Elizabeth Siddal

Interesting postscript on Elizabeth Siddal.

Overcome with grief at his wife’s death, Rossetti enclosed in her coffin a journal containing the only copy he had of his many poems. According to legend he slid the book into Siddal’s red hair as she lay in the coffin.

Siddal

Siddal – and that hair.

Siddal was buried in Highgate Cemetery. By 1869 Rossetti was in a bad way, chronically addicted to drugs and an alcoholic to boot. He had convinced himself he was going blind and could not paint. So he began to write poetry.

But then he became obsessed with retrieving the poems he had left in the coffin with Siddal. Rossetti and his agent Charles Augustus Howell applied to the Home Secretary for an order to have her coffin exhumed. That request was, surprisingly,  granted and eerily, at the dead of night to avoid public curiosity and attention, the exhumation took place. Rossetti himself apparently was not present.

Howell reported that when the body was revealed Siddal’s corpse was remarkably well preserved, and her “delicate” beauty intact – possibly, according to Google, because of the laudanum she had overdosed on which led to her death. Her flaming red hair was said to have continued to grow after her death (not sure if that is possible) – and had filled the coffin. The manuscript was retrieved, although a worm had burrowed through the book so the poems were difficult to read. Rossetti published the old poems along with his new ones.

Imagine the scene that dark night, eh? How Gothic is that?

Would never have happened in Surbiton.

The Scribbler

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