Morris, Jane

BORN 19 Oct 1839, Oxford, Oxfordshire - DIED 26 Jan 1914, Bath, Somerset: 5 Brock Street
BIRTH NAME Burden, Jane
GRAVE LOCATION Kelmscott, Oxfordshire: Saint George's Church, churchyard

Daughter of a poor stableman. She and her sister Bessie were both shopgirls. When they were attending a performance by the Drury Lane Theatre Company in October 1857 in Oxford they were noticed by William Morris and Gabriel Dante Rossetti. Jane was dark, tall and thin and Rossetti immediately declared her a 'stunner'. She modeled for Rossetti and, when Rossetti was called back to his sick wife, for William Morris.

Morris fell in love with her and during their courtship he read her - unromantically - from "Barnaby Rudge". Rossetti mocked this in a cartoon. Morris carefully educated her and also taught her how to weave before he married her in 1859. They had two daughters, Jenny and May.

Rossetti developed an obsession for Jane and often visited them (or her alone) at Kelmscott Manor. After his wife's death he often lived with them. Jane sat for many of his paintings and he also made many drawings of her (at least 15 of her reclining on a sofa). After his death she claimed that nothing ever really happened between them. But her husband was always busy with other things and she also had an affair with Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (c.1887-1894), who thought she had never loved Morris at all.

Jane was a devoted parent for her two daughters and took all care of Jenny, who was seriously epileptic. Although she was known as a delicate woman and suffered a lot from back pain, she reached the age of 75 years. Bernard Shaw based his character Mrs. Higgins (in "Pygmalion") on the older Jane.

Related persons
• was the lover of Blunt, Wilfrid Scawen
• was painted by Morgan, Evelyn de
• was painted by Rossetti, Dante Gabriel
• had a relationship with Rossetti, Dante Gabriel
• was a friend of Spartali Stillman, Marie

• Garnett, Henrietta, Wives and Stunners, The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Muses, MacMillan, London, 2012
• Jones, Kathleen, Learning not to be first, the Life of Christina Rossetti, The Windrush Press, Gloucestershire, 1991

Morse, Samuel

Published: 01 Jan 2006
Last update: 30 Jun 2022