Howell afterwards told Rossetti that, when the coffin was opened, his wife’s body was beautifully preserved. She was not a skeleton, he mendaciously claimed, but as beautiful as she had been in life, and her hair had grown to fill the coffin with a brilliant copper glow which shone in the firelight. Indebted to Howell’s gloriously conceived fiction is the myth of the prevailing beauty of the original supermodel, even in death – and it is a myth that ensures that, to this day, many people from around the world strangely believe that Lizzie remains undead.
A less fanciful tribute to Lizzie Siddal was written several decades later, by a former fellow student at the Sheffield School of Art. She wrote to a local paper, identifying herself only as ‘AS’: “It was a slight acquaintance I had with her, but it made a lasting impression on my memory.”
Lizzie Siddal died at the age of 32, but her extraordinary legacy continues. Her husband’s reclaimed poetry was published, to great acclaim – although the story of his poems’ provenance was kept a carefully guarded secret.
Lucinda Hawksley is the author of Lizzie Siddal, The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel, published by Andre Deutsch. Find out more via @lucindahawksley
Pre-Raphaelite Sisters is at the National Portrait Gallery in London until 26 January.
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