My 12 in 12 Challenge – August – Women about Women – Book 10

The subject of the tenth book in August’s 12 in 12 Challenge is Lizzie Siddal. Lizzie’s story is told by Lucinda Hawksley in a very readable biography. I was reading a paper copy (absolutely no idea where I got it from or how long it has been lingering on my to-be-read pile) and it has lovely illustrations too with some great colour plates.

I have seen the most famous portrait of Lizzie as Ophelia in the river painted by Millais on a visit to London. It is a marvellous painting full of light and colour and the model is very beautiful with a lot of auburn hair. I was aware that Lizzie was a model for the pre-Raphaelites and even that she had died tragically young but I knew no more. Her life story is definitely worth reading.

Lizzie was born and grew up in reasonable circumstances in Victorian England earning her wage as a milliner. When a member of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood spotted her she was asked to model for him and for other painters in the group.  This was a hard decision to make because artists’ models were not seen as respectable but the money was good and there was an air of excitement about modelling so Lizzie accepted and soon became the favoured model of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and eventually his sexual partner.

What I didn’t know was that Lizzie was an artist herself and that Rossetti supported and helped her to paint. Her work was even included in exhibitions that the pre-Raphaelites held. Ruskin was her mentor and paid her to paint while she still modelled for Rossetti and occasionally for others.

But Lizzie was an addict. She took Laudanum, which is opium, in greater and greater amounts during her life. She also had ill health which seems to have occurred before the addiction and may have caused it. Certainly the two became very interconnected. The author didn’t dwell on this aspect of Lizzie’s life too much and I would have liked to know more but it seems like she probably had severe mental health issues including anorexia and that the doses of Laudanum caused physical side effects as well.

To read about how Lizzie’s life continued with ill health, a still born child and increasing addiction is very sad. The environment in which she lived probably didn’t help and there is no evidence to suggest that any effort was made to make things different so that she could function and decrease her reliance on the drug. Her death is particularly sad.

This is a well written and engaging book. I was fascinated with what I learned about Lizzie’s life and her relationship with so many well-known men. An interesting look at the life of a fascinating, beautiful and tragic woman.