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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 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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