> Skip to content
Read an extract About the book
  • Published: 16 July 2018
  • ISBN: 9781925324259
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 480
  • RRP: $22.99

Beauty in Thorns




A reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the passions and tragedies of the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists and poets.

The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention.

Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum.

William Morris fell head-over-heels for a ‘stunner’ from the slums, Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.

Margot Burne-Jones had become her father’s muse. He painted her as Briar Rose, the focus of his most renowned series of paintings, based on the fairy-tale that haunted him all his life. Yet Margot longed to be awakened to love.

Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.

  • Pub date: 16 July 2018
  • ISBN: 9781925324259
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 480
  • RRP: $22.99

About the Author

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and has since sold more than a million copies around the world. Her books include Bitter Greens, a retelling of Rapunzel which won the 2015 American Library Association Award for Best Historical Fiction; The Wild Girl, the story of the forbidden romance behind the Grimm Brothers’ famous fairy tales, which was named the Most Memorable Love Story of 2013; and The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ set in the underground resistance to Hitler in Nazi Germany. Recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite 15 Novelists, Kate Forsyth has been called ‘one of the finest writers of this generation’. She has a BA in literature, a MA in creative writing and a doctorate in fairy tale studies, and is also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers. Read more about her at www.kateforsyth.com.au

Also by Kate Forsyth

See all

Praise for Beauty in Thorns

“A vibrant historical novel that reimagines the lives of women who inspired Pre-Raphaelite artists. The Pre-Raphaelite circle embraced free love and unconventional beauty, and Forsyth delves into the passions and travails, aspirations and tragedies of women intimate with artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Beauty in Thorns does for the Pre-Raphaelite muses what Tracy Chevalier's Girl With A Pearl Earring did for Vermeer's; if you're a fan of the genre, you'll love it.”

Cameron Woodhead, The Age

“Kate Forsyth's new book Beauty in Thorns is stuffed with facts about the Pre-Raphaelite painters and their models, and she has created a really vivid world that pulls the reader in with fascinating details about their work, and the extraordinarily complicated way they lived. Most interestingly the author spends time imagining the lives of the wives of these artists - the doomed Lizzie Siddal, beautiful Jane Burden and the really long suffering Georgiana McDonald who married Edward Burne-Jones when he was just Ted Jones. A very enjoyable and highly informative book that brings a whole arts movement to life.”

Louise, Gleebooks Gleaner

“For fans of historical fiction and the Victorian era, this is a soul-satisfying read, keeping you up late at night, desperate to know the fate of Rossetti's tortured lovers, Lizzie Siddall and 'Janey' Morris. The beauty of this story is it's changing perspectives between the women of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, giving themvoices they never had in life, as objects only of the male gaze. Beauty in Thorns is an engrossing read, from start to finish. Forsyth does not rush her heroine's stories and she beautifully charts their lives, loves and tragedies, against a backdrop of Victorian social proprieties and the impossible situation of women in a man's world. The meticulous research that has gone into the drawing of these women, enshrined in the art of their day, adds an authenticity that will sweep the reader along and quite possibly spark an obsession for all things Pre-Raphaelite.”

Weekend Notes

“Forsyth has woven a powerful and dramatic account of love, passion, betrayal and fixation. Forsyth takes us along a twisting, tortured path - of wives who became famous models, of cuckolds in need of comfort and of those who understood it all.”

Riverine Herald

“Kate’s writing style smooth as silk. But only after I had emerged from the reading experience did I fully appreciate the artistry of this novel’s structure. The depth of characterisation and story layering achieved makes for enthralling reading. Forsyth delivers such nuance in the way each of the women approach their relationships and life’s challenges. She does not shy away from sadness and loss. If anything it is her exploration of these themes in Beauty in Thorns that make her narrative so compelling, and in context only serves to elevate that which was achieved by this pioneering group of individuals. And the interactions and linkages between this novel’s leading characters and other great influencers from that time period, incl. George Eliot and Rudyard Kipling, are amongst the many treasures to delight readers along the journey. And lastly, the imagery within Beauty in Thorns and literary and poetic symbolism… rampant and exquisite.”

Joanne P, Booklover Book Reviews

“'All my dear Ned ever wanted to do was awaken the world with beauty . . . That is what I must tell' Georgie Burne-Jones This is how the story ends and now I am feeling a little sad and lost, I have turned the book over and am no longer immersed within the pages of this rich and beautiful world of the Pre-Raphaelites, yet I have the haunting feeling that I won’t be able to quite shake the ghosts of the people who populated this story off, at least for a while. Forsyth has captured the world of the Pre-Raphaelites with deft, exploring their world of beauty, drawing from their riches: their world of painting, drawing, tapestries, embroidery, prints and poetry. The rich and beautiful legacy they left the world to enjoy. Forsyth has brought to life their day to day life, the intricacy of their relationships with one another and the outside world. Their unconventional bohemian lifestyles and their ability to shock and delight their Victorian patrons and society at large. She has captured the highs and lows, the emotional investment of the artists and those who were part of their lives – their family, wives, lovers, models and muses, patrons and critics. And the importance of beauty, beauty in nature, beauty in people, beauty in recreating the written word into a visual dialogue. Beauty in Thorns is truly a delightful story, bringing to life the rich and colourful world of the Pre-Raphaelite artists with such clarity and charm, you feel you are part of their world. Her descriptions are beautifully drawn and her characterisation is true to what we know of them and Victorian England. This will be such a joy for booksellers to hand sell, and for those who loved A S Byatts’ Peacock and Vine, that we published last year, a chance to immerse themselves once again in the beauty and art of the Pre-Raphaelite world.”

Stef Hoy

“Forsyth's heroines are just as lively and passionate as their male counterparts, adding an element of intrigue that is not always found in historical fiction. The blending of such strong characters, combined with Forsyth's captivating interweaving plot lines, is admirable. I'll definitely be reading more of her work. Whether you're a fan of historical fiction. or just looking for something different, give Beauty in Thorns a go.”

Jackie Smith, Good Reading magazine


Discover More

Book Clubs
Unlock some fairy tale magic with Kate Forsyth’s reimagining of Sleeping Beauty.
Article
Kate Forsyth reflects on the fairy tale beginnings of Beauty in Thorns.

Related titles