May and Amy

Written by Josceline Dimbleby
Review by Helene Williams

The subtitle of this fascinating book goes far towards explaining its topic: “A True Story of Family, Forbidden Love, and the Secret Lives of May Gaskell, Her Daughter Amy, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones.” For years, Josceline Dimbleby had passed by the drawing of a young woman that hung in the stairway of her father’s home; one day, she was told the artist was the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones and the beautiful woman was her great-grandmother, May Gaskell. Thus began a long period of research into photo albums, diaries, letters, and archives to reveal a deep but probably platonic relationship between Dimbleby’s great-grandmother and Burne-Jones. Along the way, she discovered much about May’s adored oldest daughter, Amy, an ethereal beauty who had died young, supposedly of a broken heart. Amy’s interest in travel, mysticism, and spirituality drove her to live apart from her family and her husband. Readers will be easily drawn in to Dimbleby’s family saga, which is well-documented with excerpts from letters and diaries as well as Amy’s photographs from England and the Far East, and Burne-Jones’s artwork. The late Victorian and Edwardian periods are splendidly evoked and may well inspire readers to investigate their own family stories.