From the early 1820s until 1829, young Manx artist Amelia Jane Murray (1800–1896) rather obsessively painted fairies—smartly dressed and not overly active tiny creatures, that is, who reclined on feathers and stems and leaves as if they were chaise longues. Her fairies rode upon bats, bees, moths, and dragonflies; relaxed atop shells, on the backs of seabirds, and inside curving, flowering leaves that skimmed through the water; and occasionally swung in hammocks made of cobwebs strung among the blooms. They might perch on a snail on a rosebud, holding a leaf like a parasol. Like miniature Snow Whites (the Disney version), they are friends to all living creatures … except every living creature is their chauffeur—because these miniature fashionistas do not like to walk or use their wings, ever. Why should they?

Murray herself was from a privileged background. Her family once held sovereign rights to the Isle of Man, where she grew up, and her uncle was governor there. We imagine she may have preferred to hang out with spiders and snails and owls. Or not. No one knows much at all about Murray’s inner life, except that she created this exuberant art in her twenties. She stopped in 1829, when she married a man twenty-nine years her senior and moved to Fife, Scotland, to live with him and his six children.

Amelia, now Lady Oswald of Dunniker, ended up having two children of her own and long outliving her husband. She never (as far as we know) painted fairies again. But who can say what she might have left sealed in an attic, being guarded by an eclipse of moths, covered in cobwebs?

Her art passed through four generations of descendants before it was published for the first time in 1986, in a small, unassuming volume called A Regency Lady’s Faery Bower, alongside a short history of her family, snippets of poetry from Shakespeare and the like, and eternal questions such as this one: “Why, it is pertinent to ask, should a young lady in her twenties be so drawn to this unusual subject?”


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Carolyn Turgeon is the author of five novels, most of them fairy tales, and the editor-in-chief and co-owner of Enchanted Living. She also penned The Faerie Handbook, The Mermaid Handbook, and The Unicorn Handbook, all from HarperCollins.