Elizabeth Siddal: Laying the ghost to rest

Previously posted at Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood.

It would have been a perfect plot for a 1960′s Hammer Horror film:  on the death of his wife, a poet places his manuscript of poems in her casket.  Years later he has a new muse and love, a woman who had been a friend to them both.  So he has his late wife exhumed to reclaim his final gift to her. Upon opening the casket, his wife is found to be in perfect condition, miraculously resisting decay for seven and a half years.  By some supernatural intervention, the hair that inspired him in life had continued to grow after death and has now become a huge, golden mass.  The poems are restored and published, yet the ghost of the wronged wife will now haunt him for the rest of his life.  I can just see Lizzie’s hair spilling out of the coffin in brilliant technicolor. It is the perfect ghost story.
Except it’s not a ghost story. It’s a (mostly) true tale that has been repeatedly told, each time adding more elements of the macabre until Lizzie has achieved all the makings of a Pre-Raphaelite phantom.

'Beata Beatrix' was painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti after his wife's death, as a tribute.

‘Beata Beatrix’ was painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti after his wife’s death, as a tribute.

 

A study for 'Beata Beatrix', circa 1854.  Elizabeth Siddal clearly posed for Beata Beatrix before her death, the project assumed a new meaning after her passing.

A study for ‘Beata Beatrix’, circa 1854. Elizabeth Siddal clearly posed for Beata Beatrix before her death, the project assumed a new meaning after her passing.

The morbid associations began early.  There were whispered rumors that Rossetti had started Beata Beatrix by sketching his dead wife as she lay in state.  Surgeon John Marshall, a friend of Rossetti’s,  claimed that “for two years he saw her ghost every night!”  It was the age of Spiritualism and surely Lizzie had something to say from beyond the grave.  Seances were held that included both Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his brother William Michael.  An unlikely medium, Rossetti’s model/mistress/housekeeper Fanny Cornforth served as a conduit for Lizzie’s messages.

After the exhumation, Rossetti wrote to Swinburne saying “Had it been possible to her, I should have found the book upon my pillow the night she was buried; and could she have opened the grave no other hand would have been needed.”  As if the exhumation had merely been the righting of a wrong and they had  appeased Lizzie’s spirit by doing what she was physically unable to do from the spiritual plane.

Everything about Lizzie is subject to exaggeration. Most people learn about her death and exhumation first and then have to work their way backwards.  They come to know her through her overdose, the speculations of a disappearing suicide note and her wraith-like appearance as she stared absentmindedly into a fire, rocking the ghost of her dead child. The exaggerations go back even further –her marriage is described as unhappy.  Gabriel is constantly adulterous, despite the fact that there is no evidence that he was unfaithful during marriage. Posing as Ophelia seems to foreshadow her death, when seen in hindsight.  Even her discovery has a fairy tale quality, thanks to Holman Hunt’s account where she is described breathlessly by Deverell as a queen. Lizzie has become a character, a trope.

Elizabeth Siddal wasn’t famous in her own lifetime. Although she did sell a few pieces of art and secured Ruskin’s patronage, she was unable to meet her full potential.  Her poems were never published while she was alive.  As a result, she is overshadowed both by the ghostly legend that surrounds her and by her husband. What we know about her is only in relation to him. The picture is not a full one and the gaps only add to her mystery.

Certainly, these gaps could have been filled had William Michael Rossetti bothered to talk to Lizzie’s mother and surviving siblings when he began to publish accounts of his brother’s life.  In fact, none of the authors who wrote about Rossetti soon after his death made an effort to talk to Lizzie’s family.  It seems that as the subject was mainly DGR, there was no reason to — Lizzie exists in these accounts as a prop. Her untimely death adds a certain romance, her exhumation shows the lengths he was prepared to travel for the sake of Poetry. I am reminded of the first line of Lizzie’s poem “The Lust of the Eyes”, ‘I care not for my Lady’s soul’.  We care not for Lizzie’s true self, she is seen as a Pre-Raphaelite figure of pathos. When Joseph Knight wrote of Lizzie’s death in his 1887 biography Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, he stated that “Regina Cordium had passed forever from his life.” Again, more prop than person.

How do we lay the ghost to rest? How do we focus on Lizzie herself and set aside the macabre trappings?  Focusing on her work is a good start.  Her art, although unpolished, can be viewed as ahead of its time. Instead of viewing her as merely Rossetti’s pupil in a one-sided exchange of teacher to student, we can view their dedication to art as flowing freely between them, that they both influenced and inspired each other’s work. Indeed, her contribution to the Red House murals show that she as accepted as an artist on equal footing.

Her letters, too, offer small glimpses into the woman she was.  Funny, friendly–far from a hovering wraith of a woman. When she writes of “Mutton-chops” in her letter from Nice, we can see past Ophelia and Beatrice and see a normal woman with an entertaining sense of humor.

To pursue knowledge of her, that is the key to seeing past the myth.  The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood by Jan Marsh is the first book I recommend to those interested in the women of the Pre-Raphaelite circle.  Marsh explores Lizzie’s life and the lives of her contemporaries while highlighting issues of gender, work and love.  Lizzie Siddal: Face of the Pre-Raphaelites by Lucinda Hawksley is a captivating account of Lizzie’s life.  In The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal, Jan Marsh expands her work in Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, focusing on the evolution of how we view Lizzie and how scholarship of her life has been approached in different eras.

Emma West as Lizzie Siddal

Emma West as the titular character Lizzie Siddal in the recent jeremy Green play

 

Amy Manson as Lizzie Siddal in Desperate Romantics

Amy Manson as Lizzie Siddal in Desperate Romantics

As I write this post, I realize that we have made progress. Lizzie has received renewed attention in the play Lizzie Siddal by Jeremy Green. And even though I was not completely impressed with the BBC series Desperate Romantics, I have to admit that Amy Manson portrayed Lizzie admirably. Lizzie Siddal emerges from the spectral fog and begins to shed her ghostly stigma.

We have image after image of Lizzie appearing languid and reclining.  but we also have images of her hard at work, sitting at easels and determined to hone her craft.  For the anniversary of her death tomorrow, I prefer to focus on these.

Sketch of Elizabeth Siddal at easel by  Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Sketch of Elizabeth Siddal at easel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddal at easel, drawn by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddal at easel, drawn by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddal at easel, sketch by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddal at easel, sketch by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti sitting to Elizabeth Siddal

Dante Gabriel Rossetti sitting to Elizabeth Siddal

 

 

 

The Worst Man in London

This post originally appeared at Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood.comlizziesiddaldotcom

Seven years after her death, the coffin of Elizabeth Siddal was exhumed so that her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, could publish the poetry he had buried with her. It happened in secret, yet eventually the deed came to be known and has added a macabre tinge to the tale of Elizabeth Siddal.  Rossetti was not present when his wife’s final rest was disturbed.  So, just how was such an event orchestrated?  To paraphrase a somewhat ghastly quote from a letter Rossetti wrote telling his brother about the exhumation, “the truth must ooze out in time.”

Charles Augustus Howell

Charles Augustus Howell

The plan of retrieving Rossetti’s poems began with  Charles Augustus Howell.  Don’t miss Kirsty Stonell Walker’s post about Howell: Who’s Been a Naughty Boy? A flamboyant character who had worked his way into the Pre-Raphaelite circle, Howell claimed to be Portuguese aristocracy and even wore a brilliant red sash to bolster his claim. (The red ribbon of the Portuguese Order of Christ.  Howell’s claim was that it was an inherited family order). Secretary to John Ruskin,  Howell had also become Rossetti’s agent.  It was Fanny Cornforth’s cockney dialect that led to Howell’s nickname of ‘Owl’.  Rossetti was well aware of Howell’s tendency to manipulate and lie, but Howell’s wit and charm seem to have secured him a favored spot in Rossetti’s life. Even years after Rossetti was convinced that Howell was selling forgeries of his work, he still delighted in how entertaining Howell could be. Despite Howell’s appeal, his unscrupulous nature could not be hidden.  He quite likely embezzled funds from Ruskin, made shady side deals while acting as an agent for both Rossetti and Burne-Jones, had his mistress forge paintings and was a compulsive liar.

Rossetti was not the only one to fall under Howell’s spell.  He developed a strong friendship with Edward Burne-Jones.  Years later, Georgiana Burne-Jones would describe him as someone who had “come amongst us in friend’s clothing, but inwardly he was a stranger to all that our life meant.” According to Whistler, Howell manipulated Georgiana Burne-Jones into having tea with her husband’s mistress, Maria Zambaco.  Despite the uncomfortable situation, both ladies had tea with proper Victorian decorum until Burne-Jones walked in and fainted at the site of them.  I do not know if Whistler’s account is true as I can not find another source, but it illustrates how devious Howell was and it hints that he derived pleasure from preying on the weaknesses of his friends. If it is true, he played both Georgiana and Maria like pawns for his own amusement.   Recently, Raine Szramski included Howell in the exploit’s of ‘Ned’s Angels’, one of her Pre-Raphaelite Sketchbook Cartoons:

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Copyright Raine Szramski

Back to the exhumation.  It had been a decade or so since Rossetti last published. Since the death of his wife, painting had been his sole focus. And it was becoming obvious that Rossetti was not doing well physically or mentally. There was an unrest about him, a sense of anxiety.  After abstaining from alcohol most of his adult life, he began to drink around 1866.  This was certainly not helped by Howell, who provided him with crates of Madeira.  Rossetti’s physical complaints –his hydrocele, growing worries about his eyesight– led to hypochondria and paranoia, an omen of things to come.  Standing on a rocky ledge while on a visit to Penkill with William Bell Scott, Rossetti made mention of suicide.  Later, Scott suggested to Rossetti that he return to poetry.

Rossetti also found himself falling in love with Jane Morris. The slippery Howell was helpful in this regard too, delivering secret letters to Jane on Rossetti’s behalf.  Rossetti’s relationship with Jane invigorated his return to poetry, he began his sonnet sequence The House of Life. As he grew closer and closer to publication, he wanted to include previous poems.  The poems that had been buried with his wife as a final, loving gesture. The poems written while he was married to Lizzie would now be published along with the sonnets inspired by Jane.

It was Howell who offered to have them exhumed. Rossetti resisted, but did not rule it out and wrote to Howell that he would ‘reflect on it’.  Instead, Rossetti reached out to friends in an attempt to find who he might have given a manuscript of Jenny.  Finally, he relented.

As Howell began to determine what steps were necessary to begin the process of exhumation, Rossetti again left for Penkill with Bell Scott.  Here his mental state seemed even more precarious. While walking with Scott, a chaffinch landed on Rossetti’s hand. He was convinced that Lizzie’s spirit had migrated into the bird.

On his return to London, a wombat was added to his menagerie, giving him a bit of cuddly joy in this troubled time. Rossetti’s continued collecting of animals is more than a funny anecdote, I believe that it was a symptom that mentally all was not well. I hold Rossetti completely responsible for desecrating his wife’s grave, but it is obvious that he was struggling. Howell was skilled at manipulation. Without his push, would Rossetti have gone through with it?

Despite the fact that Rossetti’s mother was the legal owner of the grave, Howell was able to complete the formalities and permission  was granted.  Neither Mrs. Rossetti or her other children knew of the affair.  Rossetti did not attend, preferring to wait with Howell’s wife Kitty. Henry Vertue Tebbs accompanied, acting in a legal capacity to witness what items were taken from the coffin. Also present was a doctor, Dr. Llewellyn Williams, who performed the act of disinfecting the book.  It was Howell who started the story that Lizzie remained perfectly preserved and that her hair had ‘filled the coffin’.

So the charming but unscrupulous Howell now holds a place in literary history due to his involvement in Lizzie Siddal’s exhumation.  This isn’t his only place in literary history, however, thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Howell will now forever be known as the inspiration behind The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, an evil blackmailer who tortured his prey unrelentingly. Sherlock Holmes described him as the worst man in London.  Holmes makes his feelings about the repugnant Milverton clear as he and Watson await the blackmailer’s arrival:

Hum! He’s about due. Do you feel a creeping sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that’s how Milverton impresses me. I’ve had to do with fifty murderers in my career, but the worst of them never gave me the repulsion which I have for this fellow. And yet I can’t get out of doing business with him –indeed, he is here at my invitation. (The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Much like the people involved with Howell, Holmes sees Milverton exactly for what he is, yet at this point, is still unable to cut ties with him.

Watson, Holmes and Milverton

Watson, Holmes and Milverton

Heaven help the man, and still more the woman, whose secret and reputation come into the power of Milverton. With s smiling face and a heart of marble he will squeeze and squeeze until he has drained them dry.  (The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Some of Sherlock’s actions in the story have readers crying foul, especially when Holmes becomes involved with Milverton’s maid.  This has recently been revisited in the new modern Sherlock series.  In His Last Vow, Milverton’s name is changed to Magnussen.  The story may have changed, yet he is still the same slithering fellow.  Holmes bends the rules in this story as well, to the delight of some fans and the horror of others.  The implication being that men like Howell and his fictional counterpart Milverton/Magnussen can push you over the edge.

Watson, Magnussen, Holmes

Watson, Magnussen, Holmes

Did Howell meet a different end than Sherlock’s Milverton?  It’s hard to say.  Howell had been known to fake his death and when he actually did die, many did not believe the news. Most probably he died quietly of tuberculosis.  Yet there is another lingering story of him being murdered and found with his throat slashed, his body lying outside a Chelsea pub.  His death was much like his life, you don’t know which version to believe.

 

 

 

Guest Post from Kirsty Stonell Walker: The Tragedy of Elizabeth Siddal

Kirsty Stonell Walker is the author of Stunner, the Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth. (Available at Amazon.com
or Amazon.co.uk)  Kirsty originally shared this post on her blog The Kissed Mouth and I am extremely grateful that she granted me permission to post it here as well.

——–

You will probably be aware by now that there will be a play on in London from the end of this month all about the tragic life of Elizabeth Siddal.  The life of the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel’ has been shown on screen before, but this is apparently the first time she has appeared on stage.  Maybe they have found a theatre with a door big enough to fit a bath through.

Emma West as Lizzie and Tom Bateman as Dante Gabriel Rossetti in rehearsals for Lizzie Siddal

Emma West as Lizzie and Tom Bateman as Dante Gabriel Rossetti in rehearsals for Lizzie Siddal

I wish them well and hope this will encourage more interest in Pre-Raphaelite art but it reminded me of an old niggle I have.  Elizabeth Siddal’s name is synonymous with two things: baths and tragedy.  Is it fair or are we participating in her tragedy by reducing her to this?

You know me, I loathe assumption.  Most of the ten years it took me to writeStunner was spent saying ‘No, she wasn’t a cockney,’ and ‘No, she wasn’t an illiterate prostitute!  She could read!’  However, when you are reading about someone for the first time you have to wade through the conclusions of others before you can afford to make your own.  For example, think about a short summary of Siddal’s life.  It’s bound to involve a bath-tub and an early death, these are unavoidable points in her life.  Possibly your summary involves painting, poetry, possibly infidelity and sadness.  Does it involve her laughing and chasing around the Red House?  Does it involve being sponsored by the leading art critic of the day?  Does it involve her finding out her artworks will appear in America?  How many of those later points appear in the ‘fictional’ depictions of her?

Gug in a Tub from Desperate Romantics

Gug in a Tub from Desperate Romantics

So, we have poor Gug, as Rossetti called her, packing quite a bit into her 32 years.  She loved poetry, after apparently discovering a poem by Tennyson wrapped around a pat of butter as a child.  See, less young ‘uns these days would long to go on X-Factor if we printed poems on butter wrappers.  They would all want to be Pam Ayres, and rightly so.  She longed to paint, possibly a by-product of being thrust into the art world by her stint of modelling.  Her engagements before Ophelia seem inconsequential, even though they were for Deverell, who discovered her.  Ophelia is the moment she begins to exist for us as an icon.

Yes, yes, very nice...

Yes, yes, very nice…

I have just been reading about the many and varied theories about what followed.  Standard story is that the candles went out, she got cold, got ill and that affected her for the rest of her life.  Add to this that she may have already been taking laudanum, she may have been anorexic, she may have been a hypochondriac, she may have been taking other preparations that were slowly poisoning her, her parents may have been on the make.  Goodness, how complicated.  I wonder if the whole palaver around her near-drowning makes Ophelia remain such a prominent image of the age.  Certainly the popularity of the painting seems to have sealed Siddal’s fate to be ever the dying dame, much in the same way as certain actors can never be seen as other than their most popular role.  It is much to Millais’ credit that it is almost impossible to imagine the fictional character of Ophelia as being anything other than the perishing Elizabeth Siddal.

Elizabeth Siddal Painting at an Easel (1850s) D G Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddal Painting at an Easel (1850s) D G Rossetti

Why do we not think of her like this, at an easel?  She painted for around a decade and wrote for possibly longer.  Her poems explored melancholic themes but her art works were as varied as others in her circle.  In his drawings of her at work, Rossetti shows a woman who is busy and well.  I do not look at the above image and think ‘Poor Lizzie’ because there is no need.  I pity her no more than any other woman artist of the age, and she achieved a great deal.

Elizabeth Siddal, D G Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddal, D G Rossetti

Something I have talked about before is the shortening of names.  I know I have discussed this with people in various contexts but I am always intrigued by the way that we shorten or change the names of famous people, notably women.  Elizabeth Rossetti becomes Lizzie Siddal but does this tell us anything else?  People shorten the names of others for many reasons; a sense of familiarity with a person, a sense of possession, an empathy or identification.  Undoubtedly Elizabeth was known as ‘Lizzie’ by her friends but is that a good enough reason for us to call her that?  I am variously known as ‘Kiz’, ‘Moo’, ‘Nelly’ and far worse, but none of those should be used by my future and no doubt plentiful biographers.  Why not use my full name under which I work?  I would think it a terrible presumption if someone I did not know referred to me as ‘Kirst’ (lawks, it sounds like ‘cursed’).  By shortening a name you are assuming the role of acquaintance of the person, but also it stops the person being at a distance, up on a pedestal, which they might be if you admired them.  It’s hard to think of Alfred Lord Tennyson as being ‘Alfie’ or ‘Fred’ but presumably he must have had a nickname.  A nickname humanizes a subject, but is that helpful?  I would add that it seems common in newspapers to shorten names of victims to involve the reader with their plight, for sad example would you think of Madeleine McCann or Maddie?

Regina Cordium, D G Rossetti

Regina Cordium, D G Rossetti

Now, there is nothing wrong with seeing a person in the past as a human being, if fact I would like more such understanding shown to Rossetti who seemingly is either held on a pedestal or seen as a devil devoid of feeling.  However, a byproduct of seeing a person as ‘human’ is that naturally we see their all-too-human foibles and failings.  It was alright for me; writing about Fanny could only reveal better things than were already said about her, but when the woman is revered then the revelations can only be detrimental in order to be ‘revelations’.  Also it seems to me that we don’t like uncertainty, we don’t like the unexplained in life stories.  Therefore, more often than not Elizabeth Siddal ‘killed herself’ rather than ‘took an accidental overdose’ because it has a definite point rather than raise more questions.

To say Rossetti painted this from her corpse is far more interesting than saying he used existing sketches

To say Rossetti painted this from her corpse is
far more interesting than saying he used existing sketches

So where is all my rambling leading?  Well, firstly to make a general point:  Sometimes I fear that biography of successful women reinforces prejudice in a perverse way.  Speaking as a biographer, it’s a hard balancing act, showing a woman in all her glory without backing up the views of the society they lived in because they lived in that society and were subject to it.  Elizabeth undoubtedly found life as an artist far more difficult than her erstwhile lover because any woman attempting to achieve success in such an elitist world is bound to find it difficult.  Goodness, there are scores of men who found it damn near impossible too, but we don’t find them so pitiful as poor, tragic Lizzie.  Not even Walter Deverell gets labelled as ‘tragic’ as often as Mrs Rossetti.  It somehow seems a little improper to bring up the private life of men, or to lend it equal weight, when writing biography as if we are trying to excuse them or lessen their impact. Many men of Elizabeth’s circle could be labelled as tragic – look at Swinburne!  Maybe we linger on women’s private lives because they played such a huge part in their lives, their ‘proper sphere’ was the domestic, the private, and so obviously that would have a massive impact in who they were and what they did.  It held women back, it filled their time, it even killed a few of them (in childbirth), it was seen by society as being their ‘job’ so any attempts on their part to participate in a ‘male’ occupation has to be seen in the context of what they weren’t doing or trying to balance.

Rossetti discovers his perfect model, as seen in Look and Learn

Rossetti discovers his perfect model, as seen in Look and Learn

So why is Lizzie special?  A combination of things seem to affect Miss Siddal.  Firstly, she’s a woman, therefore biography tells us about her private life.  We know she was led a merry dance by Rossetti, but then Georgiana Burne-Jones had a hard marriage and Jane Morris’ was troubled.  There has to be more to the relationship than unending misery, and there are tales of laughter and joy.  She didn’t almost die during every modelling assignment, but then possibly none of the other pictures were as astonishing as Ophelia.  Mind you, we don’t assume Millais had a tragic life because he created the image.  It is a brilliant image of death but all the credit, emphasis, and blame is placed on the model.  That’s ridiculous.  That’s like saying the tiny robin in the corner had a tragic life because he appeared in Ophelia.  Yes, she had an accident while modelling but I wonder if she had been posing for a more positive subject when she had the accident, would we see her in a different light?

Elizabeth Siddal (photo)

Elizabeth Siddal (photo)

I don’t think it helps that a great deal of Pre-Raphaelite-ness is the melancholic, the tragic, the doomed, the sinister.  As a person in a movement, of course Elizabeth would look the part.  I love the photo of her in her ‘melancholic swoon’ but I don’t think she was like that any more than any of the various pictures of me give you a full idea of what I am like as a person.  I would be very interested to find out what someone who has met me after following the blog thought I would be like.  Lawks, can you imagine…?

Anyway, back to Lizzie.  For some reason we are stuck with the epithet ‘tragic’ when describing her life but that lessens her because it makes her appear helpless.  The majority of her life was not tinged with tragedy, in fact proportionately more of her life was spent in victory than in sorrow.  She spent one afternoon in a bath tub but this dominates our vision of her.  I wonder if the tragedy of Elizabeth Siddal is that we can’t let her be happy.

LIZZIE-SIDDAL-London-11-20Lizzie Siddal is at the Arcola Theatre, London E8, from 20 November – 21 December 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lizzie Siddal: A New Play by Jeremy Green

image

Emma West as Lizzie Siddal. Photo Credit Rebecca Pitt

Copperhead Productions and Peter Huntley Productions present

THE WORLD PREMIERE OF

LIZZIE SIDDAL

A NEW PLAY BY JEREMY GREEN
AT THE ARCOLA THEATRE
from Wednesday 20 November – Saturday 21 December 2013

The Victorian art world.

‘To yearn for something – doesn’t that make life more intense?’

Lizzie Siddal, a new play about the woman who was ‘Ophelia’ in Millais’ famous painting, will open at the Arcola Theatre on Wednesday 20 November 2013 (press night Friday 22 November) it was announced today.

London, 1849. Lizzie is plucked from the obscurity of a bonnet shop to model for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – an intoxicating group of young painters bent on revolutionising the Victorian art world.  Inspired by their passion, Lizzie throws herself headlong into their lives and their art. She nearly dies in the creation of ‘Ophelia’, but the painting is a triumph. Lizzie wants more and dares to dream of being an artist in her own right. Falling in love with the charismatic Dante Gabriel Rossetti, she becomes his muse, and finally fulfils her dream of being an independent artist. But independence isn’t always what it seems, love can be fickle and all art is a kind of deception. Lizzie is betrayed, and her response sparks a devastating denouement that still stirs debate to this day.

An enigmatic cult figure, Lizzie’s life continues to inspire books, blogs and articles. Lizzie Siddal charts her true and dazzling trajectory from model to lover to artist, to a tragic figure in her own right, bringing her story to life on stage for the very first time.

‘Ophelia’, by British artist Sir John Everett Millais, is one of the world’s most popular and recognisable paintings. Currently on display in Tate Britain’s permanent collection, it depicts the tragic drowning of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It has an estimated market value of around £30 million.

Jeremy Green’s plays include Snakes at the Young Vic Theatre; The Wolfgang Chase for BBC radio (described by The Times as “something quite remarkable, done with extraordinary delicacy”) and Fairy Tale at the Pleasance Theatre.

Lizzie Siddal will be directed by Lotte Wakeham, currently Associate Director of Matilda in the West End and on Broadway. Recent credits include The Other School for NYMT at St James Theatre, The Kissing-Dance at Jermyn Street Theatre (for which she was nominated for Best Director at the Off West-End Awards) and comedy show Before They Were Famous for BBC Radio 4.

The role of Lizzie Siddal will be played by Emma West, with full casting to be announced. Emma’s recent stage credits include Improbable Fiction at Buxton Opera House and UK Tour, TwoThousandAndSex at Drill Hall, Recipe for a Perfect Wife at King’s Head Theatre and She Stoops to Conquer at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre and UK Tour.  Film credits include The Other Boleyn Girl.

Lizzie Siddal is written by Jeremy Green and directed by Lotte Wakeham with design by David Woodhead and lighting design by Howard Hudson. It is produced by Copperhead Productions and Peter Huntley Productions.

For further press information please contact Mark Senior on 07446 169 997
or mark@markseniorpr.com

LISTINGS

WEDNESDAY 20 NOVEMBER – SATURDAY 21 DECEMBER 2013
ARCOLA THEATRE
24 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL
Performances: Monday – Saturday 7:30pm, Saturdays 2:30pm
Tickets: £19, £15 previews/concessions
Pay What You Can: Every Tuesday (except 17 December 2013)
Box Office: 020 7503 1646 | www.arcolatheatre.com
ON SALE NOW

Continued Updates

I’ve created a new page, Georgiana Burne-Jones:  Memories of Elizabeth Siddal.  This contains all portions of The Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones that mention Elizabeth Siddal. I consider the these crucial to gaining perspective on Elizabeth Siddal.  GBJ shares her impressions, describes Lizzie physically and gives us insight on Lizzie and DGR as a married couple.  She also discusses the tragedy of their stillborn daughter and Lizzie’s death.

memorials-burne-jones

Updates

I’ve been updating LizzieSiddal.com this weekend.  Most of it is behind-the-scenes, such as cleaning up old links, revising the Table of Contents page, and cleaning up navigation.  This is an ongoing process.

I’ve also expanded the text on the Ophelia page in order to include passages relating to the painting from The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais.

letter-millais

Today on the LizzieSiddal.com Facebook page, I shared this image.  I was amazed at how many times it was reposted by other Facebook users.  Thank you and keep it up! Feel free to post it on your social profiles, blogs, etc:

loveandhate

Help The Lady of Shalott film be released online for free

The Lady of Shalott film is one of the most beautiful projects I have ever seen.  On an aesthetic level, it encompasses everything I love:  diligence to history and craftsmanship, the poetry of Tennyson, and a lush, cinematic quality that allows you to briefly be cocooned into the medieval world of Elaine of Astolat.  On a personal level, I consider the makers of the film to be wonderful friends who were quite kind to me last year after my husband endured a horrific accident.

The Lady of Shalott film has announced that when they reach 1500 ‘likes’ on their facebook page, they will release the film online for free.  So, please, like them on facebook.  Tweet and blog their link for your friends to see.  Because if you haven’t seen it yet, you are going to love their Lady of Shalott!

The Lady of Shalott Film Facebook Page

WAG Screen, the makers of the film

The making of the costumes at Period Wardrobe by Pauline Loven