the defence of guenevere

The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems. William Morris. Illustrated by Jessie M. King. John Lane, The Bodley Head, London, 1904.

    “His brother’s trumpet sounding through the wood
    Of his foes’ lances. She lean’d eagerly,
    And gave a slight spring sometimes, as she could
    At last hear something really; joyfully
    Her cheek grew crimson, as the headlong speed
    Of the roan charger drew all men to see,
    The knight who came was Launcelot at good need.”

“Your dear head bow’d to the gilliflower bed.” An illustration by Jessie M. King from The defence of Guenevere, and other poems by William Morris; illustrated by Jessie M. King (St Andrews copy rPR5078.D4F04)

Early Poems of William Morris.
Illustrated by Florence Harrison.
New York
Dodge Publishing Company
214-220 East Twenty-Third Street.

“… In that garden fair
Came Launcelot walking ; this is true, the kiss
Wherewith we kissed in meeting that spring day,
I scare dare talk of the remember’d bliss.”

-The Defence of Guenevere, p.8.


Four illustrations by Florence Susan Harrison for:

“The Lady of Shallot” by Tennyson
“Mariana” by Tennyson
“In Defence of Guenevere” by Willliam Morris (drawing & painting)

Florence Susan Harrison was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1877, but spent much of her childhood at sea (her father was a sea caption) and at a great-aunt’s school in England. It’s not known where (or if) Harrison formally studied art, but she established a very successful career as an illustrator for the Blackie and Son publishing house (Glasgow and London) from 1905 onward. She is known to have lived in Belgium and London, continually working and publishing throughout the disruptive years of World Wars I and II. (Like so many women of the World War I generation, she never married.) A deep friendship with the Irish Catholic writer Enid Maud Dinnis, whose tales she illustrated, was a formative influence on her life and work; and Harrison stopped publishing artwork altogether after Dinnis’ death.

In art catalogs and all across the Internet today (and even on Wikipedia), Harrison’s illustrations are erroneously attributed to an earlier artist: Emma Florence Harrison (born in Gloucestershire, England in 1858), who was a Victorian academy painter, not a book illustrator. The confusions stems from the similarity of their names, not any similarity of work. Unfortunately, the misattribution is widespread.

It’s time to give Florence Susan Harrison the credit she is due!