Queer Reading the Work of Elizabeth Siddal

Nat Reeve

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Through an analysis of the disruptive workings and queer potential of Elizabeth
Siddal’s art and poetry, this thesis constitutes itself a disruption to the critical fields of Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian Studies. Combining queer theory, unexplored connections and original archival research, I consider Siddal’s works beyond the biographical, gender-essentialist and Pre-Raphaelite contexts in which they have repeatedly been situated. The result of this exploration offers a new model of critical response to Siddal’s corpus, drawing on what it has uncovered: the artist-poet’s queerly destabilising approach to her source material. My methodology of “queer reading” arose from my findings, which encouraged me to eschew dominant cisheteronormative interpretations of these works – and also partakes in the current impetus to devise alternative methodologies for studying historically marginalised work as a marginalised scholar.

Through a theoretical lens animated by the works’ disruptive spirit, I show
how queer reading illuminates Siddal’s oeuvre, examining art, poetry and the
interplay between mediums. I foreground neglected connections between Siddal’s corpus and sources, and unexamined creative conversations between Siddal’s work and that of lesser-studied contemporaries (including Georgiana Burne-Jones, whose art has never received serious attention, and Barbara Bodichon, where new archival material expands existing perimeters of critical enquiry).

My chapters involve examining Siddal’s disruption of medieval iconography,
analysing queer temporalities and the (in)articulations of ungendered protagonists, allying queer theory and ecocriticism to explore unruly ecologies, revealing previously unnoticed depictions of queer sexuality, considering Siddal’s overlooked Black characters, and interrogating the works’ self-reflective meditations on creative rewriting. In keeping Siddal’s corpus in dialogue with predecessors (medieval art, ballads), associates (Burne-Jones, Bodichon) and contemporaries (nineteenth-century art and poetry), I move beyond isolated biographical reading and present a methodology with potentially broader application. I want to contribute to the dismantling of universalising approaches, and champion the possibilities of queer reading historical creative work.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Greenaway, Vicky, Supervisor
  • Livesey, Ruth, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Apr 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023

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