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Light on facts, heavy on speculation
on 25 May 2010
I picked this up in the gift shop at Brantwood, John Ruskin's house in the Lake District, and looked forward to reading a biography of the female artist he patronised. I came away from the book feeling as if I had a superficial understanding of Lizzie Siddal, but knew very little fact. The book is full of summaries of letters about Lizzie, including the author's opinions about what was meant by the letter-writer, but fewer excerpts to let a reader determine for herself. I read often that Lizzie could be haughty and cold, but this was never supported with any evidence or examples of when this behaviour began, just references to other people's reactions. The author makes a great leap of logic early on, saying that Rosetti persuaded Lizzie's family to drop the second 'l' from their surname only for her father to reconsider and to restore it, all on the basis that the spelling of the name changes from Siddall to Siddal and back to Siddall on the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses respectively: anyone who has done even the slightest bit of research using a census will know that the enumerator's phonetic spelling has nothing to do with how the family spelt their name. I felt that the book was more opinion than fact, especially from the amount of supposition: "Lizzie must have felt..." "It's possible that..." throuhgout. There are some interesting anecdotes about Lizzie's painting and the inclusion of her poetry is welcome, but I still feel as if I have very little knowledge of Lizzie's life.