Daylight Savings (UK) Roundup: Pre-Raphaelites at the Tate Britain

–Tate Britain has mounted a major exhibit of Pre-Raphaelite painting of and by Elizabeth Siddal. This is described in an article by Iona McLaren in the Daily Telegraph:

For modern readers, accustomed to the legend of Siddal as the “meek, unconscious dove” (as Rossetti called her, after Tennyson), it is a jolt to find that this much-fed-upon face could actually talk back – and that, behind the “sweet lips” so fetishised by Rossetti, were pointed teeth. For Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall – as she was born, before she dropped an L for chic – was a painter and a poet, too…

From next month, 17 paintings and drawings by Elizabeth Siddal are to be seen in Tate Britain’s new blockbuster, The Rossettis, which juxtaposes her with Gabriel and Christina. It is the largest showing of the London-born Siddal‘s work since the seminal 1991 revival at the Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield, and her first ever show in a major institution.

The hope is to spring this cutler’s daughter from the trap of the most inextricable of all Pre-Raphaelite legends: Elizabeth Siddal “the exquisite and mysterious virgin” (as Peter Quennell archly put it in his 1949 Ruskin biography), sacrificed on the altar of art. For, of course, she is already one of Tate Britain’s biggest draws, as Millais’ famous 1852 Ophelia in the permanent collection, for which she posed in a tin bath heated by oil lamps. When the flames failed, rather than interrupt Millais, Siddal “kept floating in the cold water till she was quite benumbed”, and contracted such a severe cold that her father threatened to sue: life imitating art – and a macabre prophecy of her own early end. Like Marilyn Monroe playing the dumb blonde, Siddal has got stuck as the doomed maiden. Now Dr Carol Jacobi, curator of the Tate exhibition, wants to “break her free of Ophelia” and “get her out of the bath tub”…

Later, her tiny oeuvre came to be seen as purely derivative of Rossetti’s (or, where admirable, evidence of his own hand). “He had his defects, and she had the deficiencies of those defects,” his brother, William Michael Rossetti, the self-appointed Pre-Raphaelite chronicler, wrote in 1903. The condescension deepened with every passing generation: in 1928, Evelyn Waugh wrote that her art had “so little real artistic merit, and so much of what one’s governess called ‘feeling’; so tentative, so imitative”… [Yellow high-lighting from original.]

Waugh’s biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti was his debut book, published in 1928. It was recently published as Vol. 16 of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh: Rossetti: His Life and Works and more recently as a Penguin Modern Classic.

The London Magazine has posted an article about the Melville family of Guyana. This is written by John Gimlette. The opening paragraphs explain how they came to settle there:

…Harry Prideaux Colin Melville was born in Jamaica, in 1864, the son of a Presbyterian archdeacon. Unlike his father, however, Harry had never had an appetite for matters spiritual, and preferred the sight of gold. At the age of twenty-seven he decided to extract himself from Scottish Jamaica, and set off in search of ore. His gold-washing brought him to British Guiana. There, in 1891, he plunged into the forest, and was soon cooking up a case of malaria. At the moment of death – the story goes – he was found by some Amerindians. Harry had no wish to die in the dark, and asked for help to reach the light. With either payment or pathos, they agreed, and brought the dying Scot out onto the Rupununi Savannah. There, he liked what he saw and lay down to die.

Death on the savannah had suited Harry well. The next thing he knew, the grass was his home. He acquired two Wapisiana wives and settled down to become a trader in the finest fish hooks and trinkets. It was good business, and – after twenty years – he was the most powerful man on the savannah. Not only was he now the father of ten children, he was also a cattle baron, a district commissioner, and the Laird of Dadanawa. It was the largest ranch in the world, and covered an area about the size of the Lowlands of Scotland…

In the course of the story, Evelyn Waugh makes an appearance:

…[Melville’s] semi-feral children had produced plenty of brats of their own. Evelyn Waugh had met several of these grandchildren, when he walked through the Rupununi Savannah in 1933. Waugh disliked most children but to him the Melvilles were particularly beastly. And he may have been right. By 1969 the same grandchildren were numerous and boisterous enough to start a revolution. They rose in revolt, and declared independence from Guyana. But the Republic of the Rupununi lasted only a day before the Guyanese army appeared, and chased most of the Melvilles off into Venezuela. These days, not much remains of Harry’s world, except a handful of thready descendants, and, of course, the ranch at Dadanawa…

See Ninety-Two Days (CWEW, v.22, p. 14) and related annotations.

–In its obituary of Roger Ellis, best known as a Headmaster of Marlborough School where he oversaw the admission of girls, The Times also mentions one of his memories from  college days:

[…] Ellis … won a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford. There he read history and occupied rooms with a Grinling Gibbons fireplace, though he had to cross two quads to wash. One memorable event was being taken out to tea by Evelyn Waugh, the novelist and godfather of a friend. “I found him terrifying and non-communicative,” Ellis later recalled…

–An African newspaper, The Namibian, reprints a 2007 obituary of William Deedes by William Holden. Here’s an extract:

…[Deedes] became best known as the inspiration for the character William Boot in Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel ‘Scoop’, which tells of a hapless rural reporter who is sent by mistake to cover a civil war in a fictional African state. Deedes had been sent to Abyssinia in 1935 to cover the invasion ordered by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and arrived with a huge amount of luggage. He admitted this might have given Waugh, who was also covering the war for a rival paper, the idea for the character…

–An article in The Catholic Weekly (Australia) looks forward to Good Friday. This is written by Patrick O’Shea who is anticipating a treat after the religious observances:

Just like Cordelia from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, I look forward to the Good Friday liturgies of the 3pm and Tenebrae—a series of psalms and chants reflecting the church’s sorrow at the death of Our Lord. As I’m starving during both liturgies, my mind drifts between the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the reproaches, and craving hot cross buns. I don’t know if it’s the sweetness of the fruit they put in them, or the cushy dough they use for the bread; I always look forward to them every year. I’m sure Our Lord can forgive my wandering mind during Good Friday.



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