North’s gardens
Redemption and the return to origins
in Julia Margaret Cameron’s ‘fancy subjects’
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In 1874, Cameron left England for Ceylon, and two years later, when the painter Marianne North visited her, both women produced works of art in each other’s presence that expressed cultural displacement and embedded political commentaries on exoticism, cultural inferiority, and dependence. The final chapter examines the work of both artists in relation to their confrontation with colonialism. Cameron’s imagery is examined as both a ‘return to origins’ and an act of redemption. Cameron’s photograph depicting Marianne North looking up from reading George Eliot’s recently serialized novel, Daniel Deronda, is analysed in depth, arguing that the photographer included this book in her portrait of North as an important symbol because of the significance of Eliot’s work, which helps to ground the two women in place and time, as well as mark the colonialists’ conflict in larger terms. Eliot’s book is connected to Cameron’s photography, in which the search for a mythic return to origins is measured by the artists’ effort to reclaim a ‘lost’ and foreign land, all in view of extending the nation’s borders on the political map as an act of redemption.

Julia Margaret Cameron’s ‘fancy subjects’

Photographic allegories of Victorian identity and empire

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