Wednesday, 17 January 2018

May Morris 'like icy fire'

Will Rothenstein, May Morris, 1897, NPG 
For a long while now, I've been quoting the description of May Morris as 'like ice and fire' by a contemporary without being able to give the correct citation.  Now the WMG exhibition is coming to its close [many thanks all who have visited and commented, it has been highly successful] I have finally located the source:
Selected Letters of Arthur Symons 1880-1935, Univ Iowa Press 1989, 158
The comment comes in a passage about the never-resolved question as to whether Janey Morris and Gabriel Rossetti were lovers in the legal sense.  Symons writes
"it is difficult to believe (and few people do believe) that [DGR's] relations with Mrs. Morris were purely platonic.  Rossetti was the most passionate and the most magnetic of men; I don't know Mrs. Morris, but I know her daughter, and she has a temperament like icy fire, and has always gone the way of her temperament quite frankly."
In context, the words appear to signify ardent, not frosty, but they are ambiguous if not obviously contradictory; one infers however that Symons viewed May's nature as vehemently passionate, and unlikely to be constrained by propriety.
Another quotation emerged from the same file but a quite different source:  May's description of daily life at Kelmscott Manor in 1910, which led into memories of the past:
"In the old days, all the family used to assemble at night in the Tapestry room.  Work was put away, logs in the fire, games played, long talks ...  When the family went to bed, Father often worked.  I have waked sometimes and lain watching his room at right-angles to mine and his figure passing the window; listening to the chanting which accompanied the poetry-making.  How the sound seemed wedded to the fragrance of the night in that enclosed garden!
And he is here constantly. I never lose the sense of it: at a turn of the garden I hear his footstep on the gravel - and hear it without surprise; the shock is, to come back to the present.  Looking up at the windows, I've been conscious of him there in the room, and hear his voice too-  always without surprise..."



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