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BEAUTY IN THORNS: Christina Rossetti's Sleeping Beauty poem

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My next novel 'Beauty in Thorns' (to be published in mid-2017) tells the extraordinary love story behind the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones's famous painting of 'Sleeping Beauty', which he returned to half-a-dozen times over the forty-odd years of his career.

The Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by myth and poetry and fairy tales. Edward Burne-Jones also painted 'Cinderella' (his model was his wife Georgie) while his best friend William Morris wrote the first ever creative response to 'Rapunzel' (I wrote a chapter on his poem in my doctoral exegesis, published as The Rebirth of Rapunzel.)



I very much wanted to write part of my novel from the point-of-view of the brilliant poet Christina Rossetti, who was the younger sister of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I have always loved her poetry and she is such a fascinating woman, all the thwarted desire of her sensuous and passionate nature being poured out in astonishing verse. However, I had to make the terrible decision to cut her out of the book as my story was simply growing too big and unwieldy, and Christina's story deserved to be given more space and time.

One day I would like to write a book about her - I hope that the chance will come.


Christina Rossetti was painted as the young Virgin Mary by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti when she was aged 20 & he was 22  


in the meantime, I thought I would share with you Christina Rossetti's powerful and disturbing poem, 'The Fairy Prince Who Arrived Too Late'. A dark inversion of the 'Sleeping Beauty' fairy tale, it was first published in Macmillan's Magazine in May 1863, when Christina was not yet 33 years old. Christina would later expand it into a long quest narrative, 'The Prince's Progress', which follows the prince on his journey to reach the waiting princess. These stanzas were then included as the poem's tragic denouement. I love this poem just as it is, though. I hope you love it too.   

 


The Fairy Prince Who Came Too Late

Too late for love, too late for joy,
Too late, too late!
You loitered on the road too long,
You trifled at the gate:
The enchanted dove upon her branch
Died without a mate;
The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate;
Her heart was starving all this while
You made it wait.
 

Ten years ago, five years ago,
One year ago,
Even then you had arrived in time,
Though somewhat slow;
Then you had known her living face
Which now you cannot know:
The frozen fountain would have leaped,
The buds gone on to blow,
The warm south wind would have awaked
To melt the snow.
 
Is she fair now as she lies?
Once she was fair;
Meet queen for any kingly king,
With gold-dust on her hair,
Now these are poppies in her locks,
White poppies she must wear;
Must wear a veil to shroud her face
And the want graven there:
Or is the hunger fed at length,
Cast off the care?
 
We never saw her with a smile
Or with a frown;
Her bed seemed never soft to her,
Though tossed of down;
She little heeded what she wore,
Kirtle, or wreath, or gown;
We think her white brows often ached
Beneath her crown,
Till silvery hairs showed in her locks
That used to be so brown.
 
We never heard her speak in haste;
Her tones were sweet,
And modulated just so much
As it was meet:
Her heart sat silent through the noise
And concourse of the street.
There was no hurry in her hands,
No hurry in her feet;
There was no bliss drew nigh to her,
That she might run to greet.
 
You should have wept her yesterday,
Wasting upon her bed:
But wherefore should you weep today
That she is dead?
Lo we who love weep not today,
But crown her royal head.
Let be these poppies that we strew,
Your roses are too red:
Let be these poppies, not for you
Cut down and spread.

Christina Rossetti


The poem was published fifteen months after her sister-in-law Lizzie Siddal Rossetti died of a laudanum overdose. Dante Gabriel Rossetti often called his wife 'a dove', and they had had a very long and difficult relationship, with Rossetti often promising and then failing to marry her.  

It is probable that Lizzie suffered from an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, and so the lines:

"The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate;
Her heart was starving all this while
You made it wait ..."

may well refer to the tragedy of Lizzie's death. 

I was unable to include Christina Rossetti as a character in 'Beauty in Thorns', but I did use her poems as epigraphs throughout the novel.

And one day I hope that I will be able to write more about her ....


     

BEAUTY IN THORNS: My publisher thinks I'm a genuis (no, really, she does!)

Monday, October 31, 2016




I delivered the first draft of my new novel, Beauty in Thorns, to my wonderful publisher Meredith last week and received the most beautiful email back from her once she had read the manuscript. 


I don't think she'd mind me sharing just a little of it with you - it's the loveliest email ever!


It was headed: 


Someone should have told me I would cry my way through the last chapters



Dear Kate

 

Beauty in Thorns is wonderful, thank you. Such a beautiful story told with love and respect and intelligence and heart. The layer upon layer of research and appreciation of the art and lives of the Pre-Raphaelites are evident but in no way impede an emotional and heartfelt reading of the novel. You are a genius ... 


(Yes, she really did write that! I love my publisher so much!)


There were times when I couldn’t help but hate our genius artists, or be frustrated by these brave and wondrous women putting up with so much ... I cried tears of joy and relief (for Margot and Georgie) and sadness (for Topsy and Georgie’s grief at the death of Ned). Truly I cried for almost the whole last section ...

 

Thank you.

 

You are a wonder.

 

Meredith

xx



I cried reading her email, as I'm sure you can imagine. I have poured my heart & soul into Beauty in Thorns and have such high hopes for it. Everyone is fascinated by the Pre-Raphaelites, aren't they? Their art is certainly soaring to new highs on the international art market, with one of my favourite Edward Burne-Jones painting's Love in Ruins selling a few years ago for $22 million!


And the good news is that she had very few suggestions for the manuscript - mainly cutting it back, which I knew the book needed badly.  


I worked like a demon all week, and did absolutely everything she suggested (I really trust her instincts), and have sent her back the book already. It must be the fastest turn-around in publishing history. 


Now we are moving straight to copy-editing, which will be my last chance to make any changes before publication.


It's all very exciting!




For those of you who are new to my blog, Beauty in Thorns tells the extraordinary story of love, desire, scandal and tragedy behind Edward Burne-Jones's obsessive painting and re-painting of the Sleeping Beauty fairy-tale over the course of more than forty years. Here's a link to my blog which shows most of his Sleeping beauty paintings.


And here is a short video I made about the writing of the book:





 

BEAUTY IN THORNS: Edward Burne-Jones's Sleeping Beauty paintings

Friday, October 14, 2016

My Work-in-Progress: an update!

Beauty in Thorns is an historical novel for adults which tells the astonishing true story behind the famous 'Sleeping Beauty' painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. Told in the voices of five very different women - his wife, his daughter, his mistress, his best friend's wife and his best friend's mistress - Beauty in Thorns is a story of love, desire, art, and awakenings of all kinds. 

Burne-Jones painted the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale many times over the forty-odd years of his career: 




In May 1856, Burne-Jones drew a pencil sketch of his betrothed, Georgie Macdonald, as the Sleeping Beauty to amuse her little sister Louie on her birthday. He was 23 years old and Georgie was sixteen. I believe this is the sketch, though it has not been officially confirmed. 





In 1862, Burne-Jones designed a series of 'Sleeping Beauty' tiles for a client of the Morris & Co decorating firm, of which he was a partner. The princess looks very much like Lizzie Siddal, who had died a few months earlier of a laudanum overdose, and the prince kneeling to kiss her awake looks very much like her grieving widower Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The peacock (featured on the wall of the boudoir) is a symbol of immortality and rebirth.  This tile is one of nine in a sequence that begins with the baby in her cradle and ends with the marriage of the prince and princess. The tiles can be seen at the V&A Museum in Kensington.




In the 1870s, Burne-Jones had a tempestuous affair with one of his models, the sculptor Maria Zambaco, and he painted a very sensual version of Sleeping Beauty with his mistress modelling as the princess. The affair ended badly, with Maria attempting to drown herself in Regent's Canal.  At one point, Ned planned to run away with Maria but he ended returning to his wife and family so they would not be besmirched by the scandal. 

This painting - now in Puerto Rico - was the final in a sequence of three paintings that showed the prince in the briar wood, the king and his councillors asleep in the council chamber, and the princess asleep with her maids.




This beautiful drawing is a chalk study of his daughter Margaret that Burne-Jones made in 1881, when he was planning another sequence of painting inspired by the fairytale. Margaret was then fifteen, the age of the princess in the story.





And this exquisite painting of his daughter Margaret as Sleeping Beauty was created by Burne-Jones in 1884-1887,  as the final in a sequence of four enormous painting which now hang in Buscot Park, in Oxfordshire. Margaret was aged in her late teens and early twenties, and had fallen in love with a young poet and scholar named John William Mackail, much to her father's distress. 

The four paintings - called 'The Legend of Briar Rose' - caused an absolute sensation when they were first exhibited in 1890, with queues of carriages along Bond Street and crowds of people returning again and again to view them. Burne-Jones sold the quartet of painting for fifteen thousand guineas, the most money a British artist had ever been paid, and he was subsequently knighted by the Queen. 





His final painting is a small circle, entitled 'Wake Dearest' which he painted for his ever-loving and faithful wife Georgie in the final year of his life (1898). I believe she was the model for the princess. This tiny masterpiece - along with 37 other tiny glowing circles - were left to Georgie in his will, and later published as 'The Flower Book'. 

My novel Beauty in Thorns tells the story behind the creation of these exquisite drawings and paintings - a story of love, betrayal, heartbreak, death, and awakening of all kinds.  


It will be released in Australia in August 2017. 

SPOTLIGHT: Books on the Pre-Raphaelites

Wednesday, April 20, 2016



I am in the early stages of writing and researching a new novel, which has a working title of BEAUTY IN THORNS. 

It tells the story behind Edward Burne-Jones's famous paintings of the 'Briar Rose' fairy tale, which he painted numerous times over the course of twenty tumultuous years. Most of the story will be told through the eyes of the women in the Pre-Raphaelite circle, such as Georgie Burne-Jones and her daughter, Margaret, and Jane Morris, and her daughters, Jenny and May.    

I am still in the early stages of researching, which means a lot of reading. Here are just some of the books I have been studying: 




Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel – Lucinda Hawksley

Like many others, I’ve always been fascinated by the brief tragic life of Lizzie Siddal, whose face appears in so many early Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

She rose to become one of the most famous faces in Victorian Britain and a pivotal figure of London's artistic world, until tragically ending her life in 1862.


A Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter and Louisa Baldwin

 – Judith Flanders

The Macdonald sisters were a fairly ordinary mid-Victorian family. Their father was a Methodist preacher, their mother a chronic invalid. They moved often, following their father’s itinerant preaching routes, and so relied one each other for comfort and amusement. Attractive, lively girls, none of them was startling beautiful or brilliant, and yet they all made extraordinary marriages that led to extraordinary family dynasties. Agnes married Edward Poynter, president of the prestigious Royal Academy of the Arts; Georgiana married Edward Burne-Jones, one of the most extraordinary painters of the era; Alice was the mother of Rudyard Kipling; and Louisa gave birth to the future prime minister, Stanley Baldwin. In a way, their stories are a prime example for the way in which class boundaries in the Victorian era was changing, allowing those with talent and drive to change their social status.




The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones & the Victorian Imagination – Fiona McCarthy

This is a great big chunk of a book, but very readable, and magisterial in its approach to the life and work of Edward Burne-Jones, one of my favourite artists. Best of all, it shines a light on to the inner life of the artist, helping illuminate the forces that drove this complex and haunted man.


Pre-Raphaelites in Love – Gay Daly 

This is a great book for anyone who wants a really readable look into the passions and scandals that defined the relationships of the Pre-Raphaelites. There’s wife-swapping, suicide, trials for impotence, affairs with models, exhumation of dead wives, madness, and horse skeletons being boiled in front yards. Gripping stuff.


Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites - Franny Moyle

Franny Moyle’s book was published in 2009, twenty years after Gay Daly’s Pre-Raphaelites in Love. So she has access to new research into the Pre-Raphaelites, as well as a greater freedom to talk about sex and drugs and rocking-and-rolling. Her style is racy and often funny, and lacks any kind of deep analysis or evidence. It was written as a tie-in with the BBC series of the same name, which very much focuses on the love affairs, rather than the art. It is, nonetheless, immensely readable and engaging, and is probably the best place to start if you want to know all the racy stuff about the Pre-Raphaelites.


have a lot more books on the Pre-Raphaelites to read, so if you're interested ... watch this space!


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK! 





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