Portrait of Julia

A Novel

by Robert MacNeil

Julia leaves behind the stuffy post-Victorian Halifax for Europe, where she becomes ensnared in the world of the great Canadian painter J.W. Morrice and his circle of artistic friends, including Henri Matisse.

In 1920 Julia Robertson is a young, beautiful war widow, aware of the radical new ideas bursting into the settled thinking of post-Victorian Canada. That new thinking, about the human unconscious through Freud and Jung, about sexual frankness, about women as well as skepticism about religion, shaped the emerging 20th century world and infused modern painting, music, and literature.

Julia struggles with her conscience over the man she most trusts when she is passionately infatuated with another, an Englishman. He leads her into the orbit of the young and charming Prince of Wales. Leaving behind the stuffy world of Halifax, she goes to London and Paris and then the South of France where she renews her close friendship with one of the great Canadian painters of the period, J.W. Morrice. She becomes part of Morrice's circle of artists and admirers, among them Henri Matisse, who was Morrice's close friend. Ultimately Julia has to resolve a dilemma that dramatically tests all her progressive ideas.

With this novel Robert MacNeil returns to a character who first appears in his bestselling novel set at the time of the Halifax Explosion, Burden of Desire. "Julia's appetite for life and her bold embrace of the modern world was so vivid to me that I had to follow her life into the postwar world," says MacNeil. The result is a fascinating account of a young woman in the midst of a world in transformation.

About the Author

Robert MacNeil

Born in Montreal, Robert MacNeil grew up in Halifax, attended Dalhousie University and graduated from Carleton in Ottawa. After early work as a CBC announcer, he was a journalist for forty years with Reuters News Agency, NBC News and the BBC, culminating in twenty years as Executive Editor of the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. His bestselling novel, Burden of Desire, won rave reviews in Canada and the U.S. He is also the author of two other novels, The Voyage and Breaking News; three memoirs, The Right Place at the Right Time, Wordstruck, and Looking For My Country; and co-author of The Story of English and its sequel, Do You Speak American? He divides his time between New York and Nova Scotia.


"Elegant and absorbing! In the chaotic aftermath of a world war, the beautiful Julia's globe-trotting quest to rebuild her life and capture enduring love brings a stunning surprise. Robert MacNeil's depth of wisdom shines through."
Lloyd Robertson, CTV News
"MacNeil skilfully blends tension by switching the narrative between Julia's present and recent past, to reveal, slowly and tantalizingly, why she ran from Neville and what she plans to do next. . . . Portrait of Julia is an insightful look at a fascinating period in Halifax's history."
Halifax Chronicle-Herald
"Julia possesses the sensitivities, if not the talent, of an artist, and embodies her own time in history... MacNeil creates a period that, in diction and nuance, evokes the world before and following the First World War, with a story that reaches from Halifax to the French Riviera."
Atlantic Books Today

Subjects (BISAC)


Scroll to Top