Today I share another excerpt from my work-in-progress novel portrait of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, The Dove Upon Her Branch to mark the birthday – July 25, 1829 – of Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddall, muse and wife of Christina’s brother and Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
We found her hidden just behind those screens, that mirror gave back all her loveliness.*
Miss Siddall was sitting slightly hunched, her arms reaching, resting between her knees, just below which her hands were clasped. Thick, mahogany hair was loosely ballooned on the nape of her neck, her chin stretched forward. Her waist, like most of the wicker chair she perched on, was lost in the bunching of her skirt, but even with her torso swallowed in billowing fabric and her shoulders slumped, there was no doubt she was tall.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress, a nameless girl in freshest summer-greens, a saint, an angel — every canvas means the same one meaning, neither more or less.*
Christina saw what Gabriel did. Although simply, somberly gowned in cotton and shawled in wool, this woman was fascinating, not as she was but meant to be.
As Christina entered fully into her view, Miss Siddall stood and took a few sliding steps, her grey-blue eyes heavy-lidded, kind, and evasive. The hand she extended was warm in intention but cold in its flesh.
Oh, she is not well. I must be kind to her. I must … not jump to conclusions about her. I must … not mind Gabe loving her.
“Well, what do you think, Chrissy?” Gabriel blurted, immediately clarifying his question. “Of the Blackfriars crib? The way the rooms are built out over the river, windows on all sides, there’s plenty of light and from the balcony a magnificent view of the Tower, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey.”
“If only there wasn’t such a stink from the river.”
“I hardly notice anymore. During the day it’s busy and interesting. At night there’s the shimmering reflection of gas lamps on the bridge and wharf side.”
“He notices. In words I won’t repeat.” William stood before an easel-supported canvas. “You’ve made good progress.”
“Which one is it?” Christina moved to have a look. “Oh, a watercolor,” she tried not to sound disappointed.
“Beatrice Meets Dante at a Marriage Feast.” William glanced between his brother and Miss Siddall.
“And denies him her salutation,” Gabriel added, not brave enough to look at his “Sid” sitting and slumping again.
William leaned into the painting to examine it more closely. “He’s captured you for eternity, Lizzie.”
“Sitting for him certainly can seem an eternity.” Christina thought she saw Miss Siddall struggle not to smile.
“You didn’t refuse, even though Mama said you could.” Gabriel knew he was right. “I remember you begging to pose again.”
Christina did, too. “Well, your memory fails you. But one thing doesn’t.” She stepped back from the painting, looking around at all other evidence of her brother’s current obsession. “Having your muse constantly close.”
“I don’t live here,” Lizzie finally spoke, softly but emphatically.
Copyright © 2021 by DM Dentom
*From the poem In the Artist’s Studio by Christina Rossetti
In an Artist’s Studio
BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI
One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.