Friday, September 14, 2012

Lizzie and Algernon

I've got a cartoon planned of Lizzie telling off Ruskin. That should be fun...
Elizabeth Siddal, by Rossetti.
Algernon Swinburne

 I talked about in this previous post how Lizzie Siddal and Algernon Swinburne
 became very close friends and had an almost sisterly and brotherly relationship, helped
by the fact that both shared the same hair color.
"'Hit me with your best shot."
Dante Gabriel Rossetti often said he had to teasingly reprimand them for getting too rowdy in their conversations.
John Ruskin,
patronizing patron.
John Ruskin seemed to always be convinced
that Lizzie was terribly ill, even dying.
He wrote in an 1855 letter after first meeting
her that "Rossetti and I will take care of her"
and that she had potential for genius,
"if she lives".

Ruskin offered her money to live on while she pursued her artistic study under Rossetti's tutelage. But once Lizzie reluctantly accepted his patronage, she also found that Ruskin had very little advice about her dream of becoming an artist. Instead, he seemed to want to run every other aspect of her life which included telling her what she must do to "get well", sending her to doctors, prescribing strange medical concoctions, keeping her isolated and treating her in a patronizing manner as if she were a wayward child. On top of this he advised, "Only draw when you can't help it." And when she did break down and actually do some artwork, she was to draw only the way Ruskin told her to, which would take away any  spontaneity and artistic freedom she had.

Lizzie, self-portrait. She does not look happy.
She's probably thinking of doing a "Christina Rossetti"
with a canvas on somebody's head...
Eventually, Ruskin was begining to drive Lizzie nuts. One of his doctors finally advised that she was probably thinking too much --women should never overtax their poor little brains, poor dears; it will cause physical illness and erratic behavior-- and suggested she was not do any artwork for several months. Lizzie was understandably very indignant and this probably added to her reputation for being "difficult". She no longer wanted Ruskin's patronage. Rossetti, who was also relying on Ruskin's patronage, became quite anxious.

All on top of this was Rossetti's wandering eye. It's no wonder Lizzie was thankful for
Swinburne's friendship and attention...

       ...even if Algie was a little odd, he respected her and made her laugh.

1874 cartoon of Algie by "Ape" in Vanity Fair.

 Coming up next: Dickens' Review.


  1. I love this allusion to Swinburne's S&M! Btw was he a whipper or a whippee?

    Have you read his Anactoria?

  2. Thanks, Caroline! I think he was a whippee, but I'm currently still reading a biography of him by Donald Thomas and haven't found out yet. (And the question is: do I really want to know...?) I just started getting interested in his poetry and recently bought an old book of it I found at a used bookstore, but I haven't read it yet. Should be very interesting... :)

  3. I found a book by William Morris (about some futuristic society) in a remote bookshop but it seemed to challenging so I didn't get it. I should like to try his fairy-tales some day though...You should think of getting published like Kate Beaton. Her comic on the Bronte sisters is really the best.

  4. I love Kate Beaton and her Bronte Sisters cartoon is my absolute favorite of hers! So you tried to read "News From Nowhere", huh? Morris' fantasy novels are also a little challenging, too, because he writes in such a florid, archaic style. But if you can find a reprint of one of them completely set in his own Kelmscott font and with his decorative borders, it's a work-of-art...

    Hopefully, when all these cartoons get inked, they will be compiled into a book. The publisher of my graphic novel is interested in publishing them. But I've basically been doing these just for fun in my sketchbooks.