Elizabeth Siddal's Hair: A Methodology for Queer Reading

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Hair could be read as queer in that it crosses the cultural boundaries of the body, because it embodies that which cannot be fixed, that which mismatches, defamiliarizes, destabilizes, disidentifies and decentres. A queering act or process such as this would be a process in which these effects are produced, creating a possibility for disjuncture. A queering effect could be creative, chaotic, unwieldy, disruptive and strange. Queer reading, one could say, is a way of discovering—digging up—such a disrupting influence. Reading hair as queer is to search for its disrupting influence. One way of doing that is to investigate hair's relationship with death. There are several cultural figures whose hair has been given special significance—Sampson, Medusa, Lady Godiva, Mary Magdalene and Rapunzel, for example, often providing a figurative link between hair, reading and death. Elizabeth Siddal was a poet and an artist, most famous as a model for many Pre-Raphaelite paintings, but here I am discussing the cultural phenomenon Elizabeth Siddal, what Angela Dunstan calls ‘the Siddal sensation’. The reason I find Elizabeth Siddal fascinating is this: according to Rossetti's agent Charles Howell, when he retrieved the poems buried with her, her beauty was preserved and her hair had filled her coffin.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)370-386
Number of pages16
JournalWomen: A Cultural Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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