August 24, 2006

Rossetti's 'Chelsea years': An article by Angela Leighton

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I came accross this interesting article on the TLS website. I was particually fascinated to read Angela Leighton's analysis of the word–play in operation in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's letters which he wrote around the time of the exhumation of Lizzie Siddal's grave. I was also struck by her discussion of the way in which his 'Willowwood' sonnets converse with the work of his sister and Lizzie Siddal.

Willow–land, Leighton argues, is a 'place full of echoes in the Rossetti family, as if it drew on some shared mythology even beyond the facts of life.' In some sense, she claims, 'its “wandering” thing is the ghost–presence of Lizzie Siddal – a presence that Christina imaginatively “inhabits” in her numerous poems about dead women.'
After linking Siddal with the numerous poems Christina Rossetti writes about dead women, Leighton concludes her article by suggesting that an understanding of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s art is to be found, not in his letters at all…

but in the writings of the poet who, even more than he, understood the morbid, freakish ways of the imagination: his sister Christina. It was she who, as early as 1850, wrote a short story in which she rattled her own oddly premonitory skeleton in the closet. In “Maude”, she describes how, on the death of the girl poet of the title, a manuscript of her verse is buried with her in the coffin. As a figure for where poetry comes from – a figure ransacked, in different ways, by both brother and sister – this one is perhaps as good and secret as any.

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