Q. What brought you to the Pre-Raphaelites?
I always loved Pre-Raphaelite painting – I have very fond memories of visiting the Tate and other galleries with my parents when I went to London as a child. The pictures are so lush and evocative. I made up stories to go with the paintings, and imagined what it would be like to be one of those sad, gorgeous women. But oddly enough, I never delved into their actual stories until I started flipping through an art book on the Pre-Raphaelites in a bookstore display (on my way to buy textbooks for law school!). I chanced upon the story of how Lizzie Siddal sat in the cold tub while modelling for Millais, and I was instantly hooked. I had to know everything about her, and by extension, the Pre-Raphaelite circle.
Q. How did you come up with the title of your book?
Lizzie is often thought of as Rossetti’s muse, and she certainly was a source of inspiration to Rossetti and the other artists who painted her. But I liked the idea of linking her more closely to the painting for which she is most famous, Ophelia, and leaving the painters, for the moment, in the background. I hope that the title hints at how perfectly suited she was to inspire such a transcendent painting, and suggests that she lived a life that echoed that rivalled Ophelia’s in its tragedy.
|Elizabeth Siddal D G Rossetti|
It was a struggle. In my first drafts, I think that I was too hard on Rossetti - he came across as too much of a villain. And the fact is that I really do have a lot of sympathy for him, and I wanted the reader to see the person that Lizzie fell in love with - the mad, romantic painter and poet who put art first and followed his passions. I like to imagine that in this day and age, they might have met, had a wild fling, and then both moved on to other pursuits and relationships. But in their era they were trapped, to a certain extent, and that was a large part of the tragedy.
Q.The debate as to whether or not Lizzie intended to kill herself continues even after all these years - how difficult was planning that scene?
I’m learning that in writing historical fiction, it’s often necessary to take a side where there is a debate about what may have happened in the past, in order to move the plot along or flesh out a character. But in this instance, I felt that there was room for ambiguity. I imagined Lizzie at this point as lonely, distraught over the stillbirth, ill and addicted to laudanum. In this confused and desperate state of mind, I thought that she might have been trying to bring an end to her pain and depression, without making a definitive choice to end her life.
|Elizabeth Siddal D G Rossetti|
I’m afraid that Rossetti’s other women got short shrift in the book, and in a way Annie Miller and Fanny Cornforth stand in for all of his other romantic affairs. Jane Morris could have been included, but I was trying to keep the book focused on the relationship between Lizzie and Rossetti, and at a certain point I felt that it made sense to pare down some of the characters. I tried to see Rossetti’s other women as Lizzie might have seen them, as a threat and an indictment of her own perceived failures, more than as individuals in their own right.
Q. What are you writing next?
|Regina Cordium (1860) D G Rossetti|