Friday, 26 February 2016

Fanny Cornforth: The Style Edition

Here we are at the end of our first Fanny-versary and after all the reading and stuff we've had this week I thought I'd end on a post to do with the visual.  It will come as no surprise to you that I am planning on knitting a Fanny Cornforth (I urge you not to google 'knitted fanny') and I was considering her dress and jewellery.  What would I dress her in?  Such decisions!

Fanny in the garden, 1863
Starting with fashion, we have at least two photographs of her ostensibly in her own clothes.  In the  photographs we have of her in the garden of Tudor House in Chelsea, she is wearing a voluminous dress with the half cape coming from the top of the sleeves.  It seems to have a sash with the same ruffled ribbon edging that goes around the collar, the cape and down the front.

Fanny at the mirror, 1863
I recently asked people what colour they thought the dress was because I hadn't really thought about it (other than unconsciously thinking it was dark grey).  The general concensus was that it was either dark green or blue, so I wondered if it was that wonderful sea green colour that Jane Morris often wore in Rossetti's art as that would have looked marvellous with Fanny's corn-coloured hair.  I was also interested by the chain that hooks on a button and attaches to her waist.  It's either a chatelaine or maybe a watch.  It's easier to see the ruffles along the edge of her cape in the mirror picture.  You can also see her earrings, but we'll come to those.

Fanny Asleep (1860s) D G Rossetti
Similar to her dress in the 1863 photographs is this dress which appears in many of Rossetti's drawings.  No ruffles around the top and certainly no cape, this is a full-skirted dress with frills around the bottom and a gathered bodice which Fanny secures with a brooch at the throat.

Fanny Sewing (1860s) D G Rossetti
It would be tempting to think this is the same dress as in the above drawing but whereas the sleeves in the first drawing are tight from the elbow down, these seem to gather at the wrists.  However, the bodice has a similar design, with the brooch at the throat.

Fanny Cornforth (1860s) D G Rossetti
In a few of Rossetti's drawings, Fanny's mass of hair is controlled by a hairnet or snood.  The dress she's wearing in this picture is without the brooch but I think it is the same dress, and I think it is the one in this oil portrait...

Fanny Cornforth (c.1860) D G Rossetti
If we believe the colouring in the painting to be truthful, Fanny's dress appears to be a bronze-brown.  It does seem to be cut in the same style as the ones in the drawings and it would make sense that it wouldn't be as ostentatious as the one she chose for the photographs.  This appears to be an everyday dress, although it isn't the dress we have an eye-witness account of...

Woman with a Fan (1870) D G Rossetti
In William Allingham's diary of 1864, he describes a visit to Rossetti's house on 27 June, where at half past eight in the morning he saw Fanny, dressed all in white, eating strawberries and looking at the 'chicking' (her plural of chicken).  The white dress she wears in the 1870 pastel Woman with a Fan is in a similar style to her earlier dresses, with lots of frills, but possibly the white dress she was wearing in 1864 was more like this...

Fazio's Mistress (1863-73) D G Rossetti
Hello Saucy! When you are pretty, buttons are obviously optional...

Bocca Baciata (1859) D G Rossetti

 Just visible beneath Fanny's black and golden braid jacket is a white chemise.  The dress she wears in Fazio's Mistress has somewhat transparent sleeves, leading me to suspect it's undergarments rather than a frock.  Mind you, I remember being surprised to find out that the seemingly substantial white dress worn by the mistress in Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience was actually her underclothes, hence the shawl around her waist.  It would be far too rude for her to be sat on a gentleman's knee in just her petticoats.  Dear me!  Anyway, back to Fanny's underwear...

Lady Lilith (Alexa edition) D G Rossetti
Although the face is Alexa, the boobs are still Fanny and so is what is barely hanging on to them. This is the sort of flimsy white affair that I suspect is going on beneath Bocca Baciata's jacket, and is very similar to Fazio's Mistress.  Heavens to Betsy! Anyway, as outrageous as Fanny was I don't believe she chased chickens around the garden in her underwear (although, to be honest, I have, but we'll move on).  The dress in the 1870 chalk is more likely the sort of thing she was wearing when Allingham saw her.  I can't imagine the Lady Lilith dress is warm enough, let alone the nightmare of keeping it up...

The Blue Bower (1865) D G Rossetti
It could be that the fur on the chair of Lady Lilith is from the same garment Fanny is wearing in The Blue Bower, and the green jacket might actually be an unbuttoned dress, possibly from one of the drawings at the top.  There is certainly a lot of fabric here but I think the attention of the viewer is immediately attracted to her hair clip and necklace. When I was last in Paris I was lucky enough to buy a copy of the necklace from the Musee D'Orsay shop...

Me in Paris in 2012 with my awesome necklace
Rossetti paintings are often known through the amazing jewellery he used - the pearl spiral pin being a special case, dotted in various models' hair from Jane Morris to Alexa.  From the diamond tassel-y thing hanging from Fanny's hair in Bocca Baciata to the costume jewellery necklaces, his 'performace jewellery' is as flashy and luxurious as the women he used. 

Fair Rosamund (1861) D G Rossetti

Regina Cordium (1860)
I had never looked at Regina Cordium and Fair Rosamund side by side before and today I was struck by the similarities, not least the coral bead necklace. In Fair Rosamund it is meant to symbolise the thread that will lead her lover and murder to her and her blood that will be spilt. In Regina Cordium it could be just another layer of red to add to the hair the background and the blush on her cheek, but it is tempting to read in some foreshadowing, like in How They Met Themselves.  If I was feeling naughty I might suggest that the two women, one wife and one mistress, are wearing the same frock as they both sit there, clutching flowers that represent their love.

Found (1852-1882) (and even then it wasn't finished)

Found sketch of Fanny (c.1856)
Rossetti liked to collect items of jewellery to use in his paintings, but on occasions the pieces seem to have belonged to the models, or at least adopted by them as a signature piece or talisman.  The earrings that first appear in the head sketch for Found are known in this household as the 'Fanny earrings' as they appear time and time again...

Fanny Cornforth (1860s) D G Rossetti
Look back up at some of the other sketches, not to mention the mirror photograph and you will see the same looped rings hanging from Fanny's lobes all through the 1860s.  You can even see them glinting through her hair in the oil circular portrait.   By Woman with a Fan she is wearing the flowers that are the same as Monna Vanna, and her earrings in 1874 are some grand affairs, but whenever I see a sketch of a Rossetti model I have to identify, I always look for the two linked rings hanging from her ears.

Fanny Cornforth (1874) D G Rossetti
 By the end of her modelling life, Fanny is back in a ruffled white dress, but not out chasing the 'chicking' anymore because her lover was spending more and more time away from home.  Even in her swansong as a model, she has her jewellery on, leading me to conclude that she liked to wear them in a way that was probably frowned on by people looking for an excuse to frown on Fanny. While Alexa is bedecked with gems in her paintings and Jane Morris' stately throat is encircled with golden ropes, teardrops of precious metals fall from Fanny's earlobes like jewel-like tears, like riches she can barely hang on to. 

How unfortunately apt...

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Seeing Through Time (and Much Scraping)

So, we come to the penultimate post of this first Fanny-versary week and I am going to talk about Rossetti and his scraping.  He obviously isn't the only painter in the whole of art history to change his mind about a picture but I'm sure I'm not alone in my frustration that he scraped Fanny out of a number of his works.  In the same way as I would love to see the original The Awakening Conscience with Annie Miller's horror-stricken face, to be able to see Venus Verticordia or Monna Vanna in their original guise(s) would be very interesting.  Most famously, Lady Lilith was a far better painting before Rossetti took a knife to it, according to many of his biographers.  I could never get the sense of Fanny as the Lady from the watercolour; it seems a little 'muddy', rather than the crispness of the oil.  Wouldn't it be splendid to turn back the clock to before 1872-3 and see the oil painting with Fanny in place?  Well, actually, you can.

Lady Lilith (oil 1868-1873) D G Rossetti
Firstly a bit of background.  Above you can see Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in its present state.  It depicts a modern version of the first wife of Adam (from the bits of the Bible we don't talk about), who is a beautiful demon and general bringer of saucy unpleasantness.  Rossetti's Lady Lilith (note the 'Lady') is there with her meaningful flowers and strangling golden hair, admiring her wonderfulness in a mirror.  She is at once gorgeous and deadly.

Aurelia (Fazio's Mistress) (1863-73) D G Rossetti
I'm not sure it is entirely focused on Fanny, but Rossetti did seem to have a thing about women and their hair.  If proof was needed that Fanny's version of their meeting, when the artist rushed up to her and grabbed her hair, was true, his repeated pictures of her brushing, plaiting and generally faffing with her hair give us ammunition. You would be forgiven in thinking that Fanny spent the whole of the 1860s doing her hair. From Aurelia through Woman combing her Hair and the infamous photograph of her from Paris with the oversized comb, Fanny and her hair were obviously a bit of an obsession for Rossetti (even his brother said she had good hair)...

Woman Combing Her Hair (1864) D G Rossetti
Fanny Cornforth, Photograph from Mayer and Pierson, Paris c.1865
By the time we reach the main work on Lady Lilith, Fanny has been brushing her hair for a good few years, and the image followed the pattern of other luxurious women in opulent interiors, such as The Blue Bower.  Frederick Leyland commissioned the painting in 1866 and Rossetti spent the next three years producing the image, completing it in early 1869.  At this point, it was the face of Fanny Cornforth that graced the canvas, despite Alexa Wilding becoming Rossetti's model in 1865 and Jane Morris beginning to appear in works of the late 1860s.  The idea that Rossetti moved from one woman to the next, cleanly severing pictoral ties, simply isn't true.  He liked to keep a number of plates spinning it seems.

Lady Lilith (watercolour 1867) D G Rossetti
Lady Lilith (chalk 1866) D G Rossetti
During the creation of the oil painting, Rossetti made a number of versions of the design, including the above watercolour and chalk pictures.  All of them give us an idea of what Fanny looked like in the role.  The watercolour especially is cited as being the 'true' idea behind Lady Lilith before Rossetti's tampering at Kelmscott. Luckily, as I said yesterday, Rossetti had a number of contemporary biographers and some of them, such as F G Stephens, had managed to see the painting before the alterations.  Despite claiming the model is Ruth Herbert (due to either idiocy or pettiness), his description of the original oil is rather nice: 'she appears in the ardent languor of triumphant luxury and beauty, seated as if she lived now, and reclining back in a modern robe, if that term be taken rightly; the abundance of her pale golden hair falls about her Venus-like throat, bust and shoulders and with voluptuous self-applause ... she contemplates her features in the mirror her left hand holds...' (F G Stephens, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, see yesterday's post for link).  Stephens claims the above watercolour shows an expression more amorous and cruel than the altered oil, which he thinks is what Rossetti intended.  Well, it might be me, but I really don't get cruel and amorous from the watercolour, however I don't get either from the imperious gaze of Alexa Wilding either.

Lady Lilith (chalk 1867) D G Rossetti
Anyway, Lady Lilith was delivered to Frederick Leyland in 1869 and then the clever fellow did a marvellous thing.  He took a photograph of his lovely new painting.   I was not aware of this photograph until I was reading Stephens as he states that the plate of Lady Lilith in Marillier is Leyland's photograph, later bought by Fanny's greatest fan Samuel Bancroft Jnr from the 1892 sale after Leyland's death (when he also bought the altered oil).  By Marillier and Stephens admissions, it's not the best photograph in the world but the fact it exists is a miracle.  And here it is...

I never really paid too much attention to it in Marillier previously as I assumed it was the watercolour but on closer inspection, even with the dubious quality, you can see it is indeed the oil painting but with Fanny's face instead of the cool hooded eyelids of Alexa.  There is a clarity to the image which is present in the oil, although you can see the many smaller replicas are based on this version of the oil. Although the 1873 repaint is beautiful, as Alexa always is, I have always found Alexa to be bordering on cartoonish evil with her cat-like expression, whereas Fanny appears to embody a vaguely melancholic concentration similar to Fazio's Mistress.  It's that same determined grooming, perfecting for a purpose not yet achieved, that I see in Fanny's expression, which tempts me to see the same in Fanny in the 1860s, so close to achieving her desire to have Rossetti all to herself yet never close enough, no matter how hard she worked.  The Alexa Lilith is more self-satisfied, someone who has achieved all the evil she needs to and now has to brush her greatest weapon, her golden hair.

Lady Lilith, altered, photographed on the right of Leyland's room (1892)
Despite not being a perfect photograph, I am immensely grateful to Mr Leyland for having the foresight to photograph his painting before the erstwhile artist could change it.  If only other patrons could have been so helpful.  In the the original we can see Fanny in one of her final roles, proud and beautiful, combing out that astonishing head of hair that ensnared the artist a decade before.  It's a hell of a finale....

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Finding and Forgetting Fanny

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Fanny Cornforth.  No doubt on social media I will get to chat to fellow Fanny fans, not to mention museums and galleries that proudly hold her pictures and talk about what a splendid, cantankerous, tenacious baggage she was.  The point is that we will remember her. In her lifetime however there were people who obviously wished this wasn't the case...

Study for Fair Rosamund (1861) D G Rossetti
When considering what posts I wanted to write this week, I knew I wanted to do a piece on how Fanny was portrayed in her lifetime.  To be honest I didn't think any of Rossetti's biographers would bother with her, or any of the models, because you don't think of that sort of salacious biography being the Victorian's style.  Having made a list of what biographies came out between 1882 and around 1910 I was delighted to find they were all available to download from (links included) (God bless the internet) and so the Fanny hunt began...

Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti (1863) Lewis Carroll
Rossetti was bearly cold in the ground before the biographies arrived.  For such an intensely private man, the myth of Rossetti was an enormous pull for people and maybe fuelled by his enigmatic persona, the books about him, his art, poems and life, came in a steady flow.  They fall into roughly three groups: those that pretty much ignore or aren't that interested in Rossetti's love life and therefore Fanny, those that hate her and surprisingly those that love her.  Let's take them in that order...

Fanny Cornforth (1868) D G Rossetti
In the neutral ground we have John Bonar Gregory.  His chronology of Rossetti published in 1900 mentions that Fanny was the model for Bocca Baciata and that Fanny Schott is the first model for Lady Lilith, begun in 1863, but doesn't connect that it is the same person.  He makes the point to mention that Rossetti met Alexa Wilding in 1865, which he obviously finds significant.  As a rule of thumb I find if they mention Alexa but not Fanny then something is amiss.  Mr Gregory escapes my utter ire as he glosses over both fairly evenly.  He, like many others, mentions the final trip to Cumbria in 1881 that Rossetti took with Thomas Hall Caine (more on him later, hiss boo) and Fanny, but completely misses Fanny out of the details.  His sins are of omission rather than malice, so he doesn't go on my list...
Fanny Cornforth (1860s) D G Rossetti
The same can be said for Joseph Knight in his 1887 Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. There is no Fanny or Alexa in the index, although he makes a comparatively big fuss about Elizabeth Siddal and the romance with Rossetti.  Again,when it comes to the trip to Cumbria in 1881 there was no Fanny on that trip as far as Knight is concerned.

William Sharp
Oh, William Sharp, you naughty boy! In his 1882 Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Record and Study Mr Sharp gives a handy guide in the back to who owns all of Rossetti's works. Only it's not all the works, its all the works except the ones Fanny owns (which I merrily cross-checked against her Rossetti Gallery catalogue from 1883).  Even then he says that at least two pictures that are hers, including the oil portrait of Swinburne from 1860, belong to other people or are left with mysterious dots in the comment box.  He does list certain pictures to be of 'F.C.' and 'Mrs S-' , both of which are Fanny, but most interesting is that he lists one of the chalk 1874 portraits of Fanny as belonging to William Michael Rossetti, a very interesting mistake to make (no. 6 in the 1883 Rossetti Gallery catalogue).

Finally in our neutral category is Ernest Radford's Dante Gabriel Rossetti of 1905 and again his sin is omission.  Both Elizabeth and Jane Morris appear, and unusually Radford enthusiastically claims that the later Dante's Dream with Jane as the model is a better version than the original watercolour.  He mentions the loveliness of Alexa Wilding but doesn't actually name her, and finally there is no mention at all of Fanny.  It's a brief book but has lots of illustrations so I'll let him off.

Thomas Hall Caine
The Gollum to Rossetti's One Ring
On to the more negative side of biography and, as Taylor Swift so wisely said Haters are indeed going to hate.  First out of the trap comes the loathsome man-ferret Thomas Hall Caine with his indecently swift Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti of which there are many different editions, all more revoltingly hero-worshipping than the last.  I'm not a fan, in case you didn't guess.  If he had left his contribution to the Rossetti memorial at the Recollections I think I would not judge him quite as harshly, because he doesn't mention Fanny at all in it.  Even poor Elizabeth is brushed over very quickly (presumably because she could never love Rossetti as much as Hall Caine did).  What really makes me furious is the utterly appalling My Story (or 'My Struggle' as I predictably call it) from 1908.  A quarter of a decade after his first book on Rossetti, Hall Caine released his magnum opus all about how great he was, how much Rossetti, the ruination of a wonderful man, needed him, and how utterly terrible Fanny was.  She is the villainous shrew nurse who comes away on holiday with them at the end and tries to bully and drug the great artist until wonderful Hall Caine throws her out.  Hurrah for Hall Caine! Odious, coat-tail riding runt.

Frederick George Stephens (1853) W M Rossetti
Moving on to the big guns when it comes to Fanny-denying, I am disappointed to say that hot Fred Stephens earns my ire for his Dante Gabriel Rossetti from the 1890s.  I expected more from him, not actually being involved in any of the ugly wrangling with Fanny at the end of Rossetti's life, but his trouble is that he cuts Fanny out of the story rather crudely, whilst making himself look like an idiot.  Firstly, he lists Alexa in the index but not Fanny.  I thought it was a mistake as he talks about Bocca Baciata in quite glowing terms - 'the bust of a young woman whose face, saturated with passion as it is, battles description and justifies its title of Bocca Baciata, or lips that have been kissed.'  Well, that's all quite lovely and he correctly goes on to explain how the model for the original Lady Lilith and The Blue Bower are the same as Bocca Baciata.  Well done Fred! You can tell he knows what he's talking about!  He then says that model is Ruth Herbert. Idiot.

Woman with a Fan (1870) D G Rossetti
It's not so much the fact he leaves Fanny out of the narrative, because heaven knows he wouldn't be the first to do that, it is just that a man who was present at the time, who knew exactly what Fanny meant to Rossetti's work, could be so petty as to exclude her and misidentify the works.  He finishes the section where Fanny should be by saying that Ruth Herbert was followed by Jane Morris in Rossetti's work, completing his new chronology.  The only thing he says about a picture featuring Fanny without misidentifying the work is his comments about A Lady with a Fan from 1870.  Grouping the model for that picture with all other Rossetti models of similar works he say that their 'nobelest function is to live and be beautiful.'  On A Lady with a Fan specifically he says the hands are too big.  Thanks for that.

Another rule I learnt while reading these biographies was that if the author thanks Thomas Hall Caine in their acknowledgements I knew what to expect.  This is definitely the case with Esther Wood's 1894 Dante Gabriel and The Pre-Raphaelite Movement. Wood mentions many models in her text including Alexa Wilding, Marie Stillman and Ruth Herbert but no mention of Fanny Cornforth.  The description of the trip to Cumbria comes straight out of Hall Caine, with the agonized painter/poet pacing the room and refusing to go out with only his valiant young companion to keep him company.  A slightly different account than Rossetti himself gave to his friends and family in his letters home where he rolled down hills while Fanny laughed and they had a jolly good time.  As further proof of how dubious Wood's sources are she writes how Rossetti and Morris shared Kelmscott together, no doubt in jolly peace and certainly no love-triangle. Hmmm.....

From the left: Algernon Swinburne, DGR, Fanny, and William Michael Rossetti
We come to William Michael Rossetti, who is somewhat of a contradiction. Whilst he undoubtedly knew Fanny, as witnessed in the photograph above, it can't be said that he liked her.  In fact the longer he knew her, the more reasons she gave him to want to expunge her from his brother's memory, but he gave her mixed reviews in his biographical works.  In the Rossetti Papers of 1903 all mention of Fanny is removed, even though he talks about Alexa, calling her 'one of [Rossetti's] most valued sitters'.  He lists the paintings Fanny sat for but never mentions her by name and when he talks about the seances held for his brother in the 1860s he misses out the one held with Fanny in February 1866.  All this would be understandable, as Fanny had been a thorn in William Michael's side, from the IOU she presented, the Rossetti Gallery she set up and his refusal to allow her any part in Rossetti's death or funeral.  However, in Dante Gabriel Rossetti: his family letters with a memoir , William Michael speaks of "Mrs H-" (Mrs Hughes), denying Bell Scott's nut story and calling her 'a pre-eminently fine woman, with regular and sweet features and a mass of the most lovely blonde hair...'  Mind you, WMR then goes on to say that she has no charm of breeding, education or intellect, so it's not all good news. I find his omissions both understandable and conversely deplorable as he managed to talk about her fairly in one biography, why cut her so obviously out of another?  I get the sense that William Michael struggled to understand his brother's private life and found it inconvenient that he had to engage with it in order to speak of his work.  He is an example of someone far too close to a subject, I suspect...
My greatest surprise has to be that anyone spoke of Fanny at all, let alone in a positive light. I get the impression from Fanny's letters and her actions that she feared being erased from Rossetti's life because she knew she had no legitimate claim of marriage or children, and so could be ignored from the narrative.  When I was reading her letters to Samuel Bancroft Jnr (reproduced in the back of Stunner) she mentions having read one of Rossetti's biographies by a woman called Elizabeth Luther Cary.  That must have been a strange experience, to read the life you were closely involved with, but what I didn't realise was that she had read it because she was mentioned.  Cary, in The Rossettis (above) of 1900 thanks Samuel Bancroft Jnr in her acknowledgments, so it shouldn't be a surprise when Fanny is mentioned with compassion.  Cary calls Fanny 'the model who possibly did the most to counteract the effect upon Rossetti's painting of the gloomy Prosepine type of Beauty', and states that Rossetti 'is never so much a painter as when he is painting "Fanny Cornforth"' which is stirring stuff indeed.  No wonder Fanny liked it.

Lady Lilith (1867 watercolour) D G Rossetti
Hans Wolfgang Singer in his 1906 Dante Gabriel Rossetti calls Fanny the personification of womanly charm (as opposed to 'womanly dignity' which he thinks is Jane Morris).  Singer is one of a number of biographers to criticise Rossetti for the over-painting of Lady Lilith (which I'll talk about tomorrow) stating that Fanny's version of Lady Lilith is 'truly dazzling' but her beauty could never be employed for 'ulterior motives'.  In the end Singer concludes that Fanny is too spiritual for such a role, unlike Alexa Wilding.  You don't hear that everyday...

One of my favourite early biographies has to be Henry Currie Marillier's Dante Gabriel Rossetti, not least because I bought a knackered edition of this many years ago when I was writing Stunner.  Marillier uses William Michael's pleasant description Fanny and comments on her appearance in 'sensuous' pictures calling her 'a favourite model, who sat to Rossetti until almost the end of his life'.  Unusually, he lists Fanny as Mrs Schott as well as Fanny Cornforth, aware that they are the same woman and includes the pictures of her in the catalogue.

Arthur Benson, looking dapper...
Similarly, Arthur Benson's 1904 Rossetti from the 'English Men of Letters' Series  manages to combine an acknowledgement to Hall Caine with a positive review of Fanny's place in Rossetti's work, a rare feat indeed.  I enjoyed Benson mainly because he does struggle with the personal life at times, claiming that Elizabeth Siddal died of consumption from thinking too much (with a side brief reference to a miscalculated dose of medicine).  Jane Morris is only mentioned within the general talk of the Morris family rather than anything further.  Benson holds that Found and 'Jenny' are Rossetti's finest works because they shows his potential and splits his female figures into two types, in which Fanny represents the early, untroubled sweet natural beauties.  For Benson, Fanny is a positive, sunny influence which is true of many of the biographers who don't get their feet too muddy with all the druggy, sexy business that took up the latter part of Rossetti's life.

An Introduction: Miss Cornforth 'Oh very pleased to meet Mr Ruskin, I'm sure"
Max Beerbohm
In the end, it seems true that biographies often say as much about the people writing them as the subject.  That is unfortunately true of Hall Caine, who epitomizes the 'Theatre of Me' aspect of writing about someone else, but it also hints at who the biographers spoke to, whose opinion they respected, who they didn't mind upsetting.  I've included the 1916 cartoon by Max Beerbohm above, although later, as it is again making the point that Fanny is a difficult fit in Rossetti's story.  Fanny represents Rossetti's folly as opposed to the saintly Elizabeth almost hidden on the wall behind them.  Although Beerbohm claims no harm is intended in his satire, he is just another biographer of Rossetti using Fanny as a punchline or a point.  Hall Caine used Fanny as an example of his heroes weakness that he needed to be saved from, Fred Stephen saves Rossetti's memory by scrubbing Fanny out, but then Cary argues that Fanny is the very thing that saved Rossetti from himself.  Maybe then William Michael with his complicated narrative and different versions is the only person, for better or worse, who sees Fanny in both a positive and negative light which in the end might be the closest to the truth.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Fanny/Sarah Cornforth/Cox/Hughes/Schott

What's in a name?  When approaching the thorny issue of Fanny Cornforth,then quite a bit as she had a number of names, or so it seems. From Fanny (or a more loaded "Fanny") to the very respectable Mrs Sarah Schott, the woman we call Fanny Cornforth has gone by a collection of names, but how many of them were her choice and how many have we placed upon her along with a heaped tablespoon of judgement?

Fanny Cornforth (c.1860) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
In the beginning was Sarah Cox, born in January 1835 to William and Jane Cox of Steyning in West Sussex.  She never hid her name or past when people bothered to ask her, so when Samuel Bancroft Jnr wanted to know where she was from she told him those same basic facts.  By that point she had become Mrs Sarah Schott, married (for the second time) to John Bernard Schott after being widowed by her first husband, Timothy Hughes.  For a while she had also been known as Mrs Hughes, all very straightforward.  How then did we end up calling her Fanny Cornforth?

Fanny Cornforth and George Price Boyce (1858) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
It's partly the fault of this man, George Price Boyce, or at least he first recorded her as "Fanny", the speech marks being meaningful at moments like this. In his diary, 15th December 1858, Boyce records that he and Rossetti went to dinner then 'adjourned to 24 Dean Street, Soho, to see "Fanny".  Interesting face and jolly hair and engaging disposition.' He soon drops the speech marks, merely calling her Fanny or F. or F.C. as in this entry from 11th April 1859 - 'Called on F.C. in Tennyson St. and gave her a silver thimble I had promised her, and made a slight pencil sketch of her.' At first it would be tempting to think 'FC' stood for 'Fanny Cornforth' but I think in this instance it is more likely to be Fanny Cox. So firstly how did she become 'Fanny'?

Fanny Cornforth (1859) D G Rossetti
Short answer is that we don't know. Much in the same way that we don't know why Elizabeth Siddal dropped the second 'l' off her original surname (Siddall) or why plain old Alice Wilding took the name Alexa, despite never actually becoming the actress everyone claims she was, but with Fanny it is assumed that she became a prostitute.  Now, that is a bit of a presumption, but then being sexually active in return for money and presents, which is actually what the Victorians meant by 'prostitute', is a charge you could easily level at Miss Sarah Cox of Steyning.  Boyce's diary is full of what he has given her in terms of gifts and meals, all without judgement. I think the main reason it is assumed that Fanny worked as a professional companion (rather than an enthusiastic amateur) is her name.  'Fanny' became synonymous with lady-parts because of the jolly eighteenth century novel Fanny Hill and so when Boyce placed the quotes around Fanny's name, it might have been because he suspected she was a working girl, but the quotes drop within days of meeting her and she just becomes plain Fanny.  I've always wondered if she took the name of her last sister who died just as Sarah Cox became a young woman.  Little Fanny Cox was the last child born and whose death at less than a year corresponded with that of her mother in 1847.  Sarah had seen the majority of her siblings die over her 12 years and Fanny's death was the last before she left southern England, only returning to die herself sixty years later. It seems subsequent biographers preferred to believe a crude reality that she took the name of the bits that allegedly earned her living, rather than in remembrance of her sister.  What does that say about biographers..?

Fanny Cornforth (c.1860) D G Rossetti
The 'Cornforth' part of her name is slightly easier to clear up.  I urge you to read The Wife of Rossetti by Violet Hunt for the most breath-taking nonsense ever written about Fanny.  According to Violet, Fanny's father, a Cornforth, came from good northern stock and her mother was descended from a union between one of Odin's ravens and a Saxon Maiden. Magnificent. Well, that clears that up then.  For a less exciting version of events, I can offer the 1861 Census (sadly no ravens).  When Sarah Cox married Timothy Hughes in 1861, she became Mrs Sarah Hughes, officially.  Rossetti's subsequent letters to her are addressed to Sarah Hughes even if he still called her 'My dear Good Fan' in the letter.  The 'Cornforth' part of her name appears briefly in her lifetime, namely in the 1861 census where Mr Timothy Cornforth, mechanical engineer, is recorded at 14 Tenison Street, Lambeth, living with his with Sarah, of Steyning, Sussex.  Timothy Hughes had a complicated home life it seemed; his mother Margaret had married Timothy Hughes, whose son bore his name.  After the death of Timothy Snr, Margaret went on to marry George Cornforth.  Although Timothy Hughes Jnr was married as 'Hughes', he appears on his first census as a married man as 'Cornforth'. Thus Sarah (or Fanny) became Mrs Cornforth.

Fanny Sleeping (1860s) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The only problem with this perfectly reasonable solution is that George Price Boyce refers to Fanny as 'Fanny Cornforth' before her marriage to Hughes, but as it is a mere few weeks before her marriage I am willing to bet that it is either a mistake in the transcribing of F.C. (Fanny Cox) to Fanny Cornforth, or that Fanny had assumed the name in preparation.  I wonder if she took a fancy to it, and furthermore if she was the one who told the census taker what their name was.  If Timothy Hughes had steadfastly stuck to his father's name in all other documents (marriage, 1871 census, death certificate), it seems out of character to suddenly take his stepfather's name for one census.  If Fanny was already trying the picturesque surname out prior to the wedding it's not unreasonable that she gave them the title of Mr and Mrs Cornforth for their only census together.

The Card Player (1860-65) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Unfortunately for Fanny the confusion and mystery over her name was assumed to be proof of her nefarious nature. Of all the other women to pose for Rossetti, Fanny is not the only one to fiddle with the name her parents gave her, yet her fiddling is the only one subsequent biographers have taken negatively. Whilst she is obviously ignored in commentary during his lifetime, a few of his early biographers did touch upon the subject of Fanny in the books that appeared in the twenty years after his death, which I will talk about tomorrow.  In them she appears as either Mrs Schott (which at the time she still was) and Fanny Cornforth, sometimes as if the biographer has no idea they are one and the same person.  It certainly seems that Fanny assumed her husband's names for different purposes and hung on to them longer than she hung onto him.  Once Rossetti found himself alone in 1862, Fanny left her marriage and returned to her former lover's side.

Figure of 'David' from The Seed of David (1858-64) D G Rossetti

Timothy Hughes, who apparently modelled for the figure of David in The Seed of David triptych, put up a bit of a fight for his wife but ultimately died in 1872, lodging in a house in Chelsea, away from Fanny and the Pre-Raphaelite circus he had inadvertently married into.  When she went on to marry John Bernard Schott in 1879, Rossetti's letters came addressed to Mrs S Schott on the outside and again 'Dear Fan' or 'Good Elephant' (from 'Old Rhinocerus').  Oh yes, let's talk about Elephants...

Elephant Burying a Jar (1874) D G Rossetti
Part of the narrative surrounding Fanny is that by 1865, when Rossetti replaced her with Alexa Wilding as his model, Fanny had grown fat.  William Bell Scott referred to her as 'the creature with three waists' and the subsequent cartoons Rossetti sent her during his absences in the 1870s seem to infer that she had become elephantine in size, her long trunk removing objects she had no right to.  It is hard to pick apart the modern prejudice from the contemporary nastiness in these descriptions, after all Bell Scott was also the man responsible for the story of how Fanny the Prostitute cracked nuts between her teeth and spat them at Rossetti, which is utter nonsense. In Helen Rossetti Angeli's Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Friends and Enemies she states the painter 'shared the Italian predilection for fair women of ample proportions' and this seems in tune with his affectionate use of 'elephant', rather than derogatory.  In fact the elephants began in 1863 when Fanny was still at the height of her modelling, with a sketch entitled Economies Elephantines showing a little elephant with a castle on its back (possibly referring to the Elephant and Castle which was near where Fanny and Rossetti lived at the beginning of their relationship) placing money in a safe. Fanny's tendencies towards self-preservation started early it seems, but then by 1863 she had already been dropped by Rossetti once in favour of another woman so I have to admire her far-sightedness to see that this was likely to be a pattern in her life if she remained with him.

Fair Rosamund (1861) D G Rossetti
An interesting, if sad, note in the whole business of Fanny's names is that when she was registered into Graylingwell Asylum, she was booked in as Sarah Hughes.  At that point in 1907 she was a widowed Mrs John Bernard Schott but whoever it was that gave her name reverted to her previous married name.  There is a note later that she is possibly Schott, but I wonder if the Schott family wished to remove themselves from her and did so by taking back their name.  It seems unlikely (but not impossible) that Fanny would have reverted to Hughes, but maybe in her confused state she gave it.  It is possible that after the treatment she had received from Rosa, her sister in law, Fanny fancied a bit of distance as well.  When she died in 1909, she died as Sarah Hughes, 71, in Chichester. Possibly as she had such a fraught relationship with her real names, it's best we use the name she chose herself.

Fanny Cornforth (1863) William Downey
So Fanny Cornforth the Model she remained for her life and afterlife, but in private she was always 'Dear Fan' to the man who mattered most.  It is a mistake to read too much into her names as half the time they are ones applied to her and often are titles applied to works of art.  The problem with Fanny and her name is that it is used as proof of her other alleged crimes - lying, taking things that aren't hers, prostitution.  If you start from a position where you believe someone to be a liar then an assumed name is seen as proof of that.  Very quickly we turn that on its head and assume she is a liar as we know she lied about her name, and the circle is complete. It's always best to go back to the beginning and be very careful about what you are told. 
What's the betting that Bell Scott heard this story before he wrote his account of the three-waisted creature who spat nuts..?
"Enter Fanny, who says something of W.B. Scott which amuses us.  Scott was a dark hairy man, but after an illness has reappeared quite bald.  Fanny exclaimed, 'O my, Mr Scott is changed! He ain't got a hye-brow or a hye-lash - not a 'air on his 'ead!' Rossetti laughed immoderately at this, so that poor Fanny, good-humoured as she is, pouted at last - 'Well, I know I don't say it right,' and I hushed him up." (William Allingham's Diary, Sunday 26 June 1864)

Poor Fanny indeed...