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Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel
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message 1: by Carol (last edited Sep 03, 2019 10:44AM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1899 comments Mod
This is the discussion thread for our September non-fiction book club read: Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawksley. First published in 2004.

Lizzie Siddal The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawksley

Lucinda Hawksley

Hawksley is a London-based, British biographer, author and lecturer, and -- she’s the great great great granddaughter of Charles Dickens! Her own website is both lovely and includes a lot of interesting content. Here's the link: http://www.lucindahawksley.com/lizzie...

Her books include biographies, social histories, art history and travel writing: Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home; Charles Dickens and His Circle; Queen Victoria's Mysterious Daughter: A Biography of Princess Louise; The Victorian Treasury: A Collection of Fascinating Facts and Insights about the Victorian Era; Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards; The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Rebellious Daughter; March, Women, March; 50 British Artists You Should Know; Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens's Artist Daughter; Essential Pre-Raphaelites, and others.

Lizzie Siddal

Amazon blurb:
Before the modern supermodel, there was Lizzie Siddal, whose image captivated a generation–and whose life ended tragically in a laudanum-soaked suicide. Saved from the drudgery of a working-class existence by Dante Rossetti, the young Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter who became her lover, Lizzie Siddal was one of the most famous faces in Victorian Britain and a pivotal figure in London's artistic scene. Today, even those who do not know her name recognize her as Millais's doomed Ophelia and Rossetti's beatified Beatrice. Exploring the many parallels to our contemporary worlds of art and fashion, Lucinda Hawksley looks behind the celebrated muse to reveal a talented poet and artist in her own right.

http://lizziesiddal.com/portal/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddes...

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainmen...


Liesl will lead our discussion.

If you're planning to join in this read, let us know. If you are willing to share what interests you most about this book (art? history? the role of women in 1862? that fabulous cover?), please do.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 619 comments I finished reading it a few days ago. I'm going to be tied up for a couple of weeks in September so I thought I would get to it early. I'll wait for the discussion to start before I share my thoughts.


message 3: by Liesl (last edited Sep 01, 2019 09:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Liesl | 471 comments Looking forward to reading this along with you. I'll be starting it tomorrow (1 September).

The book has been sitting on my shelf since January when I found it in the bookshop of the Tate Britain after visiting the Edward Burne Jones exhibition. I had studied some of the poetry written by the Pre-Raphaelites while at Uni and I love their art. I thought it would be an interesting read.

There is also that wonderful film clip for "Where the Wild Roses Grow" by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue.


Liesl | 471 comments Chapters 1 and 2 provide the background of Lizzie Siddal's family, and her "discovery", as we would call it today.

It really spells out the extent to which families relied on the income that their children could earn. Given the attitudes of society towards the women who modelled at the time, do you think the financial situation of the Sidall family allowed Lizzie's mother to make the right choice for her daughter?


message 5: by Liesl (last edited Sep 01, 2019 05:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Liesl | 471 comments Chapters 3 to 5 provide details about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, about Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the relationship that developed between he and Lizzie.

Have you ever seen any of the works that Lizzie Siddal modelled for?

What did you make of their relationship?

Were you aware that Lizzie was also an artist and poet? What did you think of "Fragment of a Ballad"?


message 6: by Liesl (last edited Sep 02, 2019 11:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Liesl | 471 comments Chapter 6 is titled "Why does he not marry her?" and while providing a lot of interesting information about their relationship, there is really only supposition as to why Rossetti took so long to ultimately marry Lizzie.

I'd be interested in people's views as to whether the chapter has answered the question, or whether they have any other ideas?


Liesl | 471 comments Chapters 7 and 10 provide an outline of the poor health that Lizzie Siddall reportedly had.

I was kind of fascinated by how uninvolved Lizzie's family appear to be in her life at this time. In the early chapters, Hawksley indicates that the Siddalls had spent time instilling manners and some basic education in their children. It seems odd that as a still relatively young, unmarried woman, Lizzie was able to spend so much time away from home.

To what extent do you think her illness was related to her relationship with Rossetti?


message 8: by Liesl (last edited Sep 03, 2019 12:14AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Liesl | 471 comments Chapters 8 and 9 discuss the development of Lizzie's role as artist rather than model, her introduction to the art critic John Ruskin who became her patron, and an outline of some of her works.

Over the past couple of years I've read a few articles about the lack of focus historically on female artists. So these chapters provide a small window into the art world at that time. I didn't know enough about her art to judge whether her talent was worthy of such patronage given her lack of education and training. I found a website (www.lizziesiddal.com) where you can find images of the drawings and paintings mentioned in these chapters.

She has clearly been influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that she had modelled for in terms of her subject matter and style. I personally think her drawings are superior to her paintings.

Some of the PRB members seemed to be of the opinion that her work was not worthy of patronage. Was that a case of jealousy, or do you think they had valid reasons for their opinions?


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 619 comments Before I read this book, I had no idea that Lizzie was an artist and poet. I had seen her in PRB paintings and absolutely loved them.

When I lived in England, I used to go to the Tate every chance I had to gaze at Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott because I love the poem and love the painting. I was amazed at its size the first time I saw it.

I think a lot of what happens to Lizzie is due to the precarious position of low income women at the time. She becomes a model because it provides her with a better income than working in a hat shop. But once a model, her reputation is tarnished because in those days, being a model is synonymous with being someone's mistress. So she clings to Rossetti who continues to dangle the promise of respectability and marriage. And, of course, he delays marriage. He knows her options are limited. He's already getting everything he wants, so why commit to marriage?

Lizzie's deceptions and antics of feigning illness (I do think some of it was a ploy to draw Rossetti back) reminded me a lot of Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House where the female has little choice but to resort to deception and play-acting to hold on to her man.

It's all pretty sad.


i r e n e (irene_romance) | 37 comments Library has my copy ready to pick up! Can’t wait to dive in and get in with these interesting questions.


Liesl | 471 comments Irene wrote: "Library has my copy ready to pick up! Can’t wait to dive in and get in with these interesting questions."

Looking forward to hearing what you think of this.

Sorry all for my silence. I had family visiting and it took up all my free time. I finished this last week and as Tamara says it is a really sad tale. Overall I gave it 4 stars as it provided an alternative perspective to the story that had previously been told and I enjoyed the writing style.

Equating Lizzie with what we today call a supermodel also adds to our understanding of what this work did to her life, particularly when we think of the information about the unfortunate side of the life of actors, musicians and models in our own time that the Me Too movement has provided.

It is interesting to think that some things really haven't changed all that much. There are many young women and men today that come from low income environments for whom the world of modelling or acting would provide a better life than the other alternatives available to them. They become easy prey for many corrupt individuals such as those we have been reading about in the news.


message 12: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1899 comments Mod
I find it fascinating that, going back forever, we often criticize the values, morals and integrity of persons seeking upward mobility by the most lucrative paths available to them. Athletes, models, actors, singers. Across cultures, I suspect, we expect that people should work toward economic independence by only the most respectable means - with the utmost personal restraint - and if they fail, we condemn them for aspiring a little to quickly and imperfectly. This isn't the right time for this book and me, but it seems like another necessary book challenging the average person's belief that Jack the Ripper's victims, Harvey Weinstein's victims, every West Coast serial killer's prostitute victims, etc. had it coming. Maybe the message will begin to take hold with repetition.


Liesl | 471 comments Carol wrote: "I find it fascinating that, going back forever, we often criticize the values, morals and integrity of persons seeking upward mobility by the most lucrative paths available to them. Athletes, model..."

Perhaps my connection of the idea that it was not only in earlier times that people have been taken advantage of, might be misleading in this context. While Lizzie may have agreed to model due to her economic circumstances, she was not a victim of the kind of abuse that is covered by the Me Too movement. She may have been a victim of her circumstances and her addiction, but I don't consider her to have been a victim of abuse by the Pre-Raphaelites.


message 14: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1899 comments Mod
Liesl wrote: "Carol wrote: "I find it fascinating that, going back forever, we often criticize the values, morals and integrity of persons seeking upward mobility by the most lucrative paths available to them. A..."

No, it was clear (to me) that you weren't connecting those dots to abuse. But one's limited options are one's limited options and few come risk free, so ...


i r e n e (irene_romance) | 37 comments Finished the book last night - loved this recommendation.

I really like Tamara’s summary of Lizzie’s life as one of the times for low-income women, and what Carol adds to the discussion about respectable vs lucrative jobs, and the judgment we cast upon people striving for upward mobility no matter what time period.

On the thought of Lizzie’s mysterious illness and how much it was related to her relationship with Rossetti, I think the laudanum addiction made a very plausible reason for her frequent bouts of illness that were then exaggerated so she could get Dante’s attention. However, I would also be curious to learn more about invalid lifestyle in Victorian England. It seems like some women chose to be invalids, and that it also was associated with ideas of femininity but also transgression? It seems to me that there could be some of that at play.

As for why Dante never married her but clearly loved her enough to consider her his exclusive muse, nurture her artistic talent and champion it to art patrons - I think the reason why he did not marry her is for the simple reason that he was a selfish and sentimental man. Charming, but he borrowed money from his friends w/o paying them back, and also didn't think twice about going after Jane Morris. They were the on-again-off-again couple that loved each other but enabled each other.


Liesl | 471 comments Irene wrote: "Finished the book last night - loved this recommendation.

I really like Tamara’s summary of Lizzie’s life as one of the times for low-income women, and what Carol adds to the discussion about res..."


I am glad that you enjoyed the book, Irene.


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