R.M. Engelhardt

Worm-eaten manuscripts in Lizzie Siddal’s coffin

Burying Books

Probably the best known example of a buried book is the bound collection of manuscript poems that Dante Gabriel Rossetti placed in the coffin of his late wife Lizzie Siddal. The book of poems is famous not so much for its burial, as for the fact that Rossetti decided several years later to retrieve his manuscripts, and had his wife’s coffin opened.

NPG P29,Dante Gabriel Rossetti,by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1863

Siddal modelled for several of the pre-Raphaelite painters, most famously as Millais’ Ophelia and Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix. Siddal and Rossetti’s volatile relationship included a decade-long period of on-off engagement and infidelity (on his part), before their marriage in 1860. In February 1862, after a long period of illness and severe depression exacerbated by Rossetti’s ever variable affections, Siddal died of a laudanum overdose, possibly a deliberate suicide.

In a grief-stricken and typically melodramatic gesture Rossetti, who had been unable to take a…

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