Our Pre-Raph Gang

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ned's Angels, Part Two













This cartoon got a little out-of-hand and wandered into the Three Stooges realm of goofy violence, but I have to admit it was fun to draw. Here we introduce a Pre-Raphaelite supervillain...

Charles Augustus Howell  was a very naughty fellow. (For an excellent and very entertaining post about him, I recommend Kirsty Walker's: http://fannycornforth.blogspot.com/2012/01/whos-been-naughty-boy.html)
Our bad boy.

He was an alleged blackmailer who inspired Arthur Conan-Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, "Charles Augustus Milverton". He was described by Edward Burne-Jones as "a base, treacherous, unscrupulous and malignant fellow". Even Algernon Swinburne called him "the vilest wretch I ever came across". (Pretty strong words from a guy who idolized the Marquis de Sade.)

But probably his most notorious act was to convince an emotionally distraught Dante Gabriel Rossetti to dig up Lizzie Siddal's grave to exhume the book of his poems he had buried with his wife in his grief. And Howell completely orchestrated and was present at the actual exhumation.

He was originally a good and trusted friend to various members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Being a handsome man, he frequently modeled for Rossetti (he would later grow a distinguished and dastardly moustache). He earned his nickname "Owl", thanks to Fanny Cornforth's strong Cockney accent. When asked if she had seen him about town, she replied, "I see'd no 'Owl." After which, Burne-Jones affectionately called him "My pretty little Owl" (everyone seemed to have a big man-crush on this charming schemer) and trusted him with his business affairs... until Howell's nefarious side was gradually revealed.
The Owl, by Rossetti.
Not see'd by Fanny Cornforth.

Among his many misdeeds, Howell was said to be embezzling money from John Ruskin (a rich man, to whom he was briefly a secretary) who had entrusted him with handling charitable donations and instead was attempting to put himself solely in charge of Ruskin's estate. (Big mistake. Ned quickly convinced Ruskin to relieve Howell of his services.)

Howell also took up selling forgeries of Rossetti's art which were supplied by his mistress Rosa Corder, who was a talented artist.

Rosa Corder by J. A. Whistler:
The "Rawhrrrr!" lady in
the above cartoon

After having faked his own death for financial gain (as any true supervillain in a comic book would do) Howell finally died for real under strange circumstances that have never been made clear. His official cause of death was "pnemonia" (in a nursing home), yet stories circulated that his throat had been cut and a sovereign  put in his mouth (symbolic for the accusation of slander) with speculation that this may have occurred after his death. No one will ever know for sure.

But it eventually became great material for Sherlock Holmes.

Early cartoon by Max Beerbohm
(who did many hilarious caricatures of the PRB) of Howell
and Rosa creating forgeries.



Coming up next:
 Algernon Swinburne Bran Flakes.

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