Beautiful and Dead: The Life of a Victorian Muse, an Illustrated Lecture with Dawn Marie Kresan
Date: Tuesday, March 8th
Location: Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Avenue, 11215 Brooklyn
"Woman is muse or she is nothing" Robert Graves
Elizabeth Siddal was "discovered" by Walter Deverell in 1849, and brought into the Pre-Raphaelite circle by working as a model for Deverell, William Hunt, and John Everett Millais. Soon after, she was introduced to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and began modelling for him exclusively. Her volatile romance with him was marked by illness, bouts of depression, class tension, and Rossetti's philandering. Their relationship continued for nearly a decade, was briefly discontinued, and then in 1860 they suddenly married. By his own account, it was only when he believed her deathly ill that he proposed marriage. In 1861, she delivered a stillborn daughter, suffered from postpartum depression and became addicted to laudanum. In 1862, she died from an overdose. The coroner's report listed the overdose as an accident, although there were rumours of suicide and a destroyed note. In a symbolic gesture, Rossetti had his manuscript buried with his wife. Then later, regretting the decision, he had her body exhumed to retrieve his poems. Siddal's small artistic output would be forever overshadowed by her role as Pre-Raphaelite model, mistress, and tragic muse.
Rossetti's painting of Siddal in "Beata Beatrix" epitomizes her role of muse. Siddal originally modeled for the painting prior to her death in 1862. Posthumously, Rossetti worked from these early sketches. The painting depicts Beatrice, from Dante's La Vita Nuova, at the moment of her death. In a letter to William Morris, Rossetti states that he intended the painting "not as a
representation of the incident of the death of Beatrice, but as an ideal of the subject symbolized by a trance or sudden spiritual transfiguration." As a contemporary female poet, I delve into notions of authority, creativity, and gender. Am I complicit in idealizing the muse? Am I romanticizing tragedy? These are some of the questions I'll discuss, while examining Siddal's life, Victorian culture, and the gothic elements of her narrative.
Dawn Marie Kresan has her Master's degree in literature and cultural studies from the University of Windsor, and has studied a variety of creative interests including bookbinding, graphic design, letterpress printing, and stained glass. Her books includethe limited edition chapbook Framed (2009) and the full-length poetry collectionMuse (Tightrope Books 2013). She also co-edited, with Susan Holbrook, Detours: an anthology of poets from Windsor & Essex County (Palimpsest Press, 2013). Kresan lives in Ontario with her husband and their daughter, where she works as a writer, graphic designer, and poetry editor.
Morbid Anatomy Museum (View)
424 A Third Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215