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“Winter: My Secret”

Poem by Christina Rossetti
Illustration and Watercolour by Allison Smith

Winter my Secret

I took the inspiration for my illustration for Christina Rosetti's poem “Winter: My Secret” from the illustrations for the Moxon Tennyson; particularly the illustrations by John Edward Millais. I found Millais' style to be the easiest to reproduce as he puts most of his detail into his figures and their facial expressions and clothing, rather than the illustrations by Dante Gabriel Rossetti that depict detailed epic scenes. The simple style of Millais also seemed to be best suited for Rossetti's poem as the poem consists of a conversation between the poem's speaker at the reader, with no action, narrative plot or setting. I took advantage of the poem's lack of setting by placing the female figure as if she is floating in space or being blown away by the wind. The only other element present in the illustration is a large moon. I used the moon as a symbol for the cold loneliness of winter, rather than using a more obvious image like snow. In the poem winter is a metaphor for Rossetti's virginity, something she will not share, so I positioned the female figure turning away from the viewer with her hands in front of her; body language that connotes isolation, fear and discretion. The speaker in “Winter: My Secret” speaks directly to the reader, teasing them over whether or not she will tell her secret. In my design the female figure is looking directly at the viewer, although her body is turned away. This symbolizes her female agency and deliberate choice not to reveal her secrets.

I portrayed my figure in similar clothing to the females found in the Moxon Tennyson, while staying away from any details that seemed too Medieval, as Rossetti's poem is about her contemporary time. I used a redish pink colour for her dress that is similar to colours found in Pre-Raphaelite paintings. The white space in the illustration represents the abstract nature of the secret in the poem. Rossetti leaves it up to the reader to decide what the secret may be, so I left empty space in my illustration that is also open for interpretation.

My illustration is a headpiece vignette, placed above the first stanza of the poem.  The elements of the illustration take up a large amount of space on the page rather than conventional illustrated poems where the illustrations are much smaller and confined to the center of the page. The text is handwritten in marker in a stylized print. “Winter: My Secret” was originally published in Goblin Market and Other Poems in 1862 about five years after the Moxon Tennyson, and was Rossetti's first published book of poetry.