When Millais first exhibited this painting at the Royal Academy, he displayed it with these lines of Tennyson:
She only said, ‘My life is dreary-
He cometh not’ she said
She said ‘I am aweary, aweary –
I would that I were dead.’
–From Tennyson’s poem Mariana
The subject of Mariana was visited twice by Tennyson in his 1830 poem ‘Mariana’ and again in ‘Mariana in the South’. Both poems are inspired by Shakespeare’s character Mariana from Measure for Measure. Poor, rejected Mariana. When her dowry was lost at sea, she was abandoned by her fiance Angelo. See my previous post To live forgotten, to die forlorn.
Since I love scouring Pre-Raphaelite images for items used repeatedly, here is a silver pillar seen in the back of Mariana that is also prominently displayed in The Bridesmaid.
The autumn leaves scattered across the floor in Mariana indicate the passage of time. If you look closely, you’ll see a scurrying mouse. The little critter is mentioned in Tennyson’s poem and Millais especially wanted to include it.
All day within the dreamy house,
The doors upon their hinges creaked;
The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
Behind the mouldering wainscot shrieked,
Or from the crevice peered about.
Old faces glimmered through the doors,
Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices called her from without …(Mariana, Tennyson)
Poor little mouse. Sacrificed for art and immortalized on canvas.
“But where was the mouse to paint from? Millais’ father, who had just come in, thought of scouring the country in search of one, but at that moment on obliging mouse ran across the floor and hid behind a portfolio. Quick as lightning Millais gave the portfolio a kick, and on removing it the poor mouse was found quite dead in the best possible position for drawing it.”–Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais
“The window in the background of Mariana was taken from one in Merton Chapel, Oxford. The ceiling of the chapel was being painted, and scaffolding was of course put up, and this Millais made use of whilst working. “–Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais
It is interesting to note that Mariana rises from her embroidery. This is a detail imagined by Millais; weaving does not appear in Tennyson’s poem. The similarity with the Lady of Shalott is obvious. Both lead a life of seclusion, both were subjects of Tennyson. Or perhaps Millais simply wanted to depict Mariana weary from a physical act, such as embroidery, while also weary from her solitary life.