A Profound Secret : May Gaskell, Her Daughter Amy, and Edward Burne-Jones, Paperback Book

A Profound Secret : May Gaskell, Her Daughter Amy, and Edward Burne-Jones Paperback

5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


A chance encounter with Andrew Lloyd Webber at a summer party sent Josceline Dimbleby on a quest to uncover a mystery in her own family's past.

Her great-aunt Amy Gaskell was the subject of a beautiful dark portrait by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, but all that was known about Amy, according to family lore, was that she had 'died young of a broken heart'.

In her search, Josceline discovered a cache of unpublished letters from Burne-Jones to her great-grandmother May Gaskell, Amy's mother.They formed a passionate and prolific correspondence, of up to five letters a day, from the last six years of the painter's life.

As she read, more and more questions were raised: why did Burne-Jones feel he had to protect May from an overwhelming sadness?

What was the deep secret she had confided to him? And what was the tragic truth behind beautiful Amy's wayward, wandering life, her strange marriage and her unexplained early death?


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Painting & paintings
  • ISBN: 9780552999816

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

A fascinating book that is beautifully written by Josceline Dimbleby. She obviously inherits May Gaskell's writing ability. The research, letters and photos are so interesting and illuminating. I so enjoyed reading about Burne Jones and his peers. Did not realise that he was Rudyard Kipling's uncle and how close they were! Loved the glimpses of William Morris - another favourite of mine. As I read on in this book (and I do mean IN), I became totally absorbed in the period it describes. Kept wanting to make notes about people, events and places. Certainly need to know more about Georgina Burne Jones so I am going to read a book called the 'Three Sisters'. I did experience some irritation with this somewhat disfunctional, but wonderfully eccentric family. Letters, however beautifully written, can never replace the time a mother spends with her children.

Review by

I wasn't sure whether I would be that interested the history of someone else's family, although I was quickly proven wrong. To start, this family is full of characters, drama, intrigue and different kinds of romance. The book is made even more fascinating though by the inclusion of beautiful black and white photos and flowery, deep, fanciful and humourous letters - especially those written by the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Edward Burne-Jones, to May Gaskell, one of the main characters. They really allow you a glimpse into his mysterious Pre-Raphaelite world and leave you wanting more.From a historical perspective, this book is also interesting and revealing on so many levels as the story of this family spans the period covering the Boer War as well as the First and Second World Wars. Not only that, it gives a real insight into the way the people lived their lives during these times (at least those of the middle to upper classes). I found the romantic friendships reflected in correspondence particularly enthralling. In some ways these people were surprisingly liberal and the women in this book appeared very independent in some ways and would often travel for extended periods alone - was this normal for wealthy women in these times? This book was very readable and captivating throughout. I would definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in British history from major events to daily life (especially during Victorian times) and/or family drama. If you love the Pre-Raphaelites even better!