic. A letter to The Times in September 1858 claimed the merits of this method over the use of chloroform, which had caused several deaths. Alice's treatment by Mr Olive one month later must tberefore have been in the nature of an experiment. She sat in the chair holding on to a metal arm-rest. Forceps were attached to the offending tooth and at the precise moment of extraction, an electrical circuit was made. It was an excruciating experience, for in addition to the pain of the tooth being pulled, Alice received an electric shock - suffice it to say this type of 'anaesthetic' never became popular!

The year 1859 was enjoyed by none of the sisters. There was a general concern about Harry and a feeling of anticlimax now that the stimulating company of Morris and Jones was less in evidence. The three-yearly move loomed again, and with two consecutive circuits in London they felt sure they would be sent away from the capital. Some of the general malaise affected Georgie. Normally cheerful and uncomplaining, she became rebellious and miserable. The holiday her mother planned for the first time ever was greeted by a refusal on Georgie's part. There were only two months of the family's time left in London, and Georgie intended to spend them as near to Edward as possible. However, after several full-scale family arguments, Georgie had to obey her mother. Her minor victory was the invitation issued to Edward to join them in Kent for a few days on Georgie's nineteenth birthday.

When the family packed up for Manchester that September, Alice and Georgie persuaded Aunt Pullein to let them stay on at Lonsdale Square for a little longer. Listlessly, Georgie moved on to Birmingham for a while and thence to Manchester. Alice remained in London and threw herself wholeheartedly into the Methodist social life in Islington. Within a month she was engaged to an anonymous schoolmaster, then returned to tell her parents the glad tidings. They were not impressed by this whirlwind romance, and her father lectured her on the evils of being a flirt. Her pert reply was to spell out the letters 'P-H-L-U-R-T'. 'What is that?' she asked, with seeming innocence. Although now twenty-two, she was kept under her parents' eyes for several months until they considered that love had gone cold.

Georgie's long engagement drew to a close the following year. Emma Madox Brown, the wife of the artist, felt sorry for Georgie isolated from them all in Manchester and invited her to stay at Fortress Terrace in Kentish Town. She also extended a welcome to Edward. On their arrival, Emma pointed out that they might as well be happily married and penniless as unhappily apart and still penniless. Georgie and Edward needed no further encouragement. In a letter sent to Mrs Macdonald Georgie said that so much of her had already left her mother's kind hands: 'I prayed her now to set the rest free, and she and my father consented, asking Edward no questions, but committing us both to the care of God.' In the year 1860, on 9 June, a day they had always intended should be their wedding date, being the anniversary of the death of Dante's Beatrice, Georgiana Macdonald married Edward Coley Burne Jones in Manchester Cathedral. She was a month short of her twentieth birthday, and he was aged twenty-six.