The Wife of Rossetti, written by Violet Hunt, is the first published biography of Elizabeth Siddal. Written with a decidedly prejudiced tone against Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Hunt has a tendency to go on wild tangents not even remotely related to Siddal, especially in the early chapters of the book. Violet Hunt’s account relies heavily on what she heard discussed when she was growing up and anecdotes are presented in the same manner one would expect an eavesdropper to share. Like a child who overhears her parents conversation at a cocktail party and takes it all for fact, Hunt relays to us what Siddal’s contemporaries believed they knew about her life. So I would never suggest this book to someone without also suggesting that they read Jan Marsh’s books The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal and Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood and Lucinda Hawksley’s Lizzie Siddal: Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel.
It is quite a coincidence that while I was reading the book, a visitor to lizziesiddal.com posted this comment:
“I can’t see here the first book I read about Lizzie, when I was 14 or so. It was a florid, excitable and fascinating biography by Violet Hunt, published I think, in the 1930s Or 1940s? But the title escapes me now. There was a highly romantic sub-title to it. It had of course the cachet of being written by a Hunt, a close family member / descendant of Holman Hunt, so although there seemed to be flights of fancy, if I recall aright, there was insider tittle-tattle aplenty. Including the proposition that Lizzie on her last night had pinned her suicide note to her nightdress. I always remember that. According to Violet Hunt it was swiftly removed by Rossetti or Howell – a verdict of suicide would have consequences terrifying to the Victorian mind – and read something like, My life is so weary, I want no more of it.
Wife of Rossetti? Was that the title?
There was a wealth of information in that book – but I suppose the modern biographers have discovered so much more.
Poor addicted Lizzie. Poor guilt-ridden Rossetti.
He kept her hair as a bell-rope. In Cheyne Walk. When small birds flew indoors he held them to be Lizzie, in visitation.
Too much chloral.
And the Beata Beatrix’s hands remain always open to receive the opium poppy.”
Isobel Violet Hunt (September 28, 1862 – January 16, 1942) was a British writer, now best known for her supernatural fiction. Her father was the artist Alfred William Hunt. Her younger sister Venetia married the designer William Arthur Smith Benson (1854-1924).
She was born in Durham; the family moved to London in 1865. She was brought up in the Pre-Raphaelite group, knowing John Ruskin and William Morris. There is a story that Oscar Wilde, a friend and correspondent, proposed to her in Dublin in 1879; its significance requires naturally her age at the time, and the correct birth date 1862 (not 1866 as often given).
She lived with the married Ford Madox Hueffer from about 1910 to 1918 as his mistress, at South Lodge on Campden Hill (a period including his brief 1911 imprisonment). Other relationships were with H. G. Wells and Somerset Maugham; Maugham portrayed her as Nora Nesbit in Of Human Bondage.
I thought you might like to see images from the book. I enjoyed them very much. Click the thumbnails to see full size.