THE GOLDEN VEIL by Paddy Kitchen


Email this review


A novel based on the life of Elizabeth Siddall,"" and a solid, literate one--though not nearly as imaginative or readable as Elizabeth Savage's Willowwood (1978), which presented Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Lizzy as a convincing blend of victim and manipulator. Kitchen's damozel, in contrast, is pretty much all victim: a woman too low-born for social acceptance yet too middle-class (Mother warns her from the start that ""girls who touch are sacrificing their right to create a family"") for guilt-free bohemianism. So this Lizzy is obliging yet always insecure and wounded as she leaves the world of the millinery shop for the world of loose-living artists. And her true love forever belongs to sweet Walter Deverell, the delicate youth who first spots her in the shop and asks her (via his mother) to pose. Walter, however, is honest about Lizzy's unsuitability for Deverell wifehood; moreover, he drifts away into poverty and death. Thus, moving away from her disapproving parents (""We don't want any irregularities in this family!""), Lizzy allows herself to be adopted by other artists--by Millais, for whom she poses (near-fatally) as the drowned Ophelia; and by Waiter's friend Rossetti, who arranges for her odd (but always proper) living arrangements and encourages her own drawing efforts. But, though John Ruskin himself is soon praising and sponsoring both Gabriel and Lizzy, their iffy domestic situation becomes increasingly intolerable: she resents being socially excluded; he becomes more amorously demanding, from a kiss (which ""made her imperfect for anyone else"") to full conjugal rights (after dubious promises of marriage); she fumes with jealousy over his loose women--and becomes ever more dependent on the laudanum drops which she first took for ""monthly upsets."" Finally, in fact, marriage does come--but for the wrong reasons on Gabriel's part and, in any case, too late: total addiction, massive guilt (compounded by a stillborn child), and suicide quickly follow. Kitchen (Four Days) sometimes lapses into the cardboard-cameo style of historical/literary fiction here; and the portrait of Lizzy (despite the invention of a childhood brush with death that haunts her) remains stolidly two-dimensional. But the milieux are crisply evoked--especially the un-exotic ones--and some readers might prefer this conscientious rendering (with its implicit feminist shading) to Savage's more dashing, ironical version.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (North Pomfret, VT 05053)