“If she’s as good as I think she is, why has no one heard of her?” ~Miriam Rockness
I will begin my review by stating that the life of Lilias Trotter with the score by Sleeping at Last and Michelle Dockery (of Downton Abbey) as the voice of Lilias Trotter, this documentary has become one of my all-time favorites. I have passionately recommended this film to all of my creative, dreamer friends and would purchase it for them if I could.
I envision Lilias Trotter as a blogger before her time. Living in the 1800’s, she combined words with her painted pictures that depicted her ruminative thoughts and captivating love for nature.
Words that I picked up to describe Lilas Trotter, as I watched the documentary, were: contemplative, visionary, obscure, talented, unknown, iconoclast, brilliant, spirited. It was clear that she recorded her thoughts and nature with her vision and spirit.
At the age of 12, Lilias and her mother traveled to Venice shortly after her father died. It was there that they met John Ruskin, an accomplished writer and painter. He is said to have been a celebrity of the 19th century. Ruskin quickly noticed that Trotter and he shared talent and faith and their friendship grew deep. Letters between the two would indicate that more than a friendship developed in later years. Ruskin encouraged Lilias to continue with her art in a time when women were not encouraged to do much of anything outside of their domestic duties at home.
In a letter, Lilias wrote to Ruskin, “I was wrong in this established conviction of mine – women can paint.” ~Lilias Trotter
The story of Lilias Trotter might well have been lost and untold forever had it not been for 3 decades of devoted research by a minister’s wife, Miriam Rockness. Rockness was so enthralled with uncovering Trotter’s life that her husband even joked about wondering if he was going to bed with his wife or with Lilias.
Had it not been for Miriam Rockness and her small team of Trotter enthusiasts, the story of Lilias Trotter’s life would possibly be buried forever. I personally am so grateful for their tireless hours spent as this is one story that we are so much richer for being able to know.
“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.” ~Lilias Trotter
As Lilias continued her life, she was met with the changing of times and a passion for helping underprivileged and unseen women. She had an uncanny knack for seeing all things – beautiful things and horrible things. She became, at the risk of her safety and health, an advocate for women in the inner city who were impoverished and often fell into the life of prostitution. Her heart for ministry was in fierce competition with her gifting for art. She would be faced with what she thought would be a choice of one or the other.
“There’s no way to overestimate the crisis of soul. It all came to that moment that she knew she had to decide.” ~Miriam Rockness
But did she have to choose? As life would have, it, although she never found fame and fortune by way of her art, she found that serving God provided all the fame and fortune she required. Although her mission work and obscurity called louder than art and fame, she would continue to grow in both. Her life is a perfect example of “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9 NIV) I am, in my own life, encouraged and inspired by the faithful path that Lilias Trotter took.
Trotter would not pass the medical test to become a missionary in North Africa for reasons of being too weak but not to be deterred, she and a few girlfriends would make their way to Algeria on their own in 1888.
I listed above a few words that were used in this film to describe Lilias Trotter but I would like to add a few of my own now: brave, adventurer, pioneer, and faithful. Lilias would dive into a world that she couldn’t have possibly imagined with blind faith and crystal clear vision.
The cultural differences and earthly terrains she would encounter in Algeria were ones she simply could not have been prepared for in the somewhat privileged life she was accustomed to in England. The confounding oppression of women and children in a society geared solely for the success of men spurred her passion to stay and find ways to form relationships and lasting bonds; relationships and bonds that would make a difference. She also discovered a surprising fondness for the desert. There in the desert, where one might think that her art would be lost, it would seem that it was found in a more deep and meaningful form.
“You can never tell to what untold glories a little humble path may lead if you follow far enough.” ~Lilias Trotter
Miriam Rockness described Lilias as one who was so close to God that she lived with joy amongst difficulties.
“When the clouds are full of rain they empty themselves upon the earth. It is better to wait for the torrents that will set life going. I am beginning to see that it is out of the low place that one can best believe.” ~Lilias Trotter
Lilias lived for 75 very full and meaningful years. Just before she died, she described what she saw out the window. A friend asked, “Are you seeing beautiful things?” Lilias replied, “Yes, many, many beautiful things.”
Lest you think I have given away too much of the story here in this review, rest assured that I have not. This story is rich. There is so much more than what I have shared. I’m hoping that this will be just enough to “wet your whistle” and cause you to thirst for more.
I will conclude my review with this: If you are a creative, an artist, a musician, a writer, a dreamer, you NEED to watch this documentary. If I were to rate it, which I suppose I am doing, I give it a 10 out of 7. Many Beautiful Things is one story I am grateful to have in my video library. Now, I am off to purchase the soundtrack.
“Measure thy life by loss and not by gain, not by the wine drunk, but by the wine poured forth. For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice, and he who suffers most has most to give.” ~Lilias Trotter
Purchase the soundtrack by Sleeping at Last on iTunes.com.
Visit www.manybeautifulthings.com for more about this documentary and the life of Lilias Trotter.
Watch the trailer: