Elizabeth Siddall is a strikingly familiar face to Pre-Raphaelite lovers. She is known to many as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s muse and the face of Millais’ doomed Ophelia.
But she was more than that.
Through her own artwork and poetry, we can look beyond her face and attempt to hear her voice.
A new edition of her poetry has magnified that voice. With access to Siddall’s original manuscripts at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Dr. Serena Trowbridge gives us a rare look at the evolution of each poem, taking us on a journey that explores each piece as it was originally written, as well as the changes made later by Siddall’s brother-in-law, William Michael Rossetti.
Reading this book felt like a rare and wondrous gift. It is written with an intimacy that drew me in to Siddall’s words, and I dove headfirst into Serena’s keen analysis. She has put Siddall’s work into context and shares details about each poem that have deepened both my respect and understanding for a woman who has long haunted me.
Elizabeth Siddall’s poetry was never published in her lifetime. Years after her death, William Michael Rossetti published versions of them piecemeal, versions I lapped up hungrily in my pursuit of her. What Serena has done here has simultaneously satiated that hunger as well as make me crave more.
Reading this edition once will never be enough.
My Ladys Soul takes its name from a line in one of Siddall’s poems (“I care not for my Ladys soul.”). Serena has preserved it as it was first written, missing apostrophe and all. This is raw, primal Siddall, as real and unflinching as her self-portrait.
Serena has also restored the missing L to the poet’s name; she is commonly referred to as Siddal. The last letter was dropped professionally when Siddall entered the art world, a move believed to be suggested by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Since she is consistently alluded to as Siddall throughout Serena’s work, I have followed suit in this post.
Serena digs deep. She meticulously and methodically plumbs the depth of each poem, giving us insight into Siddall’s life and work with a passion and pursuit for knowledge of the elusive Lizzie that resonates with me deeply.
I am profoundly grateful for Serena’s research, the result of which is a beautiful and meaningful look at a long-overlooked poetic voice, a voice many of us have longed to hear and spread with the respect it deserves.
Thank you, Serena, for excavating, illuminating, and raising that voice.