Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Story of Katie Lewis and Mr. Beak

 Portrait of Katie Lewis by Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) Painted in 1886, Private collection
Mr. Beak and Katie Lewis:  Who was Katie Lewis?
I’ve seen this painting by Sir Edward Burne-Jones numerous times and always wanted to know who this little girl was; more specifically, how she enamored a man like Ned? As I did some research, I discovered the Lewis family beginning with Katie’s parents, Sir George H. Lewis and Lady Lewis Elizabeth Eberstadt of Mannheim, Germany. 

 Study of Katie Lewis by Edward Burne-Jones

Another study of Katie Lewis by Edward Burne-Jones, Christies

This might be my favorite drawing of Katie Lewis, study of portrait of Katie Lewis by Edward Burne-Jones, British Museum

 Sotheby's provides background information on the portrait of Katie Lewis above, 'This portrait is even more unusual as Burne-Jones cast out all traditional notions of how a sitter should be presented and did not paint her sat rather stiffly in a chair facing the spectator as in the portrait of Margaret Burne-Jones, also exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1887.   

Katie is outspread on a couch, the sleeves of her very simple velvet dress are rolled up, her hair is loose and a little tangled and her stocking feet are bare. In short, she is presented the way a little girl really is, her shoes cast aside no doubt so that she could chase the little dog that now lies beside her. An orange is pushed aside as she immerses herself in a book and no doubt when she has finished the page, she will leap up and be off to more mischief elsewhere.  

The couch littered with cushions and the drapes behind, recall one of Burne-Jones’ most famous images of maidenhood The Sleeping Princess, which was painted as part of the Briar Rose Series at Buscot Park, which portrayed the artist’s daughter laid out upon a similar couch. The informality of the reclining pose is strikingly unconventional and makes the portrait so charmingly intimate. The pared down simplicity and the limited colour scheme of gold and dark blackish-blue, adds to the intensity of what is perhaps the most Symbolist of British portraits. 

The story Katie is reading so intently is not just any story, but that of Saint George and the Dragon. The story of Saint George was one close to Burne-Jones’ heart as he had painted several pictures of the subject, but perhaps he was also suggesting that Katie was a girl who enjoyed the romance and violence of this sort of story, rather than the simpering tales that little girls were supposed to enjoy.'

 Sir George H. Lewis photograph by Frederick Hollyer, V&A Museum

The Biography of Sir George H. Lewis and his family
George Lewis was born in 1833 and came to England from the Netherlands during the eighteenth century. He entered University College, London, at the age of fourteen, in 1847. Three years later, he joined his father’s legal firm of Lewis and Lewis where he worked for the next fifty years! His first famous case was the so-called Balham Mystery of 1876. He quickly met the Prince of Wales and became known as the solicitor to London society known for keeping secrets. He refused to write his memoirs or keep a diary explaining, ‘when I die the confidences of London society die with me!’ Well known by the 1890s, he was knighted in 1893. He usually wore a fur coat, eyeglasses and always had sideburns. 

In 1865, George Lewis’s first wife died and a year later he married Elizabeth Eberstadt. She was eleven years younger than George. She came from a cultured background and a wealthy family. Max Beerbohm said of her, ‘good books, good plays, good pictures and, above all, good music were for her no mere topics of conversation, but vital needs of her nature'.  

Four years into their marriage, during the 1870s, George and Elizabeth Lewis moved to 88 Portland Place where Elizabeth began a career as a hostess, giving her the opportunity to start a salon where she had such dinner guests as: Burne-Jones, Whistler, Alma-Tadema, Sargent, and the Du Maurier’s.  The closest friendship was with Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones and his family. It is not exactly known when they met only that they were the closest of friends. 

 Gertie Lewis, daughter, pained by Edward Burne-Jones,  1884

Elizabeth gave birth to three children: George, born in 1868, Gertrude (Gertie) born in 1871 and Katherine (Katie) born in 1878. There was a seven year age difference between the two sisters and they were quite different in personality and temperament as well with Katie being the strong-willed and determined one while Gertie was known as being more sympathetic. Amongst the famous family friends it was Gertie who they protected with Katie was known for her banter and dialogues with them, even at an early age. It seems she was very inquisitive.  Burne-Jones became enamored with Katie, having his children grown and it was Katie who talked to him developing a closeness. She filled a gap of loneliness for Burne-Jones, so much so, that in addition to painting both sisters, he wrote letters to Katie with little drawings which became a book called, ‘Letters to Katie’ and she even gave Burne-Jones the nickname of Mr. Beak which made him laugh.  I myself had a closeness with a dear family friend, though he was not artistic, I have a childhood filled with treasured family memories, so this close relationship between Katie and Mr.Beak, is very charming and I understand the connection quite well! 
 Photograph of Katie Lewis from Letters to Katie

 Burne Jones drawing of Katie Lewis, British Museum

George Lewis died in 1911, his wife Elizabeth outlived him and died in 1931. As for the sisters, while Katie never married, though she had many opportunities, she died in 1961, outliving them all and leaving strict instructions for her letters to be burnt. 

Gertie married and had three children:  Susan, born in 1904, Rachel, born in 1906 and a son Anthony in 1911, the year his grandfather died. Sadly, her husband committed suicide after the First World War ended and his company went bankrupt. Gertie’s life changed completely. She withdrew from society, separated herself from her friends and even her sister, Katie. Gertie found solace in reading her friend Henry James’s novels, while Katie moved to the Cotswolds occasionally vacationing on the Belgian coast. Gertie’s children, Susan married a barrister Seymour Karminski who became a Lord Justice. Her son Anthony became an accountant being knighted for his work on various Government Commissions. Rachel, her daughter, never married and died of leukemia in 1956 just one year after her own mother passed away. 

 The New York Times obituary for Sir George Lewis, December 8, 1911 issue

Finally, some of Burne-Jones drawings from Letters to Katie

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Victoria 28 June 1838

Here is The Globe newspaper coverage of the Coronation of Queen Victoria dated 28, June 1838. Also, a typed extract.
Extract from The Globe newspaper, 28 June 1838
Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Victoria This Day
St James’s- Street

At this part of the line the crowd was excessive, the dark and heaving masses there, with outstretched necks and full of eager expectation, waited the approach of the procession. At about half-past ten it reached the corner of this street in the precise order in which it left the Palace. The appearance of the resident and foreign ambassadors, in their splendid carriages and gorgeous uniforms, many of which were picturesque and elegant, excited much admiration, and a running comment on the policies of their respective governments was freely indulged in by many who had scarcely indulged in anything else. The good humour of the crowd, however, found a congenial subject in the approach of the Duchess of Kent and attendants, and her Royal Highness was greeted with very unequivocal demonstrations of attachment and respect, and which was cordially transferred to several other members of the Royal Family, - particularly the Duke of Sussex, who paid the penalty of his popularity by the warm and affectionate recognition of his people. Her majesty’s carriages and attendants, in twelve carriages, each drawn by six beautiful bays, were the subject of much admiration.

The Queen’s bargemaster, followed by her Majesty’s forty-eight watermen, excited much attention; their dresses were novel and pleasing. Except the general admiration bestowed indiscriminately on all that formed the procession, many composing it passed without particular notice or comment, until her Majesty’s state carriage approached, this was the signal for the kindliest and most affectionate demonstrations, and a shout echoed and re-echoed along St. James’s-street and pall-Mall – deep, fervent – and enthusiastic, was sent up from immense assemblage. Many an eye gazed upon her with mute and affectionate regard – many a tongue bid God bless as she gracefully bent forward in her splendid state carriage and acknowledged these and many touching demonstrations of loyalty and considerate affection. The windows and balconies were alive with a splendid assemblage of beauty and loveliness, even the roofs had their occupants, and scarfs, handkerchiefs, and hats were waved as her
Majesty passed, without intermission, – every balcony was a parterre – every window was a bouquet of loveliness and beauty.

Her Majesty was visibly affected with these marks of devotion and attachment on the part of the people so warmly and affectionately expressed, and more than once turned to the Duchess of Sutherland to conceal or express her emotions. The police were tolerant and good-humoured, and treated the “pressure from without” with much
forbearance. On the top of St. James’s Palace, every disposable inch of which was occupied, parties were placed and cheered her Majesty with great cordiality and warmth. On her Majesty’s arrival at the Ordnance Office, which looked not unlike a fortress, the band of the Royal Artillery, which had been occasionally enlivening the scene with appropriate airs in the balcony struck up the national anthem, and vivid demonstrations of loyalty and attachment were studiously displayed from the balconies, and windows, from which nods and becks and wreathed smiles were interchanged with some friends in the line of procession. Notwithstanding the vast masses that pressed on all sides, deepening and accumulating as the procession advanced, the utmost order and regularity was observed every where and every individual in that vast assemblage, owing to the firmness and excellent demeanour of the police, was enabled to see everything and everybody with the utmost ease.  © Royal Archives, Windsor Castle

Queen Victoria Receiving the Sacrament at her Coronation 28 June 1838 painted by Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859) in 1838-9. Painted for Queen Victoria . The painting shows the Queen, wearing the Dalmatic Robe but not the Crown and no jewels, receiving the Sacrament towards the end of the ceremony of her Coronation. The peers and peeresses have taken off their coronets. The Sacrament is being administered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howley, assisted by the Sub-Dean, the Reverend Lord.

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s first poem (in his own handwriting) as Poet Laureate, ‘To the Queen,’ was published as the dedication poem of the Laurete Edition (the 7th edition) of the Poems in 1851.
To the Queen 
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)

REVERED, beloved—O you that hold
  A nobler office upon earth
  Than arms, or power of brain, or birth
Could give the warrior kings of old,
Victoria,—since your Royal grace       
  To one of less desert allows
  This laurel greener from the brows
Of him that utter’d nothing base;
And should your greatness, and the care
  That yokes with empire, yield you time       
  To make demand of modern rhyme
If aught of ancient worth be there;
Then—while a sweeter music wakes,
  And thro’ wild March the throstle calls,
  Where all about your palace walls       
The sun-lit almond-blossom shakes—
Take, Madam, this poor book of song;
  For tho’ the faults were thick as dust
  In vacant chambers, I could trust
Your kindness. May you rule us long,     
And leave us rulers of your blood
  As noble till the latest day!
  May children of our children say,
“She wrought her people lasting good;
“Her court was pure, her life serene;      
  God gave her peace; her land reposed;
  A thousand claims to reverence closed
In her as Mother, Wife and Queen;
“And statesmen at her council met
  Who knew the seasons when to take      
  Occasion by the hand, and make
The bounds of freedom wider yet
“By shaping some august decree,
  Which kept her throne unshaken still,
  Broad-based upon her people’s will,       
And compass’d by the inviolate sea.”

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Men in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Circle: From Cheyne Walk to The Pines: Theodore Watts-Dunton and Henry Treffry-Dunn

Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832-1914) was a critic, novelist, and poet born on 12 October 1832 in St. Ives, Huntingdon. He was educated at Cambridge. He published his first articles in the Cambridge Chronicle while working in his father’s law office. It was during the 1870s that he wrote articles about literature, becoming the leading critic on poetry for the Examiner and then, from 1876, the Athenaeum. He contributed to the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1885). He wrote ‘The Renascence of Wonder in Poetry,’ that became the opening entry of the third volume of Chamber’s Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1903). These were both collected and published in book form two years after Watts-Dunton’s death.  The following years, Watts-Dunton published a novel, Aylwin, a prequel to The Coming of Love, where Percy’s cousin, the wealthy and well-born Henry Aylwin, is cruelly separated from his childhood sweetheart Winifred Wynne and embarks on a quest to find her, helped along by his close friend, the gypsy girl Sinfi Lovell. 
The novel, which he had been working on for over twenty-five years, became the publishing sensation of 1898 and was reviewed admiringly in both Britain and on the continent. It was in twenty-six editions by 1914 and was still available in a World Classics reprint in 1950. Today, the novel is virtually unknown. 

 (Dante Gabriel Rossetti document and profile drawing in collection at The New York Public Library)

During the 1870s, Watts-Dunton met Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne, advising Rossetti about a stolen check and helping Swinburne get out of a blackmail situation with his publisher John Camden Hotten.  He also helped Swinburne with his alcoholism by getting him out of London and moved into a house called, ‘The Pines,’ where Watts-Dunton took over guardianship of the poet until his death in 1909.

 Max Beerbohm wrote a humorous account of his stay at ‘The Pines’ called, “No. 2 The Pines,” published in And Even Now (1920). After a long bachelorhood, Watts-Dunton at the age of seventy-three, married twenty-nine-year old Clara Reich in 1905, having first met her when she was a sixteen year old school girl. She moved into ‘The Pines’ and wrote her biographical account published in 1922, a few years after her husband’s death. It is an affectionate account of daily life which gives opposite impression of Edmund Gosse’s 1917 biography of Swinburne that Watts-Dunton says deprived the poet of his freedom and diminished his creativity. Mrs. Watts-Dunton squashed rumors that had been swirling for years that they were such an unhappily married couple stuck in a marriage of convenience. You can read an account of the couple’s mutual devotion in Thomas Hake and Arthur Compton-Rickett’s biography.


 Theodore Watts-Dunton by Sir Henry Maximilian ('Max') Beerbohm
ink and wash, National Portrait Gallery

 Henry Treffry Dunn by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rossetti Archive
Henry Treffry Dunn (1838-1899) was born in 1838 in Truro in Cornwall, England, the son of a tea merchant. He had two sisters, one of whom, Edith, exhibited paintings while the other one became a music professor. He started out training at Heatherleys School of Fine Art in Chelsea. In 1867, he became the assistant to Dante Gabriel Rossetti who said of him, ‘The degree to which he has improved in copying my things is extraordinary, and I now perceive that he will prove most valuable to me.’  Rossetti offered him the position as assistant after Dunn created a copy of one of Rossetti’s work. Dunn would make studies and copies of Rossetti’s paintings which Rossetti described as ‘having a style that was ‘more solid than graceful.’ Dunn became not only assistant to Rossetti but eventually secretary and friend. Unfortunately, after having a fight one day, Dunn left in a huff returning to Cornwall leaving Rossetti without an assistant. Rossetti never paid him and ended up getting a new assistant, a man named Hall Caine who eventually became an author.  When Rossetti died, Dunn helped Rossetti’s brother William as executor and he eventually ended up receiving payments that Rossetti owed him. He went to live with Theodore Watts-Dunton and Swinburne at ‘The Pines’ until his death in 1899.

 One of Henry Treffry Dunn's most famous paintings was his 'green dining room' painting. One of the only paintings to include Dante Gabriel Rossetti as subject. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Theodore Watts-Dunton by Henry Treffry Dunn,gouache and watercolour, 1882. Purchased, 1939

“Mr. Hake, in ‘Notes and Queries’ (June 7, 1902), says: 
“With regard to the green room in which Winifred took her first breakfast at ‘Hurstcote,’ I am a little in confusion.  It seems to me more like the green dining-room in Cheyne Walk, decorated with antique mirrors, which was painted by Dunn, showing Rossetti reading his poems aloud.  This is the only portrait of Rossetti that really calls up the man before me.  As Mr. Watts-Dunton is the owner of Dunn’s drawing, and as so many people want to see what Rossetti’s famous Chelsea house was like inside, it is a pity he does not give it as a frontispiece to some future edition of ‘Aylwin.’  Unfortunately, Mr. G. F. Watts’s picture, now in the National Portrait Gallery, was never finished, and I never saw upon Rossetti’s face the dull, heavy expression which that portrait wears.  I think the poet told me that he had given the painter only one or two sittings.  As to the photographs, none of them is really satisfactory.
I am fortunate in being able to reproduce here the picture of the famous ‘Green Dining Room’ at 16 Cheyne Walk, to which Mr. Hake refers.  Mr. Hake also writes in the same article: “With regard to the two circular mirrors surrounded by painted designs telling the story of the Holy Grail, ‘in old black oak frames carved with knights at tilt,’ I do not remember seeing these there.  But they are evidently the mirrors decorated with copies by Dunn of the lost Holy Grail frescoes once existing on the walls of the Union Reading-Room at Oxford.  These beautiful decorations I have seen at ‘The Pines,’ but not elsewhere.”  I am sure that my readers will be interested in the photograph of one of these famous mirrors, which Mr. Watts-Dunton has generously permitted to be specially taken for this book."
 Janey Morris (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn, Date painted: c.1896/1898,Oil on oak panel,  National Trust
  Janey Morris (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn, Date painted: c.1896/1898,Oil on oak panel,  National Trust Collection.
  Janey Morris (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn, Date painted: c.1896/1898,Oil on oak panel,  National Trust Collection.
 Paolo and Francesca da Rimini (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn
Date painted: c.1896/1898, National Trust 

Hamlet and Ophelia (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) By Henry Treffry Dunn
 Date painted: c.1986/1898, National Trust

How They Met Themselves after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn
 Date painted: c.1896/1898, National Trust

Sir Launcelot in the Queen's Chamber (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn, 

Date Painted 1896/98, National Trust

 A bedroom inside Wightwick Manor depicting Dunn's paintings as part of a cabinet, seen above.

For more information visit Wightwick Manor

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Review of March, Women, March by Lucinda Hawksley

March, Women, March has been published to commemorate the centenary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who died from her injuries after being dragged under the king’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. It features diary entries, letters, anecdotes and propaganda – from both the suffrage and anti-suffrage movements – and traces the long, hard journey by which women in Britain moved from being the “property” of their fathers and husbands to gaining greater legal recognition and rights and, finally, to becoming enfranchised citizens with full voting rights.

My Thoughts

This is such a difficult review for me because I firmly believe every human being should read March, Women, March if only to understand what the suffragette movement was all about, culturally, politically, economically and socially; if only to understand why and how women such as, Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Annie Besant, Suffragist leader Lady Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and her daughter Christabel, amongst others, were fighting for equality. 

March, Women, March begins in 1792 with the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women through to the General Election of 1929. Within these pages, during these one hundred and thirty seven years, Author, Lucinda Hawksley, uses battle cries and slogans of the Suffragette Movement of the early 20th century, personal recollections taken from letters and memoirs, newspaper reports and other first-hand accounts to explain every aspect into the meaning of, for, and behind the Suffragette Movement with the purpose to understanding who these women were and why they put their beliefs, and their lives on the line with the goal of equality going forth before them with every step they took. 

This is an extremely passion-filled, emotionally written, well-researched book covering an important time in women’s history. Perhaps, the one surprise for me was the beautiful inclusion of nineteenth-century female author novel excerpts used to support chapters discussing suffragette women.  For instance, in chapter two you will find excerpts from Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. In chapter four is Woman in White; chapter six is Pride and Prejudice, etc. 

 Florence Nightingale, English nursing home reformer (1820-1910), is shown here in 1845. She became the first woman to receive the Order of Merit for her tireless efforts during the Crimean War.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (11836-1917) was the first woman doctor in England. Anderson had become a nurse at Middlesex Hospital, London; after being refused entry at several medical schools because she was a woman. However, she later discovered that the Society of Apothecaries did not specify that women were banned from taking examinations, and in 1865 she passed their examination to become a doctor.

Annie Besant (1847-1933), in 1895, The English theosophist, who was prominent in the Fabian Society, published a pamphlet on birth control for which she was brought to trial on a charge of obscenity. She moved to India where she lectured and became the Hindu nationalist leader.

 Suffragist leader Lady Emmaline Perthick-Lawrence (1868-1954) celebrates her release in 1909

 The British suffragette leader Emmaline Pankhurst (1858-1928), and her daughter Christabel (1880-1958), founders of the Women's Social and Political Union, wearing prison uniforms during a spell in jail in 1908 for demonstrating for women's rights.

 Emmaline Pankhurst is arrested at a demonstration outside Buckingham Palace, London, 1914.

This is the second book cover with a different title but the book is the same.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens's Artist Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley

The intimate biography of Charles Dickens’s daughter, the artist Kate Perugini, written by his great-great-great-granddaughter. 

Katey Dickens was a nineteenth-century artist and socialite, and the beautiful daughter of Charles Dickens. In this illuminating biography, Lucinda Hawksley, herself a direct descendant of the great novelist, recreates the life of an extraordinarily determined girl who defied Victorian convention to live and love as an independent woman.

Blessed with a privileged upbringing, Katey Dickens pursued her love of painting, acted in her father’s plays, modeled for John Everett Millais and enjoyed a high profile in society thanks to her famous father. Yet she refused to be eclipsed by her father and fought to establish herself as an artist in her own right.

Katey was driven to marry young by a turbulent family life, and following a sexless yet companionable marriage with Charlie Collins, brother of the famous author Wilkie Collins, she fell in love with and married the handsome Italian artist Carlo Perugini.

Despite finding happiness with Perugini, Katey was prone to deep depression, particularly following the deaths of her father and baby. Yet she continued to pursue her career as a painter while also championing Charles Dickens’s works and befriending such eminent figures as J.M. Barrie and George Bernard Shaw.

My Thoughts
Lucinda Hawksley has written a beautiful chronological retelling of the life of Charles Dickens’s favorite daughter, Katey Dickens (29 October 1839 – 9 May 1929). The reader will meet her parents, writer Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine, her siblings, one of which is buried in Manhattan; her brother Alfred Tennyson Dickens. The reader will meet her two husbands, Charles Collins, brother of writer, Wilkie Collins and later painter Carlo Perugini better known by his Americanized name of Charles Edward Perugini.  I was surprised to discover her affair with a man she was deeply in love with Val Prinsep and later the fact that she carried on a long term ‘friendship’ through letter writing with George Bernard Shaw.  The reader will stay with her while she outlives her family and her loved ones and ages in to a reclusive Victorian cliché of the widowed lonely woman living with a female companion in a large mansion walled in a self-induced Victoriana, while the modern world of the nineteen twenties goes on outside around her.

Overall, I was very happy and quite satisfied reading about such a talented and enigmatic woman who lived her life on her own terms and left quite a legacy through her correspondence and paintings.  She did give birth to one son during her marriage to Perugini but sadly the baby died at the age of seven months.

Lucinda Hawksley writes honestly about her descendant Charles Dickens, capturing his strengths as a man and his well known flaws.  She has an ability to encapsulate the world of Victorian England and its society with Katey Dickens’s yearning to break free from her father’s world in order to create one of her own.

The only drawback is Katey’s life doesn’t really become interesting until she is an adult and you see her during her first marriage finding her own way in life. Before that, the beginning quarter of the biography goes in to too much detail about Charles Dickens and his life; so much so, it reads as a mini-biography!

I understand the author’s need to paint a picture and set up the background history but it is a bit overdone. Other than that, ‘Katey’ is beautifully illustrated both with color inserts as well as black and white drawings and sketches.

Here are two of Kate Perugini's paintings. 
Dora by Kate Perugini

Lilla's A Lady by Kate Perugini

Saturday, June 8, 2013

La Belle Dame Morris (1839-1914)~My Review of Jane Morris: The Burden of History by Wendy Parkins

Jane Morris: The Burden of History by Wendy Parkins is NOT A BIOGRAPHY. Instead, author and Professor of Victorian Literature, Wendy Parkins, has written a socio-cultural study of Jane Morris (1839-1914) covering her life broken up into five chapter categories:
  • Preface
  • Introduction 
  1. Scandal - Jane Morris and her men Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
  2. Silence - Her reticence and myth of Indvalidism
  3. Class - Politics and Socialism
  4. Icon - Being Mrs. William Morris
  5. Home - Jane Morris at home and her creativity
Why has there been relatively little scholarly curiosity about the woman who is credited with inspiring both Dante Gabriel Rossetti and her husband William Morris? Why have scholars and biographers seemed so easily satisfied with a simplistic account of the muse, the femme fatale, the morbid beauty? And is it possible to re-interpret the stories so that she is no longer just an ancillary character in the lives of famous men? These are the questions author, Wendy Parkins, has set out to answer.

Henry James said of Jane Morris, "She was a figure cut out of a missal" 
George Bernard Shaw said after meeting her, "She looked as if she had walked out of an Egyptian tomb at Luxor." 

 In the Introduction: Life and Letters Jane Morris herself asks this question, "Why should there be any special record of me when I have never done any special work?" I wonder what she would say if she knew the lengths that scholars and academics were going to in seeking to answer her? Very simply, Jane Morris's persona is analyzed and disected throughout Rossetti's correspondence, as well as, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt's diaries called Secret Memoirs

 Here are two photographs of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. The first one on the left is the infamous heartthrob photograph! The right one is what he most likely looked like during his affair with Jane Morris during the late 1880s!

I cannot make up  my mind about Mrs. Morris, whether she is really clever or not. I watched her closely and I don't think she knows anything about painting but I like her whether or not, her connection with Rossetti makes her very attractive to me. (Blunt Papers, Fitzwilliam Museum, 7 May, Indian Memoirs, vol. III.56)

Wendy Parkins divides this first chapter, Scandal, into two parts: Firstly, she examines how Dante Gabriel Rossetti represented Jane Morris (both photographed above) as she emerged throughout his writings. For instance, her relationship with Rossetti was subjected to gossip amongst their friends and colleagues at the time, until finally being named in later published works such as Rossetti's correspondence with Jane Morris. Rossetti depicted Jane as a languid vessel for his subsequent emotional and artistic struggles or manipulating him for his affection and attention. 

 Mrs. Morris interests me like a person risen from the dead. Rossetti was her lover but she gave him up on principle and of course regrets it. Now she is in the third age of woman. If we had met ten years ago it would have been more interesting still . . . These past four days have been like a return to my old life. (Blunt Papers, Fitzwilliam Museum, 19 July 1884, Diaries: 111)

Secondly, Scandal analyzes Jane's affair with Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, as well as, her emotional state. Luckily or not, Blunt's one-sided, close-ended account/viewpoint survives. If only we had Jane Morris's account to read as well. The author uses numerous biography samples to support her finding's on the scandalous Jane Morris. Throughout this study, Parkins will rely heavily on her sources i.e. the correspondence of close friends and colleagues some members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 
Painter Marie Spartali Stillman dressed as Hypatia photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron

She is absolutely and entirely unlike anyone I have ever loved before. There is nothing material here to love. I hardly desire her more than one might desire a spirit but her eyes inspire me, her voice thrills me to my bones and the touch of her hand is like an electric current. If this is not love I know not what love is - it is more than love, it is an enhancement, for I think of her all day and night except when exorcised by the company of holy men. It is agreed that we are to correspond during the winter but beyond this nothing. (Blunt Papers-Secret Memoirs,vol. XIII: 212, Fitzwilliam Museum)

Reading, Jane Morris: The Burden of History has taught me one thing so far; Blunt pursued Marie while also having an on again off again affair with Jane Morris! When it comes to men and women in relationships, I can see not much has changed since the nineteenth-century! Stillman became an increasing challenge to Blunt, especially after she 'refused' to have sex with him!  It seems that after her refusal, Blunt escalates Stillman to an almost untouchable angelic status, whereas, his feelings for Jane at the time concentrated more on the physical and the conquest of her. His curiosity and sexual appetite was quenched by Jane Morris. 

My most representative recollection of (Rossetti) is of his sitting beside Mrs. Morris, who looked as if she had stepped out of any one of his pictures, both wrapped in a motionless silence as of a world where souls have no need of words. And silence, however poetically golden, was a sin in a poet whose voice in speech was so musical as his - hers I am sure I never heard. (Francillon, R.E., 1914: 172, Mid-Victorian Memories)

He that tells a a secret is another's servant (Jane Morris's keepsake book- Blunt's Papers, Add. 45351C) Shown below is a photograph of a page taken from Jane Morris's keepsake book with writing from Tennyson's The Princess (photo included in Jane Morris: The Burden of History by Wendy Parkins). The book was a gift to Rosalind Howard (Castle Howard Archives).

In this second chapter sub-headed 'Silence', Wendy Parkins interprets various accounts of Jane Morris's 'silent invalidism' as she calls it, mentioned in other's correspondence, and recent studies of Victorian invalidism. Parkin's believes there is a connection between speaking and silence, action and immobility, illness and vitality as it pertains to Jane Morris and whether she was the embodiment of all these things. Rossetti, Blunt, George Bernard Shaw and Henry James certainly believed so as evidenced in their written records.

Included in this chapter is one of Jane's letter's written to her close friend Rosalind Howard dated 1878, "As to your charge against yourself of chaffing my husband, of course, I never resented it in the least. I am glad you spoke out, for now we shall never misunderstand each other again, shall we? I shall see you whenever I can, and when I can't I shall think of you, and always as long as I live shall remember our stay in Italy as one of the happiest bits of my life. What more can I say, except that I shall always be yours most affectionately, Jane Morris."

Perhaps, 'silence' is not that golden after all! I'm sure Mrs. Morris spoke out whenever and however was necessary. Certainly, her remaining and now preserved correspondence is proof of her voice.

The silence of the invalid or immobility of an artist's model gives us the viewer or reader a blank canvas on which to draw our conclusions about Jane Morris as the Victorian clichéd lady on the sofa. Was she purposefully depicted in a form of femininity as the genteel invalid, the silent muse whom men believed should be kept in her place? Jane Morris eluded interpretation and became an anomaly instead.

The third chapter deals with the subject of Class as in status. For Jane Morris that meant being discovered and plucked out of working-class obscurity and into William Morris's middle-class world of respectability. Jane Morris could be viewed as a real-life Eliza Doolittle ... enter George Bernard Shaw and Pygmalion; but that's a story for another time!

Wendy Parkins relies heavily on two sources by The Morris's close friend J.W. Mackail's diaries and two volumes of The Life of William Morris, to analyze the relation between class, social formations, and the personal identity of Jane Morris. Specifically, the signifigance of her early life, her behaviour and her attitude as an adult.

Towards the end of the chapter on 'Class,' Jane Morris uses her class status as Mrs. Morris politically to help support Wilfrid Scawen Blunt's campaign as a Conservative candidate for Camberwell North during 1885. She says, "I see they have accepted you as a candidate. When do you begin canvassing? Let me know if I can help you in that and I will with pleasure." (Faulkner 1986: 10) She became a political activist and though her opinion of Socialism differed from her husband William Morris, she maintained meaningful friendships with suffragettes, feminists, and women who supported themselves as artists or writers.

The fourth chapter deals with the subject of Jane Morris as Icon. Poet Ernest Rhys said of Jane after seeing her in the audience of a performance of her husband, William Morris's The Tables Turned where he was the Archbishop of Canterbury, "before the curtain went up, I had the sensation of seeing a figure, which might have stepped straight out of a Pre-Raphaelite picture, passing through the audience. It was Mrs. Morris, whose superb tall form, long neck, and austere, handsome, pale features looked more queenly than any Guinevere or Cleopatra."

Wendy Parkins takes a fresh view of Jane Morris's Iconic status by examining her life story as a woman who forged an identity through her role as artist's model, reconstructing her identity to an unrealistic level of heroic status- placing her as a woman out of time giving her a sense of displacement imposed upon her by the men in her life, deemed by the Victorian society and culture of which she lived.

"unique in face and figure, she was a queen, a Prosperine, a Medusa, a Circe-but also, strangely enough, a Beatrice, a Pandora, a Virgin Mary." ( William Bell Scott 1892: 61)

Another aspect of Jane Morris's status as Icon appears in her 'celebrity status.' She was well known in her day as a result of the international growth of Pre-Raphaelitism, and Rossetti's work. Jane became the face of Pre-Raphaelite beauty to which she replied, 
"I was not much flattered, but immensely amused." 

Wendy Parkins also eludes to Jane's dress and fashion style influencing Aestheticism partly due to her depictions in the painting's of her husband and Rossetti. For instance, George du Maurier's illustrations of a tall brunette woman in a long white flowy dress were featured prominently in the local paper Punch. The woman looked very much like Jane Morris herself and friends!

The final and fifth chapter 'Home,' sees Wendy Parkins analyzing Jane Morris as mother, friend, and craftswoman while emphasizing the importance of home as the center of creativity, hospitality, and intimate family life. Through letters and archival records William and Jane Morris can be understood from four viewpoints:

William Morris's study for La Belle Iseult (I cannot paint you, but I love you), Val Prinsep's story of seeing William Morris reading Dickens's Barnaby Rudge aloud to Jane, George Boyce's recollection of a Jane Burden (pre-marriage) at Godstowe during her engagement to William Morris, and finally the wedding of William and Jane Morris as recollected by friend's Edward Burne-Jones and J.W. Mackail.

 One of my favorite excerpt's is a reminiscence by Jane and William's daughter, May Morris, "Father and Mother came down to Kelmscott Manor unexpectedly yesterday and father had taken the cooking into his own hands with a grand flourish of trumpets. You wd have laughed to see him this morning settled or rather unsettled at his designing and every five minutes hastening into the kitchen to raise the lid of his stew-pot & commenting in anxious tones as to the probabilities of an eatable dish being the result!  They both asked after you & whether you had passed the time down here pleasantly. Mother enquired whether you had eaten well, adding suspiciously, "I hope you did not starve him?" I retorted with wounded spirit that though I might have laid the foundations of a life-long dyspepsia in you by unskillfully prepared viands, your attack on them was so spirited as to entirely do away with her starvation-supposition which I considered a gratuitous insult." (Blunt Papers, British Library, Add. 50541)

Wendy Parkins asks if there can be a link drawn between Jane Morris's femininity, silence, status as Icon, juxtaposed against wanting to be viewed as more of a creative woman in her own right? For Jane, her creativity was taught and handed down mostly to her daughter, May Morris. For, it was May who was able to forge a successful career as craftswoman and designer working for her father's company, 'Morris & Co.' May went on to manage the textile division while Jane became an active participant in the household business instead.
Here's my copy and what the book looks like.

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