Scholarly Analysis

In the poem “The Lust of the Eyes” by Elizabeth Siddal, there is an occurrence of the theme, beauty. How this beauty applies to the work is that the female subject of the poem is being admired due to her beauty and thus, her beauty is the main reason for her existence. Elizabeth Siddal, the author of the poem, has always been around fame and was known for her beauty, due to her being the muse of many popular paintings from her time period. This paper will be using two articles to explain how Elizabeth Siddal’s life in the spotlight and gaining attention because of her beauty, helped inspire the female subject of this poem. The first article that will be discussed, will be the “Imagining Elizabeth Siddal” article by Jan Marsh. The second article that will be discussed is the “Muse Turned “Femme Fatale” in D. G. Rossetti’s Painting and Poetry” by Pritha Kundu, which will also further help prove how the author, Elizabeth Siddal, is a foil for the female subject of the poem and also inspired the creation of this female subject in the poem.

In the first article “Imagining Elizabeth Siddal” by Jan Marsh, he discusses the life of Elizabeth Siddal as well as the other roles of which Siddal took on, that also inspired her society along with the Pre-Raphaelites. In the poem, the female subject has no identity or characteristics that makes her independent or her own person. In the article, Jan Marsh discusses “In her lifetime, she had virtually no public identity, and in the twenty years following her death, there were few published references to her. Only when her husband died in 1882 did her ‘own’ history begin” (Marsh, 65). In the poem, the female has no identity which is similar to Elizabeth Siddal being unnoticed, however, the difference between Siddal’s real life compared with the life of the female of the poem, is that the male speaker is worried about what will happen to his lady’s spirit after her death. In the poem, Siddal made the female’s death seem more important than the male’s life, but, even though she gave attention to the females fate after death, she still shows the loss of identity which she herself went through, by making the female in the poem, religiously lost.

To relate the female in the poem’s beauty, to the prominent beauty of Elizabeth Siddall, Jan Marsh explains:

In the spring of 1860 he married Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, who, being very beautiful, was constantly painted and drawn by him…These phrases fixed the frame of beauty, passivity and pathos within which Elizabeth Siddal was inscribed – attributes borrowed directly (since the author did not know Elizabeth Siddal personally and the Rossettis seldom spoke of her) from conventional definitions of femininity, especially ascribed to wives who died young. This sweet, sad, dove-like image of Elizabeth Siddal was supported by retrospective exhibitions of Rossetti’s work held at the Royal Academy and Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1883, where several delicate pencil drawings were on display, showing Elizabeth Siddal sitting, reading, sewing or resting, in attitudes of meekness. (Marsh 65).

By this explanation, readers can relate Siddal’s sweet beauty, as well as her following the rules of the patriarchal society of which she lived in, to the female subject of the poem. The female of the poem had to live the life that her male companion would deem fit for her, he saw that he was responsible for leading her in the right direction, thus due to this submissiveness, she lost her identity in order to become his ideal female companion. Marsh further explains how Siddal may have been married, however, she did have flaws, such as her drug addiction which lead to her death and Rossetti heart brokenly grieved for (Marsh, 66,) which can be related to the female subject of the poem since she herself has her male companion worriedly grieving over what might negatively occur to her spirit after her death as well as whom will take care of her once he is gone. Marsh also goes on to explain that despite her flaws, Siddal was still youthful and ladylike (Marsh, 69), which can also serve as characteristic foils towards the female of the poem. In page 72 and 79, Marsh explains that Siddal is submissive, however he famous beauty makes it easy for readers to see the double standards of the society which is similar to the female of the poem because they both became victims of their own society as well as the patriarchal, emotional and economic differences between males and females, which resulted in making women submissive.

In “Muse Turned “Femme Fatale” in D. G. Rossetti’s Painting and Poetry” by Pritha Kundu, Kundu uses a psychoanalytic approach to view the life of Siddal and Rossetti, “In many of D. G. Rossetti’s paintings, Elizabeth Siddal appears as a model. In real life, they formed a married couple, and the relationship was not as idealistic as it might have been, between a muse-figure and an artist. (Kundu, 772). This source, helps prove the evident theme in the poem, which is how the male speaker, worships the beauty of the female, thus making her his muse, which was what ELizabeth Siddal was to Dante Rossetti before they were married, which could also be a foil for the couple in the poem since it is not mentioned whether she is his wife or only just his lover. Kundu further explains in page 772 about Rossetti’s grief after his wife’s death,  “After Elizabeth’s death, Rossetti seemed to have been preoccupied with the “Lilith” theme in his painting and poetry, and somehow he could not free himself from the haunting memory of the “wronged wife”, the muse. This often found manifestation in his portrayal of the “femme fatale” images” (Kundu, 772). In the poem, the male speaker makes his beautiful lady seem flawed and allows the reader to assume that the female is ‘wrong’ due to the negative portrayal of which she was placed in which is also what Siddal herself went through in her own life experiences. Despite this negative portrayal, Siddal as well as the female of the poem we both placed in pedestals, “An idealistic approach, though it may be too simplistic, will find it apparent that Rossetti had placed her on a pedestal; she was someone to be loved from afar, idealized and admired as an artistic muse and not merely as a woman of flesh and blood” (Kundu, 773). In the poem, the male speaker worships his female companion, however by the end of the poem, he still speaks of her beauty, but since he is leaving her, he becomes distant but still manages to admire her from afar, which is how Rossetti’s relationship with Siddal was based on.

To sum up, both articles are similar in proving how Elizabeth Siddal portrays aspects of her own life, through her own art and poems. Siddal was flawed but was still admired by society, which was what the female in the poem also went through. Siddal was also lost during her lifetime due to her submissiveness, thus not letting people truly know her identity until after her death. The female in the poem was religiously lost, submissive, experienced a loss of identity due to the patriarchal society as well as the relationship that she was placed in, and had her male companion worry about leading her in the right path of life in order for her spirit to rest after her death.


Works Cited

Kundu, Pritha. “Muse Turned “Femme Fatale” in DG Rossetti’s Painting and Poetry.” Journal of Literature and Art Studies 3.12 (2013): 772-786.

Marsh, Jan. “Imagining Elizabeth Siddal.” History Workshop, no. 25, 1988, pp. 64–82.