The Cousins

Edward Burne-Jones

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Short story


◦ Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memorials.

◦ Mackail, Life of William Morris.

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


This story is by Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). Though he contributed only a few pieces to The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, Burne-Jones was one of the most important members of the brotherhood. He brought William Morris together with Fulford, Dixon, Price, and Macdonald, all of whom he had known at King Edward’s School, and, at least at first, was enthusiastic about the prospect of the group producing a magazine. In September, 1855 he wrote to a friend, “We have such a deal to tell people, such a deal of scolding to administer, so many fights to wage and opposition to encounter that our spirits are quite rising with the emergency” (Memorials, 121). A few months into the magazine's run, however, Burne-Jones's energy began to wane. Fulford complained that he and Morris could not get him to write, and by August he was so caught up with painting, and with Rossetti, that he wrote “The Mag. is going to smash—let it go!” (Mackail 108).

“The Cousins” was written expressly for the magazine, toward the end of 1855, and was well-received by the rest of the brotherhood. Burne-Jones read it to the rest of the group, and Dixon reports “We were all as if dumb at the end of it. I felt the commanding beauty and delicate phrasing, and also the goodness of heart that the writing shewed” (Memorials 125). It is the most optimistic of the three tales published in January.

The story begins with the narrator encountering three incarnations of London's social distress, which foreshadow his father's death and his consequent ruin, both financial and marital. These opening pages are the only hint at politics in the January issue, but, unlike later essays like Cormell Price and Charles Faulkner's “Unhealthy Employments,” and Price's “Young men in the Present Age,” are not explicit calls for reform. Burne-Jones uses poverty and alcoholism only as mirrors for internal suffering, and the real focus of the story is on the narrator's downfall and his ultimate reunion with Gertrude.

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, 1856.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1