Sweet Jane.

It has been brought to my attention that at least one reader out there finds himself frustrated by my not using a picture of myself in my profile. While I appreciate the sentiment behind that frustration, the thin veneer of pseudonymity has always been part of the Cabinet's make-up, and so I'm not likely to switch to my own mugshot anytime soon, or ever. But it occurs to me that I've never explained who that woman looking down on my writings is.

In some ways, she's the woman least likely to be a fitting stand-in for me. She's Jane Burden Morris, born in 1839 in Oxford. By 18, she was hanging out with a bunch of the guys from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Dante Gabriel Rossetti used her as his model for Guinevere; William Morris used her as his model for Iseult. When she was almost 20, she married Morris, with whom she had two daughters. In the 1860s and 70s, she probably had an affair with Dante Rossetti (part of the time, her husband was off in Iceland, where many Victorian Englishmen seem to have turned up at one time or another). If nothing else, she became one of Rossetti's artistic obsessions: he photographed her (or had her photographed) and painted her repeatedly, always emphasizing her long, long neck.

When I was a junior in college, a friend and I discovered Jane Morris (whom we called Janey, for kicks) because we were studying William Morris in our nineteenth-century seminar. That was also the centenary of William Morris's death, so the V&A had an exhibit dedicated to him, which gave us even more Janey material. We used to crack each other up by imitating her neck in these photographs. We once had a long argument about whether or not she was even pretty. I know that I, for one, have always thought her strangely beautiful, and utterly mesmerizing--not least because she looks so thoroughly cramped and unhappy in all of her photographs, contorting under the weight of all that massy hair and masculine attention. I always find myself wondering whether she was really that miserable; I always find myself hoping that she wasn't.

(And a postscript: I've never gotten the sense that she was a particularly sweet woman, this Janey. I just couldn't pass up the chance to namecheck a favorite song.)

source for tonight's image: Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.