Tag Archives: Books

‘Young PRB’ by Elisabeth M. Lee: A novel of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood


My compliments to Elisabeth M.Lee.  To write a novelization of the early days of the Brotherhood must be an arduous task.  The Pre-Raphaelites are complicated, there is so much going on that there is a danger of the tale becoming muddied and all of the scintillating bits could overtake the narrative.  This book is not only true to the facts surrounding the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but it focuses on their intentions and their artistic integrity (something the recent miniseries, Desperate Romantics, failed to do).

‘Young PRB’ is about the earliest phase of Pre-Raphaelitism,  beginning with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1846 and ending with Hunt embarking on his trip to the Holy Land.  Lee follows the founding members of the Brotherhood chronologically and -to her credit- emphasizes their artistic ambitions and goals.

I feel protective towards Elizabeth Siddal and how she is portrayed.  So I am proud to report to you that I am quite pleased with how Elisabeth Lee has shared Lizzie’s part of the story.  Written with respect and feeling, her account of Lizzie is one of a young Victorian girl who is intelligent and curious about the art world she has entered and develops her own ambitions.  Well done.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

William Holman Hunt wants his own revolution. In the year 1848 Europe erupts in turmoil, but Hunt is an art student, with many dreams and limited funds, in a London where revolution is just not done – especially one against the art establishment.

Hunt, along with six friends and fellow students – including the prodigy John Everett Millais and the artist-poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti – proclaim themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB). They plan to display their new art at the most prestigious exhibition in the country: The Royal Academy of Art.

They were expecting criticism, praise, or even ambivalence. What they were not expecting was the violent abuse hurled at them by the art elite, journalists, and even Charles Dickens. The stale and stodgy art world of mid-Victorian London will not tolerate these upstarts. The defiant PRB will not back down. Now it really is a revolution.

Can the young PRB survive the attacks against them? Can their friendship survive growing up?

Visit Elisabeth M. Lee’s website:  youngprb.com

On Amazon.com: Young PRB: A Novel of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Pre-Raphaelite Reading Project: La Morte d’Arthur

I’d love for you to read along with me as I start my latest selection for the Pre-Raphaelite Reading Project.  The current book is La Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.  Read along at your own pace and feel free to participate by commenting at Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood or at the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood Facebook page.  You can also post on Twitter using the #preraphaelitereading hastag. (I’m on Twitter as @beguilingmerlin.)

William Morris's painting of Guenevere (titled La Belle Iseult). Model Jane Morris.

We all know the Arthurian tales, they are embedded in our culture.  Every few years it seems as if Hollywood gives us a slick new version of Camelot.  Authors return to the legends for inspiration.  Musicians lyrically recant their interpretations of the saga.  It goes on and on.

So, while the stories of King Arthur and his knights are familiar, I propose that we revisit them, study them, and ponder the works that they inspired.  Try to see them with new eyes, from a different perspective.  The Pre-Raphaelites were living on the dawn of a new era, the Industrial Revolution.  They were surrounded by modern advances and yet they hearkened back to the age of chivalry and yearned for the medieval.  Let’s immerse ourselves in La Morte d’Arthur and discuss the Pre-Raphaelite works that stem from it.  Many of those works are already on Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood  in previous posts, but this will give me a chance to perhaps add new depth and understanding through my reading project.

Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers: Rossetti and Siddal

I recently happened upon a 14 volume set of Little Journeys at a local second-hand bookshop.  I was practically giddy with excitement to find these, especially the volume that includes Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal.  I’ve scanned the book and transcribed the text.  Other volumes include Christina Rossetti, William Morris, and John Ruskin.  I plan on transcribing these as well.

Little Journeys was a series written by Elbert Hubbard.  I was not familiar with him prior to purchasing his works, but I was interested to see on his wikipedia entry that he founded an Arts and Crafts community in Aurora, New York and that his printing press was inspired by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press.

I know that  reading a large chunk of text online is a different experience than reading a book.  It can seem tedious.  But I felt it would be an important addition to this website to be able to offer the transcribed text for anyone who would care to read it.  And, as always, I look forward to reading your comments should you choose to post one!

Scans of the book, transcription below the images:

Little Journeys, Elbert Hubbard

Little Journeys frontispiece

Little Journeys, Rossetti intro








DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI AND ELIZABETH ELEANOR SIDDAL

LOVE’S LOVERS

Some ladies love the jewels in Love’s zone,
And gold-tipped darts he hath for painless play
In idle, scornful hours he flings away;
And some that listen to his lute’s soft tone
Do love to vaunt the silver praise their own;
Some prize his blindfold sight; and there be they
Who kissed the wings which brought him yesterday
And thank his wings today that he is flown.

My lady only loves the heart of Love:
Therefore Love’s heart, my lady, hath for thee
His bower of unimagined flower and tree.
There kneels he now, and all a-hungered of
Thine eyes gray-lit in shadowing hair above,
Seals with thy mouth his immortality.

–Dante Gabriel Rossetti

When an ambitious young man from the “provinces” signified his intention
to Colonel Ingersoll of coming to Peoria and earning an honest
livelihood, he was encouraged by the Bishop of Agnosticism with the
assurance that he would find no competition.

Personally, speaking for my single self, I should say that no man is in
so dangerous a position as he who has no competition in well-doing.
Competition is not only the life of trade, but of everything else. There
have been times when I have thought that I had no competition in
truth-telling, and then to prevent complacency I entered into
competition with myself and endeavored to outdo my record.

The natural concentration of business concerns in one line, in one
locality, suggests the many advantages that accrue from attrition and
propinquity. Everybody is stirred to increased endeavor; everybody knows
the scheme which will not work, for elimination is a great factor in
success; the knowledge that one has is the acquirement of all. Strong
men must match themselves against strong men: good wrestlers will need
only good wrestlers. And so in a match of wit rivals outclassed go
unnoticed, and there is always an effort to go the adversary one better.

Our socialist comrades tell us that “emulation” is the better word, and
that “competition” will have to go. The fact is that the thing itself
will ever remain the same–what you call it matters little. We have,
however, shifted the battle from the purely physical to the mental and
psychic plane. But it is competition still, and the reason competition
will remain is because it is beautiful, beneficent and right. It is the
desire to excel. Lovers are always in competition with each other to see
who can love most.

The best results are obtained where competition is the most free and
most severe–read history. The orator speaks and the man who rises to
reply had better have something to say. If your studio is next door to
that of a great painter, you had better get you to your easel, and
quickly, too.

The alternating current gives power: only an obstructed current gives
either heat or light; all good things require difficulty. The Mutual
Admiration Society is largely given up to criticism.

Wit is progressive. Cheap jokes go with cheap people; but when you are
with those of subtle insight, who make close mental distinctions, you
should muzzle your mood, if perchance you are a bumpkin.

Conversation with good people is progressive, and progressive inversely,
usually, where only one sex is present. Excellent people feel the
necessity of saying something better than has been said, otherwise
silence is more becoming. He who launches a commonplace where high
thoughts prevail is quickly labeled as one who is with the yesterdays
that lighted fools adown their way to dusty death.

Genius has always come in groups, because groups produce the friction
that generates light. Competition with fools is not bad–fools teach the
imbecility of repeating their performances. A man learns from this one,
and that; he lops off absurdity, strengthens here and bolsters there,
until in his soul there grows up an ideal, which he materializes in
stone or bronze, on canvas, by spoken word, or with the twenty-odd
little symbols of Cadmus.

Greece had her group when the wit of Aristophanes sought to overtop the
stately lines of AEschylus; Praxiteles outdid Ictinus; and wayside words
uttered by Socrates were to outlast them all.

Rome had her group when all the arts sought to rival the silver speech
of Cicero. One art never flourishes alone–they go together, each man
doing the thing he can do best. All the arts are really one, and this
one art is simply Expression–the expression of Mind speaking through
its highest instrument, Man.

Happy is the child who is born into a family where there is a
competition of ideas, and where the recurring theme is truth. This
problem of education is not so very much of a problem after all.
Educated people have educated children, and the best recipe for
educating your child is this: Educate yourself.

—–

The Rossettis were educated people: each was educated by all and all by
each.

Individuality was never ironed out, for no two were alike, and between
them all were constantly little skirmishes of wit, and any one who
tacked a thesis on the door had to fight for it. Luther Burbank rightly
says that children should not be taught religious dogma. The souls of
the Rossettis were not water-logged by religious belief formulated by
men with less insight and faith than they.

In this way they were free. And so we find the father and the mother,
blessed by exile in the cause of liberty, living hard, plain lives, in
clean yet dingy poverty, with never an endeavor to “shine” in society or
to pass for anything different than what they were, and never in debt a
penny to the haberdasher, the dressmaker, the milliner or the grocer.
When they had no money to buy a thing they wanted, they went without it.

Just the religion of paying your way and being kind would be a pretty
good sort of religion–don’t you think so?

So now, behold this little Republic of Letters, father and mother and
four children: Maria, Christina, Dante Gabriel and William Michael.

The father was a poet, musician and teacher. The mother was a
housekeeper, adviser and critic, and supplied the necessary ballast of
commonsense, without which the domestic dory would surely have turned
turtle.

Once we hear this good mother saying, “I always had a passion for
intellect, and my desire was that my husband and my children might be
distinguished for intellect; but now I wish they had a little less
intellect, so as to allow for a little more commonsense.”

This not only proves that this mother of four very extraordinary and
superior children had wit, but it also seems to show that even intellect
has to be bought with a price.

I have read about all that has been written concerning Rossetti and the
Preraphaelite Brotherhood by those with right and license to speak. And
among all those who have set themselves down and dipped pen in ink, no
one that I have found has emphasized the very patent truth that it was a
woman who evolved the “Preraphaelite Idea,” and first exemplified it in
her life and housekeeping.

It was Frances Polidora Rossetti who supplied Emerson that fine phrase,
“Plain living and high thinking.” Of course, it might have been original
also with Emerson, but probably it reached him via the Ruskin and
Carlyle route.

Emerson also said, “A few plain rules suffice,” but Mrs. Rossetti ten
years before put it this way, “A few plain things suffice.” She had a
horror of debt which her husband did not fully share. She preferred
cleanly poverty and honest sparsity to luxury on credit. In her
household she had her way. Possibly it was making a virtue of
necessity, but she did it so sincerely and gracefully that prenatally
her children accepted the simplicity of their Preraphaelite home as its
chief charm.

Without the Rossettis the Preraphaelite Brotherhood would never have
existed. It will be remembered that the first protest of the Brotherhood
was directed against “Wilton carpets, gaudy hangings, and ornate,
strange and peculiar furniture.”

Christina Rossetti once told William Morris that when she was but seven
years old her mother and she congratulated themselves on the fact that
all the furniture they had was built on straight and simple lines, that
it might be easily cleaned with a damp cloth. They had no carpets, but
they possessed one fine rug in the “other room” which was daily brought
out to air and admire. The floors were finished in hard oil, and on the
walls were simply the few pictures that they themselves produced, and
the mother usually insisted on having only “one picture in a room at a
time, so as to have time to study it.”

So here we get the very quintessence of the entire philosophy of William
Morris: a philosophy which, it has well been said, has tinted the entire
housekeeping world.

In his magazine, called, somewhat ironically, “Good Words,” Dickens
ridiculed, reviled and berated the Preraphaelite Idea. Of course,
Dickens didn’t understand what the Rossettis were trying to express.

He called it pagan, anti-Christian, and the glorification of pauperism.
Dickens was born in a debtor’s prison–constructively–and he leaped
from squalor into fussy opulence. He wrote for the rabble, and he who
writes for the rabble has a ticket to Limbus one way. The Rossettis made
their appeal to the Elect Few. Dickens was sired by Wilkins Micawber and
dammed by Mrs. Nickleby. He wallowed in the cheap and tawdry, and the
gospel of sterling simplicity was absolutely outside his orbit. Dickens
knew no more about art than did the prosperous beefeater, who, being
partial to the hard sound of the letter, asked Rossetti for a copy of
“The Gurm,” and thus supplied the Preraphaelites a title they
thenceforth gleefully used.

But the abuse of Dickens had its advantages–it called the attention of
Ruskin to the little group. Ruskin came, he saw, and was conquered. He
sent forth such a ringing defense of the truths for which they stood
that the thinking people of London stopped and listened. And this caused
Holman Hunt to say, “Alas! I fear me we are getting respectable.”

Ruskin’s unstinted praise of this little band of artists was so great
that he convinced even his wife of the truth of his view; and as we
know, she fell in love with Millais, “the prize-taking cub,” and they
were married and lived happily ever after.

Ruskin and Morris were both born into rich families, where every luxury
that wealth could buy was provided. Having much, they knew the
worthlessness of things: they realized what Walter Pater has called “the
poverty of riches.” Dickens had only taken an imaginary correspondence
course in luxury, and so Wilton carpets and marble mantels gave him a
peace which religion could not lend. A Wilton carpet was to him a
Christian prayer-rug.

The joy of discovery was Ruskin’s: he found the Rossettis and gave them
to the world. Ruskin was a professor at Oxford, and in his classes were
two inseparables, William Morris and Burne-Jones. They became infected
with the simplicity virus; and when Burne-Jones went up to London, which
is down from Oxford, he sought out the man who had painted “The Girlhood
of the Virgin,” the picture Charles Dickens had advertised by declaring
it to be “blasphemously idolatrous.”

Burne-Jones was so delighted with Rossetti’s work that he insisted upon
Rossetti giving him lessons; and then he wrote such a glowing account of
the Rossettis to his chum, William Morris, that Morris came up to see
for himself whether these things were true.

Morris met the Rossettis, spent the evening at their home, and went back
to Oxford filled with the idea of Utopia, and that the old world would
not find rest until it accepted the dictum of Mrs. Rossetti, “A few
plain things suffice.”

It was a woman who brought about the Epoch.

—–

The year Eighteen Hundred Fifty was certainly rich in gifts for Gabriel
Rossetti. He was twenty-two, gifted, handsome, intellectual, the adored
pet and pride of his mother and two sisters, and also the hero of the
little art group to which he belonged. I am not sure but that the lavish
love his friends had for him made him a bit smug and self-satisfied, for
we hear of Ruskin saying, “Thank God he is young,” which remark means
all that you can read into it.

At this time Rossetti had written many poems, and at least one great
one, “The Blessed Damozel.” He had also painted at least one great
picture, “The Girlhood of the Virgin,” a canvas he vainly tried to sell
for forty pounds, and which later was to be bought by the nation for the
tidy sum of eight hundred guineas, and now can not be bought for any
price–but which, nevertheless, may be seen by all, on the walls of the
National Gallery.

But four numbers of “The Germ” had been printed, and then the venture
had sunk into the realm of things that were, weighted with a debt of one
hundred twenty pounds. Of the fifty-one contributions to “The Germ”
twenty-six had been by the Rossettis. Dante Gabriel, always a bit
superstitious, felt sure that the gods were trying to turn him from
literature to art, but Christina felt no comfort in the failure.

Then came the championship of Ruskin, and this gave much courage to the
little group. Doubtless none knew they stood for so much until they had
themselves explained to themselves by Ruskin.

Then best of all came Burne-Jones and Morris, adding their faith to the
common fund and proving by cash purchases that their admiration was
genuine.

Rossetti’s poem, “The Blessed Damozel,” was without doubt inspired by
Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” but with this difference, that while
Rossetti carried the sorrow clear to Paradise, Poe was content to leave
his sorrow on earth.

Being a painter of pictures as well as picturing things by means of
words, Rossetti had constantly in his mind some one who might pose for
the Damozel. She must be stately, sober, serious, tall, and possess “a
wondrous length of limb.” Her features must be strong, individual, and
she must have personality rather than beauty.

A pretty woman would, of course, never, never do. Where was such a model
woman to be found?

Christina wrote a beautiful sonnet about this Ideal Woman. Here it is:

One face looks out from all his canvases;
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest Summer-greens,
A saint, an angel–every canvas means
The one same meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true, kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Dante Gabriel was becoming moody, dreamy and melancholy; but not quite
so melancholy as he thought he was, since the divine joy was his of
expressing his melancholy in art. People submerged in melancholy are not
creative.

Rossetti was quite sure that Nature had never made as lovely a woman as
he could imagine, and his drawings almost proved it. But being a man he
never gave up the quest.

One day, Walter Deverell, one of the Brotherhood, came into Rossetti’s
studio and proceeded to stand on his head and then jump over the
furniture. After being reprimanded, and then interrogated as to reasons,
he told what he was dying to tell–that is, “I have found her!” Her name
was Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, and she was an assistant to a milliner and
dressmaker in Oxford Street. She was seventeen years old, five feet
eight inches high, and weighed one hundred twenty pounds. Her hair was
of a marvelous, coppery, low tone, and her features were those of
Sappho. None of the assembled Brotherhood had ever seen Sappho, but they
had their ideas about her. Whether the dressmaker’s wonderful assistant
had intellect and soul did not trouble the young man. Dante Gabriel, the
Nestor of the group, twenty-two and wise, was not to be swept off his
feet by the young and impressible enthusiasm of Deverell, aged nineteen.

He sneezed and calmly continued his work at the easel, merely making
inward note of the location of the shop where the “find” was located.

Two hours later, Rossetti, perceiving himself alone, laid aside his
brushes and palette, put on his hat, and walked rapidly toward Oxford
Street. He located the shop, straggled past it, first on one side of the
street, then on the other, and finally boldly entered on a fictitious
errand.

Miss Siddal was there. He stared at her; she looked at him in
half-disdain. Suddenly his knees grew weak: he turned and fled.

Deverell boldly stalked the quarry the next day in company with his
mother, who was a customer of the shop. He failed to get an interview. A
little later, the mother went back alone, and put the matter before Miss
Siddal in a purely business light.

Elizabeth Eleanor was from a very poor family.

Her father was an auctioneer who had lost his voice, and she was glad to
increase the meager pay she was receiving by posing for the artists. She
was already a model, setting off bonnets and gowns, and her first idea
was that they wanted her for fashion-plates. Mrs. Deverell did not
disabuse her of this idea.

And so she posed for the class at Rossetti’s studio, duly gowned as
angels are supposed to be draped and dressed in Paradise.

Mrs. Deverell was present to give assurance, and all went well. The
young woman was dignified, proud, with a fine but untrained mind. As to
her knowledge of literature, she explained that she had read Tennyson’s
poems because she had found them on some sheets of paper that were
wrapped around a pat of butter she had bought to take home to her
mother.

Her general mood was one of silent good-nature, flavored with a dash of
pride, and an innocent curiosity to know how the picture was getting
along. It has been said that people who talk but little are quiet either
because they are too full for utterance, or because they have nothing to
utter. Miss Siddal was reserved, because she realized that she could
never talk as picturesquely as she could look. People who know their
limitations are in the line of evolution. The girl was eager and anxious
to learn, and Rossetti set about to educate her. In the operation he
found himself loving her with a mad devotion.

The other members of the Brotherhood respected this very frank devotion
and did not enter into competition with it, as they surely would have
done had it been merely admiration. They did not even make gentle fun
of it–it was too serious a matter with Rossetti: it was to him a
religion, and was to remain so to the day of his death. Within a week
after their meeting, “The House of Life” began to find form. He wrote to
her and for her, and always and forever she was his model. The color of
her hair got into his brush, and her features were enshrined in his
heart.

He called her “Guggums” or “Gug.” Occasionally, he showed impatience if
any one by even the lifting of an eyebrow seemed to doubt the divinity
of the Guggums.

There was no time for ardent wooing on his part, no vacillation nor
coyness on hers. He loved her with an absorbing passion–loved her for
her wonderful physical beauty, and what she may have lacked in mind he
was able to make good.

And she accepted his love as if it were her due, and as if it had always
been hers. She was not agitated under the burning impetus; no, she just
calmly and placidly accepted it as a matter of course.

It will hardly do to say that she was indifferent, but Burne-Jones was
led by Miss Siddal’s beautiful calm to say, “Love is never mutual–one
loves and the other consents to be loved.”

The family of Rossetti, his mother and sisters, must have known how much
of the ideal was in his passion. Mentally, Miss Siddal was not on their
plane; but the joy of Dante Gabriel was their joy, and so they never
opposed the inevitable. He, however, acknowledged Christina’s mental
superiority by somewhat imperiously demanding that Christina should
converse with Miss Siddal on “great themes.”

Ruskin has added his endorsement to Miss Siddal’s worth by calling her
“a glorious creature.”

Dante Gabriel’s own descriptions of Elizabeth Eleanor are too much
retouched to be accurate; but William Rossetti, who viewed her with a
critical eye, describes her as “tall, finely formed, with lofty neck;
regular, yet uncommon, features; greenish-blue, unsparkling eyes; large,
perfect eyelids; brilliant complexion, and a lavish wealth of dark
molten-gold hair.”

In the diary of Madox Brown for October Sixth, Eighteen Hundred
Fifty-four, is this: “Called on Dante Rossetti. Saw Miss Siddal, looking
thinner and more death-like, and more beautiful and more ragged than
ever; a real artist, a woman without parallel for many a long year.
Gabriel as usual diffuse and inconsequent in his work. Drawing wonderful
and lovely Guggums one after another, each one a fresh charm, each one
stamped with immortality, and his picture never advancing. However, he
is at the wall and I am to get him a white calf and a cart to paint
here; would he but study the Golden One a little more. Poor Gabriello!”

In Elizabeth Eleanor’s manner there was a morbid languor and dreaminess,
put on, some said, for her lover like a Greek gown, and surely
encouraged by him and pictured in his Dantesque creations.

Always and forever for him she was the Beata Beatrix. His days were
consumed in writing poems to her or painting her, and if they were
separated for a single day he wrote her a letter, and demanded that she
should write one in return, to which we once hear of her gently
demurring. She, however, took lessons in drawing, and often while posing
would work with her pencil and paper.

Ruskin was so pleased with her work that he offered to buy everything
she did, and finally a bargain was struck and he paid her one hundred
pounds a year and took everything she drew.

Possibly this does not so much prove the worth of her work as the
generosity of Ruskin. The dressmaker’s shop had been able to get along
without its lovely model, and art had been the gainer. At one time a
slight cloud appeared on the horizon: another “find” had been located.
Rossetti saw her at the theater, ascertained her name and called on her
the next day and asked for sittings. Her name was Miss Burden. She was
very much like Miss Siddal, only her face was pale and her hair wavy and
black. She was statuesque, picturesque, of good family, and had a
wondrous poise. Rossetti straightway sent for William Morris to come and
admire her. William Morris came, and married her in what Rossetti
resentfully called “an unbecoming and insufficiently short space of
time.”

For some months there was a marked coldness between Morris and
Rossetti, but if Miss Siddal was ever disturbed by the advent of Miss
Burden we do not know it. Whistler has said that it was Mrs. Morris who
gave immortality to the Preraphaelites by supplying them stained-glass
attitudes. She posed as Saint Michael, Gabriel, and Saint John the
Beloved, and did service for the types that required a little more
sturdiness than Miss Siddal could supply.

The Burne-Jones dream-women are very largely composite studies of Miss
Siddal and Mrs. Morris; as for Rossetti, he painted their portraits
before he saw them, and loved them on sight because they looked like his
Ideal.

—–

After Dante Gabriel and Elizabeth Eleanor had been engaged for more than
five years–that is, in the year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-five–Madox
Brown asked Rossetti this very obvious question: “Why do you not marry
her?” One reason was that Rossetti was afraid if he married her he would
lose her. He doted on her, fed on her, still wrote sonnets just for her,
and counted the hours when they parted until he could see her again.
Miss Siddal was not quite firm enough in moral and mental fiber to cut
out her own career. She deferred constantly to her lover, adopted his
likes and dislikes, and went partners with him even in his prejudices.
They dwelt in Bohemia, which is a good place to camp, but a very poor
place in which to settle down.

The precarious ways of Bohemia do not make for length of days. Miss
Siddal seemed to fall into a decline, her spirits lost their buoyancy,
she grew nervous when required to pose for several hours at a time.
Rossetti scraped together all his funds and sent her on a trip alone
through France. She fell sick there, and we hear of Rossetti working
like mad on a canvas, so as to sell the picture and send her money.

When she returned, a good deal of her old-time beauty seemed to have
vanished: the fine disdain, that noble touch of scorn, was gone–and
Rossetti wrote a sonnet declaring her more beautiful than ever. Ruskin
thought he saw the hectic flush of death upon her cheek.

Sorrow, love, ill-health, poverty, tamed her spirit, and Swinburne
telling of her, years after, speaks of “her matchless loveliness,
courage, endurance, humor and sweetness–too dear and sacred to be
profaned by any attempt at expression.”

Rossetti writing to Allingham says: “It seems to me when I look at her
working, or too ill to work, and think of how many without one tithe of
her genius or greatness of spirit have granted them abundant health and
opportunity to labor through the little they can or will do, while
perhaps her soul is never to bloom, nor her bright hair to fade; but
after hardly escaping from degradation and corruption, all she might
have been must sink again unprofitably in that dark house where she was
born. How truly she may say, ‘No man cared for my soul.’ I do not mean
to make myself an exception, for how long have I known her, and not
thought of this till so late–perhaps too late.”

In Rossetti’s love for this beautiful human lily there was something
very selfish, the selfishness of the artist who sacrifices everything
and everybody, even himself, to get the work done.

Rossetti’s love for Miss Siddal was sincere in its insincerity. The art
impulse was supreme in him and love was secondary. The nine years’
engagement, with the uncertain, vacillating, forgetful, absent-minded
habits of erratic genius to deal with, wore out the life of this
beautiful creature.

The mother-instinct in her had been denied: Nature had been set at
naught, and art enthroned. When the physician told Rossetti that the
lovely lily was to fade and die, he straightway abruptly married her,
swearing he would nurse her back to life. He then gave her the “home”
they had so long talked of; three little rooms, one all hung with her
own drawings and none other. He petted her, invited in the folks she
liked best, gave little entertainments, and both declared that never
were they so happy.

She suffered much from neuralgia, and the laudanum taken to relieve the
pain had grown into a necessity.

On the Tenth of February, Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two, she dined with her
husband and Mr. Swinburne at a nearby hotel. Rossetti then accompanied
her to their home, and leaving her there went alone to give his weekly
lecture at the Working Men’s College. When he returned in two hours, he
found her unconscious from an overdose of laudanum. She never regained
consciousness, breathing her last but a few short hours later.

—–

The grief of Rossetti on the death of his wife was pitiable. His friends
feared for his sanity, and had he not been closely watched it is quite
possible that one grave would have held the lovers. He reproached
himself for neglecting her. He cursed art and literature for having
seduced him away from her, and thus allowed her to grope her way alone.
He prophesied what she might have been had he only devoted himself to
her as a teacher, and by encouragement allowed her soul to bloom and
blossom. “I should have worked through her hand and brain,” he cried.

He gathered all the poems he had written to her, including “The House of
Life,” and tying them up with one of the ribbons she had worn, placed
the precious package by stealth in her coffin, close to the cold heart
that had forever stopped pulsing. And so the poems were buried with the
woman who had inspired them.

Was it vanity that prompted Rossetti after seven years to have the body
exhumed and recover the poems that they might be given to the world? I
do not think so, else all men who print the things they write are
inspired by vanity. Rossetti was simply unfortunate in being placed
before the public in a moment of spiritual undress. Everybody is
ridiculous and preposterous every day, only the public does not see it,
and therefore the acts are not ridiculous and preposterous. The conduct
of the lovers is always absurd to the onlooker, but the onlooker has no
business to look on–he is a false note in a beautiful symphony, and
should be eliminated.

Rossetti in the transport of his grief, filled with bitter regret, and
with a welling heart for one who had done so much for him, gave into her
keeping, as if she were just going on a journey, the finest of his
possessions. It was no sacrifice–the poems were hers.

At such a time do you think a man is revolving in his mind business
arrangements with Barabbas?

The years passed, and Rossetti again began to write–for God is good.

The grief that can express itself is well diluted; in fact, grief often
is a beneficent stimulus of the ganglionic cells. The sorrow that is
dumb before men, and which, if it ever cries aloud, seeks first the
sanctity of solitude, is the only sorrow to which Christ in pity turns
his eye or lends his ear.

The paroxysms of grief had given way to calm reflection. The river of
his love was just as deep, but the current was not so turbulent.
Expression came bringing balm and myrrh. And so on the advice of his
friends, endorsed by his own promptings, the grave was opened and the
package of poems recovered.

It was an act that does not bear the close scrutiny of the unknowing
mob. And I do not wonder at the fierce hate that sprang up in the breast
of Rossetti when a hounding penny-a-liner in London sought to picture
the stealthy, ghoul-like digging in a grave at midnight, and the
recovery of what he called “a literary bauble.” As if the man’s vanity
had gotten the better of his love, or as if he had changed his mind! Men
who know, know that Rossetti had not changed his mind–he had only
changed his mood.

The suggestion that gentlemen poets about to deposit poems in the
coffins of their lady-loves should have copies of the originals
carefully made before so doing, was scandalous. However, when this was
followed up with the idea that Rossetti should, after exhuming the
poems, have copies made and place these back in the coffin, and that the
performance of midnight digging was nothing less than petit larceny from
a dead woman, witnessed by the Blessed Damozel leaning over the bar of
Heaven–in all this we get an offense in literature and good taste which
in Kentucky or Arizona would surely have cost the penny-a-liner his
life.

If these poems had not been recovered, the world would have lost “The
House of Life,” a sonnet series second not even to the “Sonnets From the
Portuguese,” and the immortal sonnets of Shakespeare.

The way Rossetti kept the clothing and all the little nothings that had
once belonged to his wife revealed the depths of love–or the
foolishness of it, all depending upon your point of view. Mrs. Millais
tells of calling at Rossetti’s house in Cheyne Walk in Eighteen Hundred
Seventy, nearly ten years after the death of Elizabeth Eleanor, and
having occasion to hang her wraps in a wardrobe, perceived the dresses
that had once belonged to Mrs. Rossetti hanging there on the same hooks
with Rossetti’s raiment. Rossetti made apology for the seeming confusion
and said, “You see, if I did not find traces of her all over the house I
should surely die.”

A year after the death of his wife Rossetti painted the wonderful “Beata
Beatrix,” a portrait of Beatrice sitting in a balcony overlooking
Florence. The beautiful eyes filled with ache, dream and expectation are
closed as if in a transport of calm delight. An hourglass is at hand and
a dove is just dropping a poppy, the flower of sleep and death, into her
open hands. Of course the picture is a portrait of the dear, dead wife,
and so in all the pictures thereafter painted by Dante Gabriel for the
twenty years that he lived, you perceive that while he had various
models, in them all he traced resemblances to this first, last and only
passion of his life.

—–

In William Sharp’s fine little book, “A Record and a Study,” I find
this:

As to the personality of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a great deal has
been written since his death, and it is now widely known that he was
a man who exercised an almost irresistible charm over those with
whom he was brought in contact. His manner could be peculiarly
winning, especially with those much younger than himself, and his
voice was alike notable for its sonorous beauty and for the magnetic
quality that made the ear alert when the speaker was engaged in
conversation, recitation or reading. I have heard him read, some of
them over and over again, all the poems in the “Ballads and
Sonnets,” and especially in such productions as “The Cloud Confines”
was his voice as stirring as a trumpet-note; but where he excelled
was in some of the pathetic portions of “The Vita Nuova” or the
terrible and sonorous passages of “L’Inferno,” when the music of the
Italian language found full expression indeed. His conversational
powers I am unable adequately to describe, for during the four or
five years of my intimacy with him he suffered too much to be a
brilliant talker, but again and again I have seen instances of that
marvelous gift that made him at one time a Sydney Smith in wit and a
Coleridge in eloquence.

In appearance he was, if anything, rather above middle height, and,
especially latterly, somewhat stout; his forehead was of splendid
proportions, recalling instantaneously the Stratford bust of
Shakespeare; and his gray-blue eyes were clear and piercing, and
characterized by that rapid, penetrative gaze so noticeable in
Emerson.

He seemed always to me an unmistakable Englishman, yet the Italian
element frequently was recognizable; as far as his own opinion was
concerned, he was wholly English. Possessing a thorough knowledge of
French and Italian, he was the fortunate appreciator of many great
works in their native tongue, and his sympathies in religion, as in
literature, were truly catholic. To meet him even once was to be the
better for it ever after; those who obtained his friendship can not
well say all it meant and means to them; but they know they are not
again in the least likely to meet with such another as Dante Gabriel
Rossetti.

In Walter Hamilton’s book, “AEsthetic England,” is this bit of most vivid
prose:

Naturally the sale of Rossetti’s effects attracted a large number of
persons to the gloomy, old-fashioned residence in Cheyne Walk,
Chelsea, and many of the articles sold went for prices very far in
excess of their intrinsic value, the total sum realized being over
three thousand pounds. But during the sale of the books, on that
fine July afternoon, in the dingy study hung round with the lovely
but melancholy faces of Proserpine and Pandora, despite the noise of
the throng and the witticisms of the auctioneer, a sad feeling of
desecration must have crept over many of those who were present at
the dispersion of the household goods and gods of that man who so
hated the vulgar crowd. Gazing through the open windows they could
see the tall trees waving their heads in a sorrowful sort of way in
the summer breeze, throwing their shifty shadows over the neglected
grass-grown paths, once the haunt of the stately peacocks, whose
medieval beauty had such a strange fascination for Rossetti, and
whose feathers are now the accepted favors of his apostles and
admirers. And so their gaze would wander back again to that
mysterious face upon the wall, that face as some say the grandest in
the world, a lovely one in truth, with its wistful, woeful,
passionate eyes, its sweet, sad mouth with the full red lips; a face
that seemed to say the sad old lines:

‘Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all.

And then would come the monotonous cry of the auctioneer to disturb
the reverie, and call one back to the matter-of-fact world which
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter and poet, has left
forever–Going!–Going!–Gone!

——————————————

I made a few slap-dash notes while reading Little Journeys for the first time:

-I’ve always assumed that C. Rossetti’s poem In An Artist’s Studio is about Lizzie, and I still believe this, so I was a bit surprised that Hubbard wrote about it as if it was about a generic “Ideal Woman”.

-According to Hubbard’s account of Lizzie’s discovery, Gabriel made his way to the shop where Lizzie worked after Deverell told him of her–I love how Hubbard dramatizes this with Lizzie looking at Gabriel in “half-disdain” and Gabriel going weak in the knees.

-Hubbard states Lizzie’s father was an auctioneer who had lost his voice?

-But I loved this sentence.  I don’t know why, it just made me chuckle. “They dwelt in Bohemia, which is a good place to camp, but a very poor place in which to settle down.”

-Hmm.  States that Rossetti scraped together funds to send Lizzie to France when it was in fact Ruskin.  But he is correct that Rossetti hurried to finish a picture while she was away in order to send her more money.  The picture was Paolo and Francesca de Rimini.

-No mention of their stillborn child.

-I’d like to find the two books mentioned at the end:  William Sharp’s A Record and a Study, and Walter Hamilton’s Aesthetic England.

The White Rose and the Red

I was thrilled to find this wonderful news in my inbox tonight: Hilda Doolittle’s (H.D.)  fictional biography of Lizzie Siddal will be published for the first time. I don’t see a release date on Amazon, but you can pre-order the book. Just a warning: it’s a bit pricey. White Rose and the Red at Amazon

Never before published, “White Rose and the Red” is the fictional biography of Elizabeth Siddall, wife of English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This extraordinary novel explores the charged interpersonal relationships between and among Siddall, Rossetti, and other key members of the pre-Raphaelite movement, including William Morris and John Ruskin. During H.D.’s lifetime, publishers shied away from the novel’s radically unconventional hybrid form that combines elements of historical nonfiction, fiction, and biography. As part of the dense and allusive prose trilogy written during and after World War II (along with “The Sword Went Out to Sea” and “The Mystery”), “White Rose and the Red” exemplifies the mythic theme that H.D. saw as unifying all her writing. It also examines how Siddall – a controversial muse and model – came to become the iconic figure of an artistic movement

LizzieSiddal.com interviews author Lucinda Hawksley

I am thrilled and honored that Lucinda Hawksley, author of Lizzie Siddal: Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel, took the time to answer a few questions. Hawksley is a best selling author, speaker, and the great-great-great- granddaughter of Charles Dickens. If you have not yet read her biography of Elizabeth Siddal, I encourage you to do so. It is a well written and well researched narrative of Siddal’s life. She has also recently published a biography of Charles Dicken’s daughter, Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens’s Artist Daughter

LizzieSiddal.com: One of the reasons I started LizzieSiddal.com was because I was frustrated with the fact that almost everything I could find about her online only dealt with the gothic aspects of her death and exhumation. Which is why I, and so many others, are thrilled with your book. You’ve personalized her without idealizing her. You obviously knew a great deal about her before writing this book, but during the process, did you find any information that surprised you?

Lucinda Hawksley:

I was surprised by the discovery that it was she who seems to have started the rumour that she lived in a slum, when actually she didn’t. I was also very fascinated by researching the areas in which she grew up (through the Holborn and Southwark local studies libraries) and finding out about the people she lived near and the buildings that were there then, in particular what a beautifully green area Southwark was at the time!

The thing that surprised me most was how much sympathy I had for Rossetti, after realising how difficult Lizzie must have been to live with and seeing the extent to which she managed to emotionally manipulate him (seen in the letters he sent to other people, unconscious of what they must have been able to read between the lines).

I loved the fact that she finally got fed up of Rossetti’s infidelities and left him – and that when she did so she decided to prove to herself that she was a good artist and went off to Sheffield to art school. I really admired that in a woman of her era and with her addiction problems. I was also impressed that she gave up her money from Ruskin, though I wish she hadn’t and had continued to paint! I would love to have been able to find out exactly what transpired between her and Ruskin, I wondered if he became too controlling and she chose to break free. If so, I really admire that too.

I was very happy to read some good opinions of her, instead of the usual William Rossetti version of everything. I particularly liked the discovery that her employer Mrs Tozer allowed her to work part-time in the hat shop, when she was first modelling. Part-time work was not common then, so Mrs Tozer must have thought really highly of her.

LizzieSiddal.com: Some descriptions of both Lizzie and Rossetti lead me to believe that they may have been manic depressive or bipolar. Do you have any thoughts on this? You mention in the book that both were “prone to wild mood swings, ranging from the elevated to the depressed.”
Lucinda Hawksley:

They were both depressives, I have suspicions that they were possibly bipolar, but it is not possible to know for certain without a patient there in front of you. I spoke to quite a few doctors, including psychiatrists, when researching the Lizzie and Katey books and they all said the same thing – it’s very difficult to make real diagnoses based only on historic events.

LizzieSiddal.com:How would you characterize the relationship between Lizzie and Christina Rossetti? I know that they were far from close, but Christina’s poem ‘In An Artist’s Studio’ shows her sympathy with the fact that Rossetti saw Lizzie more as his artistic muse than a real, flesh and blood woman.
Lucinda Hawksley:

My theory is that Christina was quite obsessed with Lizzie. She obviously didn’t like her – making that apparent – and disapproved of her on moral grounds, but I think deep down she would have liked to be like her. Christina was obviously largely motivated in her dislike of Lizzie by her older sister Maria’s disapproval and by Christina’s own jealousy that Lizzie had taken Dante’s affections away from her.

LizzieSiddal.com: In your research, did you find any information that gave you insight into Lizzie’s relationship with Jane Morris? Do you think Lizzie knew of her husband’s attraction to Jane?
Lucinda Hawksley:

I think Lizzie did know. I think she suspected it before they were married when Rossetti was writing letters to her from Oxford. Not long after the group met Janey, Rossetti suddenly had to rush off because Lizzie wrote to him that she was ill.I felt so very sorry for Lizzie where Janey was concerned. She was a younger, beautiful woman whose husband’s wealth gave her a much easier life than Lizzie’s. The hardest thing must have been the ease with which Janey got pregnant and had healthy children. When I was researching into the time Rossetti sent Lizzie off to stay with the Morrises after Lizzie had her stillborn baby – when Janey not only had a healthy child but was pregnant again – it made me so sad.

LizzieSiddal.com: A visitor to my site recently posted a comment questioning whether or not Lizzie’s relationship with Algernon Charles Swinburne might have been more than platonic. Any thoughts?
Lucinda Hawksley:

I don’t think it was more than platonic, partly because Lizzie seems to have been a one-man woman and partly because Rossetti trusted them together implicitly. When one considers how jealous Rossetti was of Lizzie sitting to any other artist than him, it seems he must have had very good reasons for not being jealous of Swinburne. After meeting Rossetti, Lizzie really doesn’t seem to have wanted any other man except him. There’s no suggestion of her ever being unfaithful or even flirting – even when she knew Rossetti was cheating on her and her art teacher in Sheffield was infatuated with her.

LizzieSiddal.com: In describing Lizzie’s childhood, you mentioned that her social class was not so far removed from Rossetti’s as most people believe. Do you think this fabrication originated from Lizzie or Rossetti?
Lucinda Hawksley:

Apparently it originated from her. I think to make herself more romantic and appeal to Rossetti’s (and the general Pre-Raphaelite) desire to be a chivalrous knight saving a damsel in distress! It is very odd that Lizzie should have made her social origins more humble than they actually were. It’s something I could never quite work out the sense of.

LizzieSiddal.com: Ophelia is perhaps the most famous image of Lizzie. Did you find any indication of how she felt about the painting? Obviously, posing for it was physically trying for her. I wonder how she felt about the finished project.
Lucinda Hawksley:

There’s no recorded impression from her, but I think she must have been proud of it. She visited Ophelia on display in Paris in 1855 when she was travelling through to the South of France. William Rossetti later said that it was the best of all portraits of her, the most like her, and Millais was already very famous by the time Lizzie died. Incidentally, if any of your readers are coming to London before 13 Jan 2008 they should try and visit the wonderful new Millais exhibition at the tate Britain. Ophelia is on display there, newly cleaned and looking beautiful. (It’s the MOST amazing exhibition – worth making a special trip for!)

LizzieSiddal.com: Does it appear as if anyone around her was concerned with her frequent use of laudanum? Did anyone try to help or reduce her usage?
Lucinda Hawksley:

It is implied that both her parents and Rossetti tried to help her reduce her usage but there are no concrete records about how they felt. Laudanum then really was used like we might use paracetamol or aspirin, so it was quite normal for people – especially women – to use it in large quantities.

LizzieSiddal.com: Is there any record of how Lizzie’s family felt about Rossetti having her exhumed? They must have been aware of it after the fact, and no doubt shocked.
Lucinda Hawksley:

I don’t know that they would have been aware of it – if they had done they would I am sure have been furious. Rossetti’s own mother who was the legal owner of the grave and should have been consulted was amazingly kept in ignorance of it. It seems they managed to keep it a secret for many years. It was something Rossetti was deeply ashamed of and something that I believe contributed to him going insane.

LizzieSiddal.com: Have you ever visited Lizzie’s grave? I believe that it is in an area of Highgate that is rarely accessible to visitors. But I know that I, along with many visitors to my site, would love to be able to visit. So if you’ve been, perhaps we can enjoy a visit vicariously through you.
Lucinda Hawksley:

I have visited it, but several years ago. It is in an area of the cemetery that is susbsiding (apparently) so it’s not usually deemed suitable for groups of visitors to see it. The last time I went there had been a lot of rain and they weren’t allowing anyone into that part of the graveyard. She is buried in the Rossetti family grave, which is a pretty plot, but in comparison to some of the incredibly opulent graves at Highgate it is really quite insignificant, I’m sorry to say. If any of your readers are coming to London, it really is worth visiting Highgate, even though they probably won’t get to see Lizzie’s grave, as it is the most fascinating place.

LizzieSiddal.com: Perhaps it is because I’m an American, but I did not discover Lizzie or Pre-Raphaelite art until my early twenties. Are they well known to most people in Britain? Is Siddal someone you always knew about? Or can you remember when you first became interested in the lives of the Pre-Raphaelites? I have to say, they are an interesting bunch of characters.
Lucinda Hawksley:

The Pre-Raphaelites are extremely well known here and their paintings are still used a great deal for things such as advertising and book jackets. In the 1980s and early 1990s there was a very popular chain of poster shops called Athena, one of their best-selling posters was Millais’s ‘Ophelia’. I became interested in the Pre-Raphaelites through the poetry of Christina Rossetti, which I loved from the age of about 13 onwards. At around that age I was in an art gallery and saw the name “Dante Rossetti” and thought ‘I wonder if he’s a relation…’ So I actually discovered the artists through literature. From the first time I read about their lives I was hooked. They are such a fascinating group of people. In fact the London art world (very closely tied to the worlds of literature and music) all through the 19th and early 20th centuries fascinates me – not least because the main characters all knew one another and their lives became so intertwined. You meet the same people again and again when researching art history from that period; I love it, it’s like meeting old friends!

LizzieSiddal.com: Growing up as the great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens is an awesome pedigree. Did you always want to be a writer? And did you view your ancestry as a help or a hindrance?
Lucinda Hawksley:

I have wanted to be a writer for as far back as I can remember – though I have two sisters and many cousins and they don’t feel the same way, so it may or may not have been because of Dickens. I have always known about the connection, it would be hard not to when Dickens is such an incredibly important part of British culture, history etc. If I am honest it has been both a help and a hindrance, though usually more of a help, because people are so interested. I’m a patron of the Charles Dickens Museum in London (www.dickensmuseum.com) and it is such a privilege. It’s amazing to stand in the home your ancestors once lived in and see people who are thrilled and inspired by the exhibits. There will always be people who want to pick apart anything I write and say “it’s not as good as Dickens”, but then that’s part of the world of being a writer! There will always be critics.

LizzieSiddal.com: Do you feel close or emotionally invested in the people you research? I’m interested in the dynamics — and did researching Kate Perugini feel different than researching Siddal because of the family aspect?
Lucinda Hawksley:

Researching both Lizzie and Katey were very different journeys. Both were women I had admired for many years, so it was wonderful to have the chance to really get to know them. I have missed both of them since I stopped writing their stories, though I give regular talks about them, which is great fun. I especially love the questions at the end from people who are equally keen to find out more about them. I do feel very emotionally close to both of them. On both occasions, when I completed the manuscript, I felt a sense of bereavement. When I was writing about Katey I discovered what seemed to be bigamy on the part of her second husband – though, very excitingly!, turned out to have been an earlier secret marriage to her. I felt physically sick as I tried to find the marriage certificate to see who he had married and the sense of relief and happiness when I discovered Katey’s name on the certificate was enormous. I had felt outraged on her behalf. Likewise when I was writing Lizzie’s story I got to the point when I couldn’t stand Annie Miller for the bitchy delight she took in trying to take Rossetti away from Lizzie (by contrast, I grew very fond of Fanny Cornforth and really felt sad for her that Rossetti had left her to get back with and then marry Lizzie). The family aspect of researching Katey made it a necessarily more emotional journey as I was discovering personalities who were so like people I have in my life today. It was also so fascinating to uncover almost forgotten family stories.

LizzieSiddal.com: I enjoy reading biographies, but I have to say that reading your biography of Elizabeth Siddal was a refreshing change. It reads almost more like a novel than a dry biography. You have a knack for telling a tale. Have you ever considered writing fiction?
Lucinda Hawksley:

Thank you! Yes I have considered writing fiction and have a half-finished children’s novel in my desk – which maybe one day I will find the chance to finish. I hope so. I find people’s lives so incredibly interesting and am always astonished when I read a biography that can make a vibrant, dynamic person seem dull. Truth really is so much more interesting than most fiction. If Lizzie hadn’t existed and I had made up her life story it would have probably been criticised for being too far fetched.

LizzieSiddal.com: Are you planning any more books on people in the Pre-Raphaelite circle?
Lucinda Hawksley:

Yes, I am hoping to do one on Millais and Simeon Solomon – and more work on the group and movement in general. It’s all in the early stages at the moment.

LizzieSiddal.com: One thing I have noticed from all the emails I get about my site is that people who are interested in Lizzie almost seem protective towards her. Their interest is intense and their curiosity about her is deep. And since her story has also captivated me, it is a great pleasure to discuss her with others who are also interested. Do you have a similar experience at book signings and lectures when you meet your readers?
Lucinda Hawksley:

Absolutely, I like to call it the Marilyn Monroe syndrome. With both Marilyn and Lizzie I think women wish that they could have been friends with her as their friendship might have “saved” her. Men always find both the women intriguing because they remained young and beautiful, never seen as old or unattractive. It tends to happen in general with people who died young – from Lord Byron to James Dean. They retain that allure about them – like a mystery novel that doesn’t have an ending. People always want to find out more. Lizzie’s constant popularity is amazing to me, I love that she is as much of a celebrity in some circles as the people who appear on the cover of those [annoying!] celebrity magazines we have in the UK.

I am grateful that Lucinda Hawksley took the time to chat with me! It was truly an honor. Visit her website, LucindaHawksley.com for information on speaking engagements and book tours.


Book Review: Stunner, The Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth

fanny-cornforth-book.jpg

If you are familiar with the life of Rossetti, then you’ve probably noticed that he was an adept at compartmentalizing his life. Lizzie had her place. So did Annie Miller. Then Fanny Cornforth came along. Finally Jane Morris claimed his heart. Still, each woman he loved in his own way; each woman had her place in his life. Neatly categorized where they fit best,it seems.

And these “categories”, this labeling of lives spills over into those who are Rossetti enthusiasts. There are those of us who are devoted to Siddal, and those of us who are intrigued by the brooding silence of Jane Morris and the enigmatic images that he created of her. But not many of us are in Cornforth’s corner.

Why?

Most Rossetti biographers and Pre-Raphaelite scholars have branded Cornforth as a fat prostitute. A crude, lower class, buxom blonde who pursued Rossetti in a predatory way by spitting nutshells at him. Cornforth is a face we know well, a face we tolerate because Rossetti was enamored of her, but we all know that as she grew fatter, the woman Rossetti dubbed Elephant became someone that Rossetti no longer desired and his interest shifted to Jane Morris.

Enter Kirsty Stonell Walker. With her book Stunner The Rise and Fall of Fanny Cornforth, she has turned what is known about Rossetti and his prostitute model on its head. After reading this book, I’m no longer comfortable calling Fanny his model. Surely, along with Siddal and Morris, she should be now known as a muse as well.

In the first biography of Fanny’s life, the author paints a picture of a woman born of a working class family who captured Rossetti’s attention through her beauty. Seen by other biographers as a leech stealing Rossetti’s money and art, Kirsty intoduces us to a friend who was loyal to Rossetti. Franny cared for him as a wife would, nursing him and at times indulging him. But always and forever loyal to him.

This book is a must read for any Rossetti or Pre-Raphaelite enthusiast. I was impressed by Kirsty Stonell Walker’s writing and research, and found the photographs included at the end of the book a welcome personal touch, as if I were sharing in her research in tracing the footsteps of Cornforth’s life. In the reading of this book, I came to see Cornforth as someone Rossetti depended upon, someone he welcomed into his life and did not want to let go of. Yes, she was most likely a prostitute in an age when women had limited career choices. But she was refreshingly honest and loyal to Rossetti. If Stonell Walker’s goal was for us to see Cornforth in a positive light, then she has achieved that. She has given an accurate, unflinching view of Fanny’s life. And in an age where paparazzi feature young “socialites” getting out of cars devoid of knickers, I think we can forgive Fanny for her lack of gentility.

I’m not an easy sell, let me tell you. But Stonell Walker had me hooked in the first chapter. This book has meat. I learned about Cornforth and Rossetti, when I (in my ignorance) thought I had nothing left to learn. I encourage you to read the book, to understand not only Rossetti’s relationship with Fanny, but his relationship with others as well. I am proud to have read Stonell Walker’s first book, because I feel that it will not be her last. I think she has much to offer and her voice will continue to be heard.

This will not be her last book. I have a feeling.

Stunner: The Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth on Amazon

Violet Hunt’s “Wife of Rossetti”

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. I would never suggest this book to someone without also suggesting that they balance it by reading 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.”

From Wikipedia:

Isobel Violet Hunt (September 28, 1862January 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 wrote many novels. Her biography of Elizabeth Siddall is considered unreliable, with animus against Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

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.

Lizzie Siddal Photo Elizabeth Siddal Rossetti

chatham placeChatham Place (where Lizzie & Rossetti lived)

chatham-place-2.jpgAnother view of Chatham place

anniemiller.jpgAnnie Miller

charles-siddall.jpgCharles Siddall (Lizzie’s father)

christinarossetti.jpg Christina Rossetti

deverell.jpgWalter Howell Deverell

effie-ruskin-milais.jpg Effie Ruskin Millais

fanny-cornforth.jpgFanny Cornforth

ford-madox-brown.jpgFord Madox Brown

gpboyce.jpg G.P. Boyce

janeburden.jpgJane Burden, before her marriage

janeburdenmorris.jpg Jane Morris (after marriage)

mrs-burne-jones-and-pip.jpg Georgiana Burne-Jones and baby

ruskin.jpg John Ruskin

william-bell-scott.jpgWilliam Bell Scott

william-allingham.jpg William Allingham

william-holman-hunt.jpg William Holman Hunt

william-michael-rossetti.jpgWilliam Michael Rossetti

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REVIEW: Lizzie Siddal-The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel

Lizzie Siddal: Face of the Pre-Raphaelites (also titled Lizzie Siddal:  The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel)

by Lucinda Hawksley

This book runs to 230 pages in its paperback form, including pictures, notes and references etc. It is quite simply one of the most readable accounts of Lizzie’s life as a progressive woman, artist and poet during the early Victorian period in 19th Century England.

Her life is documented from her youth as a sibling within a working class/artisan family aspiring to get back to more prosperous times, to her formative times as a model to the artists of the new Pre-Raphaelite movement, to her adoption of their values and ideals to become a force within that movement in her own right.

Throughout the book comes a feeling of sympathy for Lizzie as she tries to make the best of her life in a society where the art establishment is dominated by men, the Pre-Raphaelite movement itself is daring to push the boundaries of how painting is viewed and appreciated, and her unrestrained use of laudanum threatens to stifle her creativity just when her work is gaining wider recognition and appeal.

On the positive side, the book does not sensationalize any aspect of Lizzie’s life or spend too long going into detail just for the sake of it. Her decisions and actions in response to the circumstances she finds herself in are put into historical context using some well known references and others that appear to be original research from personal letters, old newspaper files and the recorded recollections of friends and acquaintances.

When I finished reading the book I felt that I could have been reading just an introduction to the life of Lizzie Siddal, as having had such an insight into what drove and motivated her, I wanted to know much more about the effect she had on those around her and the wider perceptions of her amongst Victorian society. What I was really left wanting to know is: in today’s world of equality and opportunity, just what could Lizzie have achieved?

John Bowler

Devon, UK

June 2006

And now from the personal viewpoint:

I own up to having been in love with Lizzie Siddal for more than 20 years. I was left frustrated having read this book, at not being able to be there at the time to tell Lizzie that Dante Rossetti was a loser and a waster (in terms of women, love, sex and romance), albeit a gifted talented artist and visionary, but who in normal circumstances was never going to marry her. He was a male chauvinist, as were most men at the time by today’s standards, with attitudes to women and their place in society that prevented Lizzie from achieving her true potential.

Unfortunately, Lizzie was her own worst enemy by her addiction to laudanum and the trust she put in Rosetti’s declarations of love for her. Had she had a stronger personality with more determination and confidence, I believe that she would have made use of her connections with the Pre-Raphaelite artists, Ruskin and William Morris to live and to outshine them all.

During her visits to Paris she must have been very well aware of the stirrings of Impressionism amongst the French artists and the opportunities for art that the new techniques in photography were bringing. She is portrayed as a progressive intelligent woman who could approach life with pragmatism and who had she lived longer could have bridged the gap that was to arise between the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Impressionism and photographic art.

If only she had not been blinded by love and laudanum, and I had lived at that time.

Further Reading

FURTHER READING:

Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 4 volumes edited by O. Doughty and J. R. Wahl, 1965-7

Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 2 volumes by William Holman-Hunt

Pre-Raphaelite Portraits by Andrea Rose, 1981

Some Reminiscences by William Michael Rossetti

The Works of John Ruskin edited by E. T. Cooke and A. D. Wedderburn, 1909

The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Virginia Surtees

Three Rossettis: Unpublished Letters to and from Dante Gabriel, Christina, William, 1937

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Friends and Enemies by Helen Rossetti Angeli

Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, Jan Marsh 1985, Quartet Books

The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal, Jan Marsh 1992, Quartet Books