This cartoon really has no historical basis to it whatsoever except for perhaps Dante Gabriel Rossetti being frequently depressed and in ill health later in his life--and for Algernon Swinburne being an odd little man. Also, I later discovered after I drew this that Rossetti was actually fond of a bowl of raisins now and then. (Thank you, Phillip Brown.)
The story of this silliness was that I had been reading about Swinburne online, wanting to know a little more about him. Naturally this went into my subconscious and I had a dream that night that someone knocked on my door and handed me a bag of groceries. (No one delivers groceries to my door, I go out and buy my own.) In the bag was a cereal box with Victorian designs and lettering which read: "Algernon Swinburne Bran Flakes (With Raisins)".
When I woke up I took this as a sign that I needed more fiber, iron and decadent poetry in my diet. And so I bought some raisin bran.
So, after mentioning the goofy dream on Facebook, I decided to draw the official tv commercial for Algernon Swinburne Bran Flakes™ ... and this is the result. (I made sure to try to show Rossetti eating from a Blue Willow cereal bowl. He collected Blue Willow china.)
|This photo of Algie aways reminds me |
of Gene Wilder in "Young Frankenstein".
Algernon was a poet, critic and scholar who also became quite famous for his unconventional lifestyle. He was a tiny man with a wild mane of red hair and despite being seemingly fragile, he was a great swimmer and climber as well as an expert equestrian.
But he also had self-destructive tendencies, living the life of a Victorian wild child, getting drunk, partying and reading the Marquis de Sade. Infact, he was fond of pain all around and sought it out at special establishments for the purpose. A good friend of most of the Pre-Raphaelites (Burne-Jones called him "Little Carrots"for his hair), he could alway be counted on to liven up a party by doing something completely off-the-wall-- like sliding naked down a bannister. Ouch.
|Swinburne, painted by Rossetti.|
Despite this all, he was however very fond of and gentle to little children... and Lizzie Siddal, whom he adored. The two would be found laughing, talking and playing games together and this made Rossetti, as Lizzie's fiancé and later husband, relieved she had a "playmate" who actually seemed to make her happy. The two redheads would draw curious looks whenever they went out together for dinner.
|Arthur Rackham's illustration for a posthumous|
book of Swinburne's poetry about childhood,
featuring Algie as a faun.
Currently, Swinburne has been popular as a character in works of modern science fiction and fantasy. In Elizabeth Hand's Mortal Love, he is part of a cast of characters who encounters a hauntingly sensual artist's muse; in Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves, he and the entire Rossetti family encounter a deadlier type of muse that requires blood. And in Mark Hodder's steampunk adventures, he even becomes an action hero sidekick to Sir Richard Burton (whom he was a friend of, in reality) with his tolerance and enjoyment of pain being his "superpower".
|Cartoon by Max Beerbohm of a very diminutive Algie reading to to the Rossetti brothers.|
And yes, the mouse in the classic science fiction story by Daniel Keyes,
"Flowers for Algernon", was named after him.
Coming up next: Lizzie and Algernon.