Sunday, 18 October 2009

Doomed Damsel: Ophelia

I am a fictional character and the subject of many paintings by eminent artists.

This one, in the Tate Britain, is perhaps the best-known. It was painted by John Millais in 1858; the model was Lizzie Siddal, who spent hours posing, fully clothed, in a bath of water. For her trouble she got £3 and pneumonia.

My fate was a tragic one, but I mostly brought it upon myself by falling in love with a rotter. On top of this my father was a control freak and my brother was subject to vengeful rages. Small wonder I went mad and drowned myself.

You may wonder what sent me off the deep end, in a manner of speaking.

Imagine that you are a teenage girl in love with an older man who returns your affections. Your father and brother believe that your boyfriend is a sleaze, who is Only After One Thing. They order you to stop seeing him and to return all his love letters and gifts. (They don't care that diamonds are a girl's best friend.)

You obediently avoid the boyfriend, but one day he comes to you, grabs you rudely by the wrists and stares unblinkingly at your face. You try to make civilised conversation, but you're rejected coldly, and he screams: "Get thee to a nunnery!" before stomping out, leaving you a sobbing wreck.

The next time you see him, he is basically cracking nasty jokes about you to his mates. Still reeling from this shock, you get the news that your boyfriend has now killed your father. You do what any well-bred girl would do in these traumatic circumstances: you style your hair becomingly, apply your make-up with care and throw yourself in the river wearing your most fetching gown.

(Unlike Virginia Woolf, who had a face like an old boot and jumped into the river wearing an unbecoming tweed coat. She stuffed stones in the pockets, totally spoiling the fit. This is why there are fifty paintings of Me by eminent artists and none of Virginia.)

Just as well that I drowned when I did, so I didn't have to see what happened next: my boyfriend's mother took poison, he killed his stepfather and fought a duel with my vengeful brother, killing him too. My brother killed him right back.

At that point, the fat lady sang "Revosti", and not a moment too soon.

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