Ophelia’s Malaise

Ophelia’s Malaise

We have some fine new poetry on tap. From Tony Jones and Rick Diguette. Please comment on their works — and the postings throughout the site. We write, paint, compose, snap pictures, etc. for a reason. To attempt a form of communication and expression deer to our harts. Feedback is most welcome, and often a necessity.

Ophelia, by John William Waterhouse. 1894

 I thought again of this painting while reading Ross King’s The Judgment of Paris (and about his retrospective in the Van Gogh Museum this year). There is always a back story. Elizabeth Siddal was the nineteen-year-old model and muse for Millais, and she seems to have earned her fees the hard way. Millais painted her in a tub, which he attempted to warm with oil lamps but often forgot to. She caught a nasty cold for her troubles. In 1852, catching a cold was a dangerous affair, of course. She sent him the doctor’s bill.

Did she sing like Ophelia, as she floated in that tub? I imagine Millais asked her to. We know he was meticulous about other things, the flora and the fauna of the painting, making sure everything was just right. And, perhaps because Millais was so meticulous and particular, subsequent sleuths have been as well. One Barbara Webb found the actual place of the painting in England, along the banks of the Hogsmill River in Surrey. Six Acre Meadow, alongside Church Road, Old Malden, to be exact.

I love such stories within stories. Who was Shakespeare’s Ophelia? On whom did he model the character? So later we have a painter who chooses a model for Ophelia who was modeled on someone Shakespeare knew. Probably. And what was her story? Why did he choose her? What parallels existed between the model and the literary character, between the artist’s model and Shakespeare’s model and so on? For that matter, who was Shakespeare?

(Well, that’s a subject for another day, and one I will most likely sit out.)

Sometimes, however, mysteries are more fascinating when they are never solved. Sometimes not knowing who a Homer really was is worth all the treasures of Troy.

 

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