Despite being remembered mainly for her role as a Victorian muse to artists like her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his close circle of painters and friends who formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Elizabeth Siddall was also an artist herself as both painter and poet, and now for the first time her poetry has been published in a new book as it was originally written in her manuscripts, as The Guardian reports.
Elizabeth Siddall is perhaps recognized by most people today as the flame-haired, pale beauty floating in a river in her role as Ophelia for the iconic painting by John Everett Millais, or as the languid and tragic figure in Rossetti’s tribute to his dead wife that is known as Beata Beatrix with its red dove and white poppy, a reminder of the role laudanum played in Siddall’s life and death.
Dr Serena Trowbridge, an English lecturer at Birmingham City University, has decided that Elizabeth Siddall has “come to be represented purely by her face,” and is working hard to change this with her new book My Ladys Soul: The Poetry of Elizabeth Siddall.
While John Ruskin had decided that Elizabeth Siddall had great potential as an artist and had granted her an annual income of £150 in 1855 under the condition that she relinquish all of her drawings and paintings to him upon their completion, it is an unfortunate fact that Siddall’s poetry was sadly neglected and never published during her lifetime.
Elizabeth Siddall: pre-Raphaelites' muse finally gets her own voice, 150 years after death https://t.co/EJilrKcKvV
— Guardian Books (@GuardianBooks) September 4, 2018
When Elizabeth Siddall’s poetry was eventually published, it was edited by Dante’s brother William Michael Rossetti, who made noticeable changes to Siddall’s use of grammar and, according to Dr. Trowbridge, also “removed elements which he deemed to be too personal or too sad.”
It is Dr. Trowbridge’s firm belief that poetry lovers everywhere should finally be given the opportunity to read the original and unadulterated poetry of Elizabeth Siddall, exactly as she had written it.
“For too long, Siddall has been seen as the face of the pre-Raphaelite painters, the muse and wife of Dante Rossetti, and the model for Millais’ Ophelia. I’m really happy to be able to show her as a creative woman in her own right.”
In order to acquire Siddall’s original poetry, Dr. Trowbridge visited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and spent many hours wading through the original manuscripts that had been placed there for safekeeping.
“Her face is much more famous than her creative work, and I wanted to give her a chance to speak. When I saw the manuscripts in the Ashmolean I was in tears – it was amazing to be able to see her own words in her own writing, and I felt that this was a great opportunity to produce a full edition of the poems exactly as she wrote them.”
One of three surviving leaves from a book of poetry buried with Elizabeth Siddall, in 1862, and retrieved in 1869. pic.twitter.com/W0fW9veMS5
— Bibliophilia (@Libroantiguo) May 12, 2015
The title for Dr. Trowbridge’s new book is taken from a line out of a poem by Siddall which reads “I care not for my Ladys soul.”
“Low sit I down at my Ladys feet/ Gazing through her wild eyes, / Smiling to think how my love will fleet / When their starlike beauty dies.”
Dr. Trowbridge’s new book My Ladys Soul: The Poetry of Elizabeth Siddall has been published by Victorian Secrets.