Anna Wickham

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Anna Wickham was the pseudonym of Edith Alice Mary Harper (1883–1947), a British poet with strong Australian connections. She is remembered as a modernist figure and feminist writer, though one who did not command sustained critical attention in her lifetime. Her reputation has improved considerably since her death and she is now regarded as an important early 20th century woman writer.

Early life[edit]

She was born in Wimbledon, London, and brought up in Australia in a rather disordered existence, mostly in Brisbane and Sydney. Her pen-names imply an Australian self-identification: "Wickham" was adopted after a Brisbane street. She had used "John Oland" for her first collection, which alludes to the Jenolan Caves in New South Wales.

Wickham returned to London in 1904, where she took singing lessons and won a drama scholarship (at the future RADA, just founded). She pursued her singing in Paris in 1905 with Jean de Reszke, the Polish tenor.

In 1906 she married Patrick Hepburn, a London solicitor with interests in Romanesque architecture, and later astronomy. They had four sons. They lived first in central London, then in family houses in Hampstead: Downshire Hill from 1909, and then from 1919 a house on Parliament Hill which would be her permanent home.

She became involved in the contemporary philanthropic movement concerned with maternal care, at St Pancras Hospital.

Career and strife[edit]

She was in a private mental hospital in 1911 for a period of about six weeks, after a voyage to see her father in Ceylon, and a visit from her mother (both parents being still resident in Australia). In her autobiographical writing she represented this occurrence as related to her husband's hostility to her writing of poetry. It followed a violent quarrel. Given the complexities of her emotional life at the time, post-natal (with two miscarriages) and in relation to parental conflicts, there is reasonable doubt whether that was the single factor.

Her first collection, Songs by John Oland was published in 1911. Around then, or shortly after, she met Harold Monro at his Poetry Bookshop. He encouraged her writing, and she published a second collection in 1915. This was the effective start of thirty years in which she mixed with literati in London (and later Paris). She carried on a bohemian, later Fitzrovian existence socially, in parallel with a home life.

During World War I Patrick Hepburn spent time away from home, joining the RNAS. During this time, Anna struck up a friendship with D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda. She also knew H. D., with whom she'd had a brief affair[citation needed], although that was one of several contacts which apparently failed in sympathy. Her relations with the novelist Eliot Bliss are said to have been intimate.[1]

Her third son Richard died of scarlet fever aged four. She spent a period in 1921/1922 in Paris, after his death, to recuperate. There she developed a passion for Natalie Barney. It was not returned in the same way, but they sustained a correspondence (later published as Postcards and Poems). She met some leading Paris figures in anglophone modernism of the time.

It is believed that her marriage was in crisis during 1926, and she separated from her husband until 1928. He died in an accident on holiday, in 1929.

During the 1930s she was well known in literary London, and wrote a great deal of poetry (much of which was later lost in war damage); but found it harder to get published. She did have support from the somewhat louche quarter of John Gawsworth, who put out a Richards Press collection of her work in 1936. An extended autobiographical essay Prelude to a Spring Clean dates from 1935. That was the year in which she supported the just-married Dylan Thomas and Caitlin, and then quarrelled with them.

She committed suicide during the winter of 1947.

Works[edit]

  • Songs of John Oland (1911)
  • The Contemplative Quarry (1915)
  • The Man With A Hammer (1916)
  • The Little Old House 1921
  • Anna Wickham: Richards' Shilling Selections from Edwardian Poets (1936, Richards Press)
  • Selected Poems (1971)
  • The Writings of Anna Wickham: Free Woman and Poet (1984) edited by R. D. Smith, includes "Prelude to a Spring Clean".

References[edit]

  1. ^ McFarlin Library, Eliot Bliss Collections, note by Alison M. Greenlee Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  • A New Matrix for Modernism: A Study of the Lives and Poetry of Charlotte Mew and Anna Wickham (2002) Nelljean McConeghey Rice
  • Anna Wickham: A Poet's Daring Life (2003) Jennifer Vaughan Jones
  • AustLit Author Entry