Monday, August 20, 2012

Algernon Swinburne Bran Flakes

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 fiancĂ© 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.
After Lizzie's death, Algie and several others lived together in Rossetti's big house in Cheyne Walk (along with all of Rossetti's animals.)  After too many near-fatal incidents due to to his excesses, Swinburne was taken in by a friend to dry out and adopt a healthier lifestyle, and it was with this friend that he remained for the rest of his life. He did not associate with his old Pre-Raph buddies again, almost being kept under house arrest by his caregiver.

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.


  1. lol, swinburne really looks like swinburne. btw why is the product art censored?

    1. Well, I thought considering that Swinburne was famous for his erotic poetry and frequently running around in the nude, he'd put himself on the cereal box... and probably, it's best left to the imagination... lol.

    2. Oh, and thank you for asking, Caroline! :) lol.

  2. quite an amusing satire of Millais using his painting as a soap advertisement ... only this time, Swinburne's art is for cereal. If only Swinburne were living now, he might be making money out of the Fifty Shades craze instead of being reviled for sadomasochism.

    1. Thank you, Caroline!
      Yes, who would have thought that S&M would have become the sudden literary craze?

  3. I read Hide Me Among the Graves but I finished it confused. What really went on between Polidori and Christina? Was Polidori really an evil guy or was it a nephilim taking over Polidori's body?

  4. Hi Caroline!
    My take on the Polidori-creature in the book was that when he was alive, Polidori allowed the nephilim full control over him, even after death. I think the creature was Polidori-"amplified": whatever was left of him was combined with the vampire. In the prequel, "Stress of Her Regard", Polidori was just a weak man who wanted to have talent like Byron. (Byron in that story was just as desperate for inspiration, no matter how dangerous the cost, and he also gets involved with the nephilim.) But Polidori didn't know what he was getting into and the result is he was turned into this horrible creature in "Graves". And he became a muse to his niece by seducing her.

    John Polidori in real life was just a troubled man, of course, who wrote a best-selling story about a vampire whom he based on Byron.