Friday, 20 December 2019

Friday 20th December - Death of a Wombat

Today is the last day of term for a lot of people, so I hope you have a good one because it's not a particularly inspiring morning here.  It's chilly and wet and my sciatica has returned with a vengeance.  I seemed to remember asking Father Christmas for a pony, but instead he seems to have delivered a right good kicking to my lower back, left knee and ankle.  I know a fair number of you are sufferers too and so you have my warmest wishes today that your hot water bottle remains true.  Well, I have strawberry jam to make so I best crack on with today's tear-jerker and it is extremely timely, what with today being Friday...

Death of a Wombat (1869) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The poem below the drawing reads:

I never reared a young Wombat
To glad me with his pin-hole eye,
But when he most was sweet & fat
And tail-less, he was sure to die!

Goodness me, where to start with Rossetti...? Let's start with Wombat Friday, which it is of course today.  I can't believe it was almost six years ago that I wrote this defense of #WombatFriday and the participation of the National Trust with the shenanigans.  I'm more than delighted to reveal that, come February, there will be more wombat fun-and-games at a certain art gallery by the sea, but I'll tell you more about that next year.  May I wish you a merry Wombat Friday, but for now let's return to the misery.

The marvellous Raine Szramski in wombat action...
Oh Rossetti, you massive mess. It's not hard to see how complicated the whole relationship with the wombat is, not least because he called the wombat Topsy, the nickname of his best friend, whose wife he was also in love with.  It is assumed that Rossetti named the wombat after Morris, and that is more likely than not, however it is the sentiment behind such a naming that is very much open to debate.  Did he do it to mock Morris as Rossetti had it away with his wife?  Unlikely, because firstly Rossetti absolutely loved the wombat and Morris, and also had so many horrible medical complications that he wasn't capable of having it away with anyone, well, not physically.  Undeniably, Rossetti's relationship with Jane was an affair but let's not bring everyone's down-belows into it.

Mrs Morris and Wombat (c.1869) D G Rossetti
I think Rossetti's love for the wombat reflected his love for Morris, but if we know anything about Rossetti, we know he was an extremely complicated man who took drugs, thus making himself even more complicated. There is a moment in the wonderful The Love School where Rossetti is being an absolute treasure to his assembled friends but then Morris recites a poem to much acclaim and you see Rossetti's face change.  Like a petty, jealous sibling you can see him deciding to take the next opportunity to remind everyone who is the most important.  I also don't think he was fool enough to not realise he was like this and spent a good part of his later life trapped in a personal hell of both being appalling to others and knowing how appalling he was, but unable to help it.
The Invalid - Cheyne Walk 1869 (2017) Walton Ford
Also, I read a very interesting interpretation of the wombat death in Poetical Remains: Poet's Graves, Bodies and Books in the Nineteenth Century by Samantha Matthews.  Matthews suggests that Topsy's death, due to Rossetti's neglect and incapability to care properly for it, was reflective of Elizabeth Siddal's demise and so when Rossetti launched into his elaborate and wholehearted grief at the death of Top, who he had only owned for a few months, it was not about the wombat, but about Siddal.  In the poem below the image, a parody of Lalla Rookh (1817) by Thomas Moore, he seems to infer that such a pleasing and delightful creature was certain to die because it knew him. Goodness me, it's all about you, isn't it Rossetti?

I spent some time yesterday talking about how it's a fine balance to like the creations of people who turn out to be disappointing or damn-right loathesome.  I find it hard to loathe Rossetti, despite him not being a particularly wonderful human being, because it is so easy to pity him.  Yes, he was a rubbish husband, a laughable friend, and did absolutely nothing to protect Fanny Cornforth from his family after his death, despite how much care she took of him, but I find him guilty of cowardice and thoughtlessness rather than callousness.  He is the sort of person who takes no responsibility for his mistakes and is just the victim of everything.  If you look at the composition of today's image, it is not the wombat who is dead centre, if you excuse the phrase, it's bloody Rossetti.  The death of the wombat is all about him.  He really is the pinnacle of what I refer to as 'The Theatre of Me' for which he expects us all to be his audience. How exhausting.

Goblin Market illustration (1862) D G Rossetti
Despite being comic and ridiculous, today's picture is really sad because it is typical of the tragedy of one man's life.  Did he learn anything from Top's death? Absolutely not.  He went on to drive William Morris out of the country with his demands on their friendship.  Did he learn anything from Siddal's death?  No, flap all, and in fact this picture is just over a month after he had her dug up for the poems.  Of course, at the time Rossetti's utter disintegration was happening in the privacy of his social circle, but now we pick through it publicly. You could fill a Sobvent with the tragedy of Rossetti, but I'm just giving him one day.

See you tomorrow...


  1. First of all, commiserations on your sciatica. I have it for the first time and it's the worst pain ever. I'm glad you mention the ankle is involved, bc that's where my pain is worse--especially when putting weight on it by standing. I can't find a way of relieving that pain. Now, let me thank you for all these pictures you post and your extremely witty narrative. How did you find so much info on DGR? Is there a biography you particularly recommend?

    1. I've read an awful lot of books of poor old Rossetti - there are some corkers for free on Marillier is particularly good - he's out of print and so it is easy to find second-hand copies but you can also download him for free. As for sciatica, I've had it since I was 4, my nerve was split by my pre-school vaccine (yet I am very pro-vaccine :)). Hot and cold compresses work well, as does finding the base of the nerve in your hip/lower back and shoving your thumb in there as hard as you can stand. The theory is that you are giving the nerve space to swell outward, then it can start to relax. Probably nonsense, but it works like a charm for me. Good luck with it and happy Christmas :)

    2. Thank you. You're a fount of knowledge. Merry Christmas to you too! And happy solstice day as well! Which country are you in?

    3. Thank you, and you. I'm in jolly old England!

  2. Liking this as all the other posts ... the invalid image is interesting not least because it shows how enormous the garden was at Cheyne Walk! I've googled Cheyne Walk a lot & uncovered good images and a report from someone who thanks to Paul Getty actually got inside the hallowed portals (envy!). Sciatica is horrible hope you get better soon. Mx


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx