Arresting Beauty


Just Washed Ashore!

Author: Heather Cooper

ISBN-13 : 9781913894160 (Hardback), 9781913894153 (Paperback), 9781913894177 (eBook)

Publication Date: September 30th 2023

RRP: £20.00 (Hardback), £10.99 (Paperback), £5.99 (eBook)


Copies available at the following physical retailers:

Dimbola Museum and Galleries (Freshwater, Isle of Wight)

Isle of Wight Traders (Newport, Isle of Wight)

Medina Books (Cowes, Isle of Wight)

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‘Beggars can’t be choosers. They really can’t.’

Based on true historical events, Arresting Beauty follows the extraordinary story of Mary Ryan, who was found begging on Putney Heath at the age of ten by the celebrated Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Julia takes Mary into her magnificently bohemian household, to be trained as a maid and educated alongside her own sons, before becoming an assistant, muse and model for Julia in many of her pioneering photographs.

When Julia decides to move to Freshwater in the Isle of Wight, to live close to her great friend Alfred Tennyson, Mary—clever and rebellious—finds herself uncomfortably poised between two worlds—that of a servant girl in one, and in another, artistic assistant to Julia and befriending the likes of Tennyson, battling class and attitudes of the time to fulfil her own goals and perhaps even find love.

A sparkling historic romance novel based on a true-life story.

Look Inside

Have a look inside and read the first chapter of Arresting Beauty.


‘…The arcadian setting of Julia’s home, Dimbola, on the Isle of Wight, is so compellingly described that the reader would want to visit. Here Julia’s august friends, appealing children, tradesmen and servants are transformed into figures from mythology or literature by the aid of drapery and homemade props, to become the images for which Cameron was both admired and derided; the physical process of Victorian photography is so vividly got across that it can be touched and smelled. Tennyson is the nearest neighbour; he doesn’t so much flout convention as appear not to notice its existence. Dodgson, Lear, Darwin, Rossetti and the Carlyles appear; there is an appealingly acerbic cameo of Jane Welsh Carlyle. But poor Mary learns that she forms part of this world only on sufferance – until she meets Henry Cotton. Cooper writes lyrical prose, and her research is impeccable. The sitters in Cameron’s photographs move and speak.’

Read the full review at The Historical Novel Society

Katherine Mezzacappa, author of historical fiction and reviewer for The Historical Novel Society


‘Based on real people, this reels with romance, period atmosphere, and the spirit of a young woman who teeters between her working-class roots and bohemian high society in Victorian England… With a rich cast of characters, top-notch dialogue and vivid sense of its protagonist’s conflicts and desires, Arresting Beauty is a fine example of biographical fiction.’

Read the full review at LoveReading

Joanne Owen, Editorial Expert at LoveReading


‘Cooper’s intelligent prose matches her bright, plucky, unpretentious heroine, Mary Ryan, who finds herself serving as parlourmaid in the household of Julia Margaret Cameron. Here she meets the great and the good—Tennyson, Browning—and becomes a model for her maverick mistress’s pioneering photography. Cooper, like her character, respects society’s luminaries rather than idolizing them, preferring to focus on Mary’s private ambitions for self-improvement and security in a world where women, especially those ‘in service’, are unlikely to achieve either. This is a ‘below stairs’ book, not a celebration of the literati. The narrative is beguilingly simple, making Mary’s rapid social progression pleasingly credible, and always engaging. The reader yearns for Mary’s success, and with some nods to Austen along the way, Cooper delivers.

For anyone who knows and loves the Isle of Wight, there had to be a right way to tell the story of life in Julia Margaret Cameron’s Dimbola Lodge, and Tennyson’s Farringford, and Cooper has found it. ARRESTING BEAUTY is a gem.’

Read the full review at Dominic Minghella’s blog

Dominic Minghella, Writer and Producer


‘Meticulously researched, but also adds psychological insight into Mary Ryan’s inner determination, in her ascent from poverty to ladyhood. I am viewing Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs of Mary with added insight into her strength of character.’

Dr Brian Hinton, Chair, Julia Margaret Cameron Trust


‘…If you are curious about Mary Ryan’s life with photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron and her clan, there are lots of wonderful chapters between the maids: Mary Hillier and Louisa as they get to know Mary Ryan. Heather Cooper very wisely describes the set up of photographs where Mary Ryan became the sitter and all of the home life situations that occur within the walls of Dimbola Lodge.

This is a love story at heart, though. So, if you came for the romance it’s here in page turning beauty. From start to finish you will meet a few of MaryRyan’s suitors before Henry Cotton sets his eyes on his true love. It is a tender love story told with a realism that could only come from orphaned beggar girl turned housemaid turned photographic sitter and assistant…’

Read the full review at Kimberly’s Victorian Musings blog

Kimberly Eve, Independent Researcher at Victorian Musings

Author Events

Book launch

Date: 30th September 2023

Place: Dimbola Museum & Galleries, Terrace Lane, Freshwater, Isle of Wight, PO40 9QE

Time: 5pm to 7pm.

Free event with suggested £3 donation to JMC Trust. The exclusive signed hardback edition will be available at the event priced at £20 RRP published by Beachy Books.

Facebook Event Information

OnThewight Event Info

Making Waves

Beachy Books – Press Release about signing Heather Cooper’s Arresting Beauty

OnThe Wight – Article about book launch

Island Echo – Local Author Launches New Novel Inspired by the World of Julia Margaret Cameron

Isle of Wight County Press – Isle of Wight author’s new historical romance novel launch

About the Author

Heather Cooper

Additional information

Dimensions 153 mm

9781913894160 (Hardback), 9781913894153 (Paperback), 9781913894177 (eBook)

Publication Date



Beachy Books

Number of Pages



Hardback, Paperback, eBook



BIC Subject Name

HISTORICAL FICTION, Historical romance

BIC Subject Code


Rights Territory

UK & Commonwealth (excl. CA)