Autumn still warm and already plenty of melancholic colours. Autumn of leaves that are going to die but that leave us with the sweet memory of their colour. Autumn of shades, purple, red, yellows that give the heart a flame destined to warm us throughout the winter.

This book paints with the warm colours of the first autumn days the passions, the art and the tragic fate of a group of young English artists of the late nineteenth century. They are the Pre-Raphaelites, founders of a new revolutionary and anti-academic artistic current that upsets the Victorian England of the mid-nineteenth century. Their aim is to bring back to life the great myths of the Middle Ages, the lost beauties of legendary loves, the splendour of a past vanished too soon. These artists represent a group of characters absolutely extravagant and unique, faithful to art and devoured by it both in the physical as in the spirit. Eccentric, melancholy, surrounded by an indefinable magic, these young rebels move on the backdrop of sumptuous ancient dwellings, in the multicoloured chaos of ateliers overlooking the Thames, through sunny gardens and flowers, in the smoky interior of the taverns overlooking the Port of London. The author introduces us to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, son of an Italian political refugee; his muse-model, the ether, exhausted Elizabeth Siddal, with her flaming hair; the severe art critic John Ruskin, married to the unhappy Euphemia, in turn loved by John Everett Millais and many others. Free souls that are sought, rejected, heartbroken.

The writer focuses his attention on the artistic and sentimental story of Dante Gabriel Rossetti; beautiful and cursed, with his eccentric and complex personality, dandy par excellence, devoted to Beauty and consumed by drugs, opium and excesses. Delerm describes the birth of Dante’s love for his ‘Beatrice’: Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862), poet, painter and model. Today, even those who ignore her name recognize her delicate features in the fragile Ophelia by John Everett Millais and the seraphic Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, two of the most famous paintings of the nineteenth century. Her image tormented by suspended and melancholic beauty universally represents the incarnation of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, perfectly personifying its idea of femininity.

The attraction between Lizzie and Rossetti began nine years of emotional agony, during which the woman waited desperately for her lover to marry her, while Rossetti went from possessive worship to the desire for new relationships. At the time of their marriage Lizzie was undermined by addiction to laudanum and a mysterious illness. Devastated by the pregnancy of a stillborn child and her husband’s betrayals, Siddal took her own life. In the coffin, together with the body of Siddal, her husband also placed the only copy of the love manuscripts that himself had dedicated to Siddal, written over the years. In 1869 Rossetti, bent by alcohol and drugs and almost blind, was obsessed with the desire to publish his own poems accompanied by those of his wife.  Together with his agent Charles Augustus Howell and supported by his eccentric friends Algernon Swinburne, he obtained permission to open Siddal’s coffin to take back the notebook of poems: all this was done at night, to avoid the indignation of the people.

This novel tells us the artistic fury and the flame that devoured many of the sensitive souls of that unforgettable era.


Mercedes Corbelli



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