Portrait of a Forbidden Love
Bronwyn Scott’s Portrait of a Forbidden Love is the first in her The Rebellious Sisterhood series, and it begins with artist Artemisia Stansfield in front of the board of the Royal Academy waiting to learn if her late father’s nomination and recommendation for her admittance is to be granted. Because she’s a woman, they try to turn her down, but when she protests, they agree to a compromise and give her four months to prove herself worthy of admission to by adding some more “mature” paintings to her portfolio. She’s been showing paintings in the Summer Exhibition for several years, so the idea of having to prove herself is insulting, but she realises that if she’s to get what she wants, she needs to go along with it. She’s furious, however, when she learns that the Academy has given Darius Rutherford, Viscount St. Helier and art critic, the task of watching over her as she adds those paintings to her portfolio. What she doesn’t know is that Darius has been instructed to uncover “illicit behavior” on Arta’s part – even to seduce her if he must – so the members of the board can use it against her and reject her application.
Arta decamps to her aunt’s old cottage to begin work, and Darius, annoyed at having to leave London, follows her shortly after. Once there, he begins making a pest of himself, starting with tricking Arta’s younger sister into showing him Arta’s works in progress. Arta tells Darius he may watch her paint and then proceeds to hide from him for a few days. Eventually, they settle on a sort of truce and he begins watching her paint regularly. Having previously been told he had no talent and stifling any creative urges, Darius begins drawing again after being inspired by Arta’s passion. Their attraction slowly begins to unfold as they spend time together.
I really struggled with this story. The beginning pulled me in because I felt Arta was a strong woman willing to fight for what she wanted, and I really liked that about her throughout. I also found it interesting that Darius is titled but is also an art critic. Otherwise, however, this book really dragged. There is very little dialogue amid page after page of the characters’ thoughts, often the same ones. It’s very much a telling-instead-of-showing type of narrative, and there didn’t seem to be much of a plot present, either.
Despite pages of internal thoughts, I couldn’t tell you what drew these two characters together. Darius is physically attracted to Arta pretty much from the beginning even though she doesn’t reciprocate at first. I’m not sure what he liked about her otherwise, because she didn’t seem to have much of a personality. And the main thing I found interesting about Darius was his past as an aristocrat’s son wanting to be an artist. I generally love enemies-to-lovers tales but this one just didn’t do it for me, partially because Arta and Darius stop being ‘enemies’ so early on in the story.
When I started reading Portrait of a Forbidden Love, I expected an entertaining enemies-to-lovers tale that slowly developed into a sensual romance. Instead, it was more a tale of insta-lust and repetitive inner monologues.