One of the themes of my novel Love in Lindfield is the possible identity of the woman that Charles Eamer Kempe once tried to propose to. He remained a bachelor but it’s said that in proposing once, his stammer was so bad, the lady finished his sentence in a different way and he never dared try again. One of my long-shots is Georgie Macdonald or Lady Georgiana Burne-Jones as she is better known, later the wife of the pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones. She was one of four sisters born to a Birmingham Methodist family; the others married the painter Edward Poynter, the future PM Baldwin and a certain Mr Kipling (not Rudyard, but his father). She is pictured above in two images by her husband, one a portrait, one with her sisters and below as the model in the picture King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid. She first met Charles Kempe when he was assisting Morris, Burne-Jones and Rossetti on the Oxford Union mural.
Georgie was the rock right at the heart of the pre-Raphaelite movement, but she was an accomplished artist in her own right too, and a Trustee of the South London Gallery and was one of the first women to be elected to a parish Council: Rottingdean, near Brighton in Sussex, the village next to Ovingdean where Kempe was born. There’s a story that I love about her concerning when a mob surrounded her house in Rottingdean at the time of the siege of Mafeking and she had to be rescued by her nephew Rudyard after she’d put out a feisty protest banner: “We have killed and also take possession.”
There’s speculation about whether she had an affair with William Morris, he was certainly a great admirer, and her husband something of a philanderer. But Georgie, herself, seems to me to have been very much her own woman. My speculation about the early meeting with Kempe is just that, although she does write favourably about the impression he made on her. Somehow, I think she might have been just what he needed in a wife but her heart was by then already taken.