|Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
A picture really is worth a thousand words, or in this case, a little over four thousand.
My story Beata Beatrix is up at Bourbon Penn (Issue 8). I am especially excited to be a part of this publication, because Bourbon Penn is one of those magazines that occupies the space between genre and literary that I so love! You can read the stories free online, buy a copy for your Kindle, or go whole hog and get a truly lovely print edition for your bookshelf.
When I started this story I was thinking not so much about unrequited love as the nature of crushes. Even in the throes of a relatively benign obsession, I am fascinated by the way our desires create a doppelgänger of the object of our interest.
I don’t know how I got onto the Pre-Raphaelites other than the fact that I remembered Dante Gabriel Rossetti‘s painting from my days as an art major. The woman in the painting, Elizabeth Siddal, was a popular model among the Pre-Raphaelite painters. And I think it’s fair to say, she became an obsession of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who painted her, fell in love with her, married her, and continued to paint her over and over after she died of an overdose of laudanum.
The painting references another obsessive infatuation, the original Dante and his Beatrice whom he practically deified in The Divine Comedy. In real life, Dante knew Beatrice only passingly, she married another man and died at 24. Dante stands in the background of Rossetti’s painting opposite an angel holding a flaming heart. Of the Angel, Dante writes:
“He seemed like one who is full of joy, and had my heart within his hand.”
When we desire someone we cannot have (for whatever reason) or ever truly know (i.e. everyone), our idea of them will always miss the mark. If we are unwilling or unable to reach outside ourselves and truly try to know another, we render the very object of our desire into an unwitting stand-in for our own warped idea of who they might be.
Anywho, I hope you enjoy the story. Here’s a poem by Christina Rossetti (DGR’s sister) about the woman in the picture:
One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday, 1884