Lucy Ella completed her PhD at the University of Surrey in 2015, before joining the School of Literature and Languages as Teaching Fellow in 2016 and Lecturer in Victorian Literature in 2017. Her doctoral studentship, awarded by the University of Surrey and Watts Gallery (Surrey) in their first collaboration, supported her research on women in nineteenth-century creative partnerships. These included Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Mary and George Frederic Watts, and Evelyn and William De Morgan. Lucy Ella has worked extensively on the Mary Watts archive at Watts Gallery and assisted the transcription of her diaries for publication.
Lucy Ella specialises in Victorian literature, art, culture and feminism (their connections and intersections), with an interest in late-Victorian creative partnerships, focusing on neglected female figures. Her publications include a monograph, Suffragist Artists in Partnership: Gender, Word and Image (Edinburgh University Press, 2017), and book chapters and articles on Victorian women's life writing, visual culture, artistic marriages, creative circles and early feminist networks.
Areas of specialism
University roles and responsibilities
- Social Media+ Coordinator
Affiliations and memberships
Public engagement talks
- Lecture for the series Watts & His Circle, Watts Gallery, Surrey, September 2017: 'The Wattses and Women's Suffrage'
- Talk at the launch of Surrey Museums Month: Women's History, Lightbox, Woking, April 2017: 'Mary Watts: Pioneering Surrey Suffragist'
- Lecture for the Pre-Raphaelite Society, The Birmingham and Midland Institute, February 2017: 'The Art of Evelyn De Morgan: the Metamorphic Mermaid'
- Lectures for the History of Art and Design Course: Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, Watts Gallery, Surrey, May 2016: 'Elizabeth Siddal' and 'Christina Rossetti'
- Lecture for the Arts and Crafts Movement in Surrey (Autumn Lecture Series), Watts Gallery, Surrey, November 2015: 'Pre-Raphaelite Poetry and Painting: the Creative Partnership of Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.'
- Co-organising conference, Centennial Reflections on Women's Suffrage and the Arts: Local, National, Transnational, University of Surrey, 2018.
- Co-organising Surrey University's flagship International Women's Day event, Ferguson's Gang, 2018.
- Academic Advisor on the Mary Watts and Suffrage display, Watts Gallery, 2018.
Rose wrote text for the exhibitions William and Evelyn De Morgan (2012 - 2013) and The Making of Mary Seton Watts (2013 - 2014) at Watts Gallery, and gave the first of the Curators' Tours of the latter.
- Victorian fiction
- Visual culture
- Women's life writing
- Creative partnerships, circles and networks
- Women's suffrage
- Feminist and gender theory
- Victorian fiction
- Visual culture
- Women's life writing
- Creative partnerships, circles and networks
- Women's suffrage
- Feminist and gender theory
In 2016-17 I am teaching:
- Gothic to Goth
- Understanding Drama
- Understanding the Novel (convenor)
Lucy Ella welcomes enquiries from doctoral students interested in working in any of these areas.
This article explores the subversive representations of women and death – and specifically the ‘M/Other’ – by the eminent Victorian artist George Frederic Watts (1817–1904) and his lesser-known wife Mary Seton Watts (née Fraser Tytler, 1849–1938). Using a historicist-feminist approach which combines an awareness of historical context with an application of twentieth-century feminist theory to nineteenth-century visual texts, this paper explores: the neglected works of Mary Watts in relation to the more famous paintings of G.F. Watts; the Wattses’ conjugal creative partnership; their progressive socio-political positions; and their (proto-)feminist works featuring the mother figure. These are all understudied areas in existing scholarship on the Wattses. Through a comparison of Mary and G.F Watts’s visual works in relation to those of their contemporaries, this paper aims to show how the Wattses supported and promoted female emancipation and empowerment through their art, thus reclaiming them as early feminist artists. Central to the originality of this paper is the primary focus on Mary Watts, who has been historically overshadowed by the dominant critical focus on her husband, ‘England’s Michelangelo’; the socio-political (and specifically, feminist) influences, messages, subtexts and functions of her work have never before been explored in detail.
This piece focuses on Mary Watts’s (1849–1938) gesso ceiling designs at her Surrey studio-home ‘Limnerslease’, showing how she developed a unique symbolic iconography that celebrates cultural diversity and divinity in its widest sense. It uses her largely unpublished diaries to shed light on her views on John Ruskin (1819–1900), religion, spirituality and aesthetics, offering insight into an understudied Arts and Crafts masterpiece that preceded her celebrated Watts Chapel, Guildford.
Symbolist craftswoman Mary Seton Watts (née Fraser Tytler) (1849–1938) and ‘England’s Michelangelo’ (Blunt 1989) George Frederic Watts read John Ruskin’s works in their reading alcove, known as the ‘niche’, that Mary designed for the sitting room at their Surrey studio-home. The couple named this abode ‘Limnerslease’: ‘limner’ being Latin for ‘artist’ and ‘leasen’ being the Old English word meaning ‘to glean’, in the hope that golden years of creativity would be gleaned there. Ruskin’s writings were often comforting or thought-provoking bedtime reads for the couple. They were enchanted by his concept of nature’s divine powers in his work The Queen of the Air (1869), which Mary gave to her husband for his 74th birthday. The Wattses held Ruskin in an almost religious reverence among the ‘great preachers’, championing his ‘great gospel’ and ‘beautifully holy mind’.1 George Watts told Mary (as he stepped into his bath) that he thought ‘Ruskin had perhaps the most original mind of all the great men of his day’. The many references to Ruskin’s works in Mary’s diaries—the majority of which remain unpublished—reflect his deep influence on the couple’s thinking as a leading art critic of their day. They also illuminate the private sacred conversations that took place not only between artists but also between husband and wife.
Novelist, short story writer and poet Christina Liddell (née Fraser Tytler) (1848-1927) is one of the many neglected non-canonical women writers of the nineteenth century. Despite her fame during her day and her familial and professional connections to Victorian celebrities, including Julia Margaret Cameron, she is now relatively unknown and no study of her currently exists. She is herself a silence in the archive. It was Christina who introduced her artistic younger sister Mary to ‘England’s Michelangelo’ George Frederic Watts, facilitating and remaining at the heart of one of Victorian Britain’s most famous conjugal creative partnerships. Indeed, George called for Christina on his deathbed, and she is now buried beside the couple. This article explores their unconventional triangular relationship and analyses evidence of their eroticised interfamilial creative partnership, which reconfigured hegemonic family structures and represented a progressive if not radical approach to gender and marital politics. Through a reading of Mary’s private diaries alongside her published biography or quasi-hagiography of her husband, this article investigates censorship, suppression and silence in the form of textual subtexts, ambiguous intimacy, dying words and hallucinations, secret parentage, missing diary pages and posthumous interventions. It addresses omissions in auto/biography and in the archive, bringing previously unseen material to light and illuminating institutional silence. Combining literary, art historical and theoretical perspectives, it analyses neglected diaries, auto/biography and letters alongside poetry, paintings and photographs in order to offer insight into the untold complexities of Victorian familial relationships and sexualities. This article uses Victorian women’s life writing to explore the complex interconnections of married couples, adult sisters and sibling-in-laws, offering a broader understanding of filial bonds, conjugal arrangements and eroticised relationships in the long nineteenth century.
This interdisciplinary, historicist-feminist paper (combining literary and art historical perspectives as well as an awareness of historical context and an application of recent feminist theory) explores the feminist affiliations of the Victorian artists Mary and George Watts, focusing specifically on their close friendships with the writer and women’s suffrage supporter George Meredith and the women’s rights worker Josephine Butler. It introduces the Wattses’ own anti-patriarchal conjugal creative partnership before investigating their relationships with Meredith and Butler through a reading of Mary Watts’s unpublished and hitherto untranscribed diaries (which record their interactions) as well as a discussion of George Watts’s paintings (particularly his portraits of Meredith and Butler in his ‘Hall of Fame’). This paper thus offers an unprecedented insight into the Wattses’ personal and professional relationships as well as their progressive socio-political positions, reclaiming them as early feminists who were part of a wider emergent feminist community. This paper’s discussion of the Wattses, Meredith, and Butler provides new perspectives on the connections, works, and views of these public literary, artistic, and feminist figures as well as the ways in which they supported and promoted the women’s rights movement that escalated over the course of the second half of the nineteenth century. It thus offers a fuller understanding of these figures as well as of the rise of early feminism in the Victorian period.
While much has been written about the famous Victorian artist George Frederic Watts (1817–1904), dubbed ‘England’s Michelangelo’, the life and works of his wife Mary Seton Watts (1849–1938) are comparatively neglected. Mary was not only an artist and designer but also a writer and diarist, although her diaries have never before been studied. This article explores the Wattses’ conjugal creative partnership through a reading of Mary’s diaries covering their marital years (1886–1904), offering an unprecedented insight into their professional and personal relationship. It not only reveals their facilitating roles in each other’s creative practices, but also the tensions and gender-role inversions in their partnership, challenging traditional perceptions of Mary as George’s peripheral, submissive wife. Unlike her self-effacing published biography of George Watts, Mary’s private life writing reveals her role as a respected artistic equal, intellectual companion and even ‘brutal taskmaster’. This article explores the Wattses’ artistic collaborations, joint reading practice, and life/death writing through a reading of Mary’s long-forgotten diaries, which document her approach to marriage, gender, art and literature. It recovers her culturally-important life writing, traces the emergence of her artistic identity and feminist voice, and reclaims her as a remarkable diarist.
The women's suffrage movement engaged with art in many different ways, enabling campaigners to express their political views as well as generating publicity for the cause. This chapter discusses the movement's engagement with art in terms of literature, the visual arts, music and drama, indicating how early feminist activists worked in these different fields in collective support of the campaign. It provides a brief outline of the women's suffrage movement in the UK and its key organisations, identifying some of the previous scholarship in the field. It also offers an overview of the contents of the volume, concluding with a one-paragraph summary of each of its chapters in turn. The women's suffrage movement, emerging in the second half of the nineteenth century and gaining momentum in the early twentieth century, engaged with art in myriad ways. Art, in its widest sense, enabled campaigners to express their personal ideologies as well as generate invaluable publicity for the women's cause. Sending a postcard of a women's suffrage poster or a photograph of one of the movement's leaders, or serving afternoon tea to one's guests using a china tea set adorned with the colours and emblems of women's suffrage, effectively constituted a political act. In high street shops dedicated to women's suffrage, as well as regional offices, objets d'art and artistic keepsakes (some of them, such as pin badges, reasonably priced so as to attract women of low income) were available as merchandise, providing a useful
While much has been written about the eminent Victorian artist George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), dubbed ‘England’s Michelangelo’, the life and works of his wife Mary Seton Watts (1849-1938) are comparatively neglected. Mary was not only an artist and designer but also a writer and diarist, although her (currently unpublished) diaries have never before been studied. This article explores the Wattses’ conjugal creative partnership through a reading of Mary’s diaries covering their marital years (1886-1904), offering an unprecedented insight into their professional and personal relationship. It not only reveals their facilitating roles in each other’s creative practices, but also the tensions and gender-role inversions in their partnership, challenging traditional perceptions of Mary as George’s peripheral, submissive wife. Unlike her self-effacing published biography of George Watts, Mary’s private life writing reveals her role as a respected artistic equal, intellectual companion and even ‘brutal taskmaster’. This article explores the Wattses’ artistic collaborations, joint reading practice, and life/death writing through a reading of Mary’s long-forgotten diaries, which document her approach to marriage, gender, art and literature. It recovers her culturally-important life writing, traces the emergence of her artistic identity and feminist voice, and reclaims her as a remarkable diarist for the first time.
Mary Watts (1849-1938) was a leading designer of the Arts & Crafts period, the founder of the Compton Pottery and the wife of the great Victorian painter George Frederic Watts (1817-1904). She was also an avid diarist and filled copious volumes - each known affectionately as 'Fatima' - with her musings on art and society and her day-to-day life with an artist at the height of his powers. Never previously published, due to the tiny, almost illegible handwriting, the diary volumes have now been painstakingly transcribed by Desna Greenhow, who has extracted the most illuminating passages for reproduction here. Including detailed annotations, an introductory essay and short writings at the start of each year represented, this book chronicles life in the artistic, literary and political circles of the time, while also providing invaluable insights into Mary's own achievements - most notably her management of the building and decorating of her unique Watts Cemetery Chapel. For all those fascinated by the Wattses and the society in which they lived, this is an invaluable resource that makes an important contribution to nineteenth-century studies.
This is the first book dedicated to examining the marital relationships of Mary and George Watts and Evelyn and William De Morgan as creative partnerships. The study demonstrates how they worked, individually and together, to support greater gender equality and female liberation in the nineteenth century. The author traces their relationship to early and more recent feminism, reclaiming them as influential early feminists and reading their works from twentieth-century theoretical perspectives. By focusing on neglected female figures in creative partnerships, the book challenges longstanding perceptions of them as the subordinate wives of famous Victorian artists and of their marriages as representatives of the traditional gender binary. This is also the first academic critical study of Mary Watts’s recently published diaries, Evelyn De Morgan’s unpublished writings and other previously unexplored archival material by the Wattses and the De Morgans.
- BAVS-funded roundtable paper, The Future of the Victorians, BAVS English Shared Futures conference, Newcastle, July 2017: 'Interdisciplinary Archival Research and the Future of Mary Watts Studies.'
- Reading Art: Pre-Raphaelite Painting and Poetry, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, May 2016: 'Reading the Rossettis' Representations of Women.'
- Silence in the Archives, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, November 2015: 'The Unpublished Diaries of Mary Seton Watts: Struggles, Subtexts and Silences.'
- International Centre for Victorian Women Writers (ICVWW): Reassessing Women's Writing of the 1860s-70s, Canterbury Christ Church University, July 2015: 'Reassessing Christina Rossetti's Poems About Death: a Feminist Issue.'
- Victorian Modernities, University of Kent, June 2015: 'The Rise of the “New Woman” in the Nineteenth Century: the Life and Work of Evelyn De Morgan.'