An Unexplored Country
The cautious devices Sharp employed both to express and disguise his second, "female" nature are a good deal less problematical than the causes for his compelling sympathy for women. One of the earliest manifestations of that sympathy was the compassionate response of the sensitive boy he was to his mother's childbearing. That this compassion developed thereafter into a tendency to homosexuality could possibly be inferred from his frequent expressions of disturbing pain at "what a woman can be made to suffer," as well as from his habit of associating the sexual relationship with violent or fatal consequences in his fiction.
Yet the use of such a term as "homosexual" ultimately tells us little and is in fact misleading, owing to the vast spectrum of latent and overt behavior it is made to cover in careless modern usage. In its narrowest sense, "homosexual" has little application to a man who, in his actual relations with men and women, did not at all deviate from the "norm." There was nothing effeminate, certainly, about his appearance or about his apparent capacity to be sexually aroused by women. Indeed, in an overanxiety to put labels on human behavior, it is possible to ignore variations in "norms" occurring from era to era. Of and by itself, an exaggerated sympathy for women was no more all aberration in Sharp than it was in many another mind of the Victorian period. Perhaps at no other time, before or since, has that sympathy been such an essential component of the English, if not the universal, sensibility. At no other time, before or since, was it deemed so necessary to indemnify women for the cultural subjection in which they had so long been held. The few major names that come immediately to mind in this connection---Mill, Meredith, Hardy---are a mere sampling of a sentiment that had extraordinarily wide and international diffusion.
To be able to trace the sources in the history of human sensibility of the social phenomenon called "woman," so persistently the concern of European and American society in the the nineteenth century, would be perhaps to possess the key to romanticism itself. John Stuart Mill (who showed his persevering rationalism by referring always to "women" and never to "woman," as magniloquent feminists so commonly did), placed the movement for female emancipation squarely at the door of the larger movement toward widespread political and civil liberty initiated by the revolutionary eighteenth century.1 Certainly there is something to this: exponents of civil and political rights for women in the United States, for example, were frequently the same people---Thomas Wentworth Higginson, for one--who had worked as abolitionists until what they saw as success left them with new frontiers to conquer.2 They employed the same language, logic, and rhetoric in defense of female emancipation that had served them in defense of the emancipation of the slaves, drawing frequent parallels between the two causes. Meanwhile, Olive Schreiner, in her treatise on Woman and Labor, saw the movement almost entirely as a function of economic change, attributing its atmosphere of war to the difficulties created by an advancing industrial and technical civilization and compounded by the entry of womanpower into the labor market. From her viewpoint, "female parasitism" could no longer be tolerated in a new order of economic society that placed a premium on brain and skill rather than on sheer physical strength.3
Yet one can hardly avoid dissatisfaction with these two judgments, however valuable as historical or sociological insights they may otherwise be, when one considers how little they seem to illuminate the artistic---and particularly the literary---representations of women in this period. It might possibly be argued that to the degree romanticism exalted feeling over mind---earthbound associations of sentiment over metaphysics and speculation, things over ideas, intuition over reason---it was implicitly finding woman a metaphor for its outlook. In defense of this possibility is the fact that the feminism of the nineteenth century, at least in some of its varieties, tended to accept the conventional view that made such romantic qualities of feeling and temperanlent characteristic of woman, dividing only on the question whether or not the qualities were part of the biological make-up of women or were merely culturally ingrained. The equation was responsible for some strange propositions, including, for example, that of Henry Thomas Buckle, the eminent scholar and historian, who argued that the historical role of women had been to supply, by some strange alchemy, the faculty of intuition we find in scientific men of genius!4 Whatever the illogic it served, however, the thriving existence of the equation was itself of singular significance.
But there remain still other possibilities. The exploration of the internal self, of hidden psychological forces, of repressed, secret, or subliminal motives and feelings, all of which tended to unite romantic art with the science of the age, inevitably led to an intensified study of those components of human society least understood and least explored before. It is somewhat commonplace to recognize this motive behind the romantic fascination with children, less common but equally reasonable to see it behind the romantic fascination with women. This may be one cause of the success of Wordsworth's "Lucy" poems, where the poet stands in the face of the combined mysteries of woman and child. Evoking the mystery, rather than solving it, is the task the pre-Victorian poet set himself, and we have thus the obscurely haunting women of Shelley's and Byron's poetry, not to mention the darkly fatal figures of the so-called romantic agony in poets like Keats and Coleridge. Likewise, we have the woman-peopled gardens of art of Tennyson's early poetry---the Hesperides, the soul in the Palace of Art, the Lady of Shalott.
In fiction, women emerge in full force only slightly later than children, and in fullest force among the Victorians, perhaps because the novel began by then to permit the full social articulation of the female personality, mystery notwithstanding. In Dickens, for instance, the boundary between woman and child is often lost, what is good in the child being subsumed into the "good woman" in such figures as Esther Summerson and Little Dorrit. Considering what genuine ignorance there seems to have been (and probably still is) about female sensibility and psychology, especially sexual psychology,5 it is no surprise that the nineteenth-century novelist found in the principal female character an extraordinary instrument for exploring one of his fundamental themes, the process by which experience is accumulated and maturity acquired. Evidence to support the case is easily rendered by Henry James's Isabel Archer, George Eliot's Dorothea Brooke, among others, and George Meredith's several heroines, Clara, Diana, and so on. Nor is it a surprise that novelists not primarily engaged in the study of the maturing process, but rather perhaps committed to exploring permanent immaturity or steadfastness in the face of change, found enthusiastic audiences for such figures as Catherine Earnshaw, Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, or Tess Durbeyfield. The innocent woman has become a surrogate for all innocence, woman in love the surrogate for all devotion or dedication, whether wrongly or rightly inspired; and as such the novelistic heroine has retained her importance, as both metaphor and symbol, well into the more sophisticated twentieth century.
Yet perhaps even these possibilities do not exhaust speculation on the cause of the extraordinary nineteenth-century awareness of women. It may well be that one of the prerequisites for the success of the modern middle-class urbanized society is the general softening of its manners, the gradual blurring of sharp distinctions between male and female, and, from the point of view of an earlier masculine-dominated society, its increasing feminization. And just as a rising production of pornography, which represents primarily the fantasy of eternal male-mastery, may be one form of reaction to this loss of male dominion,6 so too may be the increased sympathy for homosexuality, or at least for what the diehard male would term effeminate sensibility. The so-called novel of sensibility starts here, and it is indebted to those forays into female consciousness begun so intrepidly by Samuel Richardson, and continued through the novel's long and varied career in realism.7
Whatever its roots, either in this complex of motives or in others, the feminist revolution found no lack of men in all fields and disciplines, in this respect no different from Sharp, willing to enlist themselves in its support. At their deepest, they were capable of virtually suffering the sufferings of women---flagellating themselves as they flagellated their society with recriminations against the intolerable "subjection" to which women had been submitted. More commonly they studied them, always with sympathy, often with celebration, lending themselves doggedly to the task of making women self-aware.
Journalistic and pamphlet literature, particularly in the eighties, shows how much the Victorian phase of this revolution had accomplished by way of filling the gaps in previous woman-knowledge. Every traditional view of the female role and the sexual relationship, from physical to metaphysical, was being submitted to total reexamination and reevalualion. A few titles of contemporary articles and pamphlets are amply suggestive: "Womanhood in Its Eternal Aspect," The Position of the Mother in the Family in Its Legal and Scientific Aspects, The Physiology Of Woman, Women and Marriage; or Evolution in Sex, Marriage and Parentage; or the Reproductive Element in Man as a Means to his Elevation and Happiness and so on.
Havelock Ellis, who began his long and controversial career as a sociologist of sex in the 1880's, figured largely in this enterprise of woman-consciousness. Rhys's statement in Everyman Remembers that as for Ellis, "a better foil to Fiona Macleod could not have been invented," seems odd in the light of their similarly avant-garde attitudes and ideologies. Ellis was in the eighties and nineties editor of the Contemporary Science series, another of those characteristic lateVictorian publishing ventures into popularization that in itself links him with Sharp. In his volume The New Spirit (1890), moreover, Ellis proved himself not only an art and culture critic of some dimensions but also a man in complete sympathy with many of the neoromantic principles characterizing the artistic circles in which Sharp moved, including their antagonism to contemporary social and artistic convention, their cosmopolitanism, and, not least, their fierce championing of women. In an article in the Westminster Review (October 1887) called "The Changing Status of Women," he daringly asserted that "the destiny of the race rests with women" and stood by Walt Whitman's statement that "the sole avenue and means to a reconstructed society depended . . . on a new birth, elevation, expansion, invigoration of women."8 Even Sharp's later associates in the Edinburgh Celtic movement, Patrick Geddes and J. Arthur Thompson, in their Evolution of Sex, admitted the sociological consequences of their biological discoveries. "The social order," they proclaimed with splendid optimism, "will clear itself, as it comes more in touch with biology." For biology had, they certified, determined beyond a shadow of doubt that women were the agents through whom "altruism, patience, affection, intuition, subtlety, feeling, and memory" found their way into society.9 There could hardly be a better précis of the principles behind the use of the woman in many later British novels, where she often functions as the vehicle and repository of these essential creative or regenerative powers.
This was the positive side of the movement, with its spirit of cornprehensive vitalism. On the other side, and perhaps equally capable of stirring extraordinary compassion in a man like Sharp, was the literature that bore witness to woman's suffering. The same edition of the National Review (March 1887) that carried one of Sharp's essays on Rossetti contained another, signed in sibylline fashion by "A Woman," which viciously indicted society for its oppression of women throughout history and bitterly and graphically evoked the horrors of childbearing.10 Sharp could hardly have missed this article or many another like it. One may safely guess that such pieces impressed him greatly, given his sensitivity to the physical aspect of the female role, already demonstrated in a poem like "Motherhood."
Though preoccupied with the "woman problem," Sharp was reluctant to involve himself outside of his fiction or poetry in the controversy surrounding women's demand for rights. He had stated the conviction quite early that "people won't be preached to. Truth can be inculcated far better by inference, by suggestion."11 This rule, set up at the age of twenty, he lived by remarkably well: no controversial social question ever engaged his explicit support in any tract or article, and his outright concern with the marriage question and with the reevaluation of the sexual relationship in the terms developed by his contemporaries was limited almost entirely to his early fiction and his biography of Shelley (1887). It seems a curious restraint for him to have exercised upon his passion for protest, nevertheless, for his wife claims that he took an "active interest" in "movements of the day."12 Moreover, in later and one would assume wiser years, he gave unqualified praise to William Morris for his sense of social responsibility, his dedication to direct social action, and his efforts to give himself the technical education necessary for remedying "the plight of the poor."13
From the sheer practical standpoint, perhaps, Sharp's reluctance to propagandize, at least on the issue of women's legal and political rights need not be questionable. He was literally surrounded by women's champions actively and vociferously engaged in their cause. There was Olive Schreiner, for one, whose novel The Story of an African Farm (1883) was one of the earliest expressions of the new feminism to come fron, a woman (though interestingly published uinder the male pseudonym Ralph Iron). Another was the frontline feminist Mona Caird, whose "brave articles" (as Elizabeth Sharp called them) on the legal position of women were published in various periodicals in the late eighties and were eventually incorporated into the controversial book The Morality of Marriage.14 Both Schreiner and Caird were subtle and ironic thinkers and writers of considerable power and craft. Even Mill's influential study of female subjection pales beside the erudition and polemical skill of such women. To their influence Sharp must have owed many of the ideas expressed in his fiction on what constituted an unhappy marriage, and even perhaps some of his opinions on how a happy union could be created without conventional sanction. An example of this thesis and antithesis, it may be recalled, appeared in The Children of To-morrow, where Felix Dane was unhappily married to a typical female parasite before he met his true spiritual partner. In that volume, Sharp asserted not only the stifling mutual repression of the Dane's union, but its actual immorality. Although Dane's wife Lydia, equally the victim of their error, was not treated with great sympathy, there was a flicker of pathos in her compelling need for respectability, something which Schreiner and Caird might well have assisted Sharp in understanding. His failure to enlarge upon Lydia's problem may be explained by his desire to focus in this novel upon the artist as the especial victim of conventional social values, and by his determination to reserve particular sympathy for the "other woman," Sanpriel, not only a woman but an artist in her own right. In terms of the marriage polemic, it is her legally unsanctioned relationship with Dane that represents the true morality---a morality, however, not completely defined by its challenge of marriage convention. After Lydia dies and Felix Dane is free to remarry, he does propose to Sanpriel. She rejects his proposal only on the grounds that her devotion to the cause of the Jews is incompatible with a contract of marriage to a Christian. The alternative, Dane's adoption of Judaism, is also rejected, as representing an equally damaging sacrifice of his integrity, and the two have agreed, just before the fatal lightning strikes, to live together without benefit of ceremony, despite the fact that no legal or social obstacle stands in the way of its performance.
"Madge o' the Pool" may likewise be considered a treatise opposing the commonly-accepted notion of marriage, in the sympathetic inte, pretation it gives to Madge's unwillingness to put a worldly seal on a love she deems too fine for the sordid place she takes the world to be. "The girl, in fact, was one of those rare creatures to whom the thing was everything, and the symbol of no moment."15
Of course neither of these works represents more than a restatement of the current feministic opinions regarding marriage and the spiritual richness of woman. But The Children of To-morrow was written and published, and "Madge o' the Pool" largely composed, though not published, before the Sharps's trip to Italy in 1890. It is only after that trip that two remarkable shifts in emphasis appear in Sharp's work. One of these, occurring in his more realistic fiction, is a resolution of the conflict posed until then between marriage on the one hand and true love on the other. This later synthetic view admits loyalty as a standard for evaluating and defending a marriage soured or gone stale. It may seem more felt, more real, than Sharp's previous stance simply, perhaps, because it is more mature---as though, "the young effects defunct," he had graduated from a purely romantic notion of love defiant. Indeed, appearing as it does in so few works, it would be of minor interest in itself were it not owing to the other shift in emphasis taking place at this same stage of his development. Simultaneously, Sharp began to express that theme upon which analyses of his psychology have so often foundered---the overwhelming compassion for women represented by the staggering number of repetitions of miscarriages and stillbirths, and of women suffering terrible agonies in labor, sometimes premature labor, and often dying as a result. At the same time he began to formulate, through the agency of the woman "friend" to whom he and his wife repeatedly stated his debt for inspiration, the female literary identity that came to be known as Fiona Macleod. It is only after 1891 that the woman's nature is described as living in "dual unity" with his own, only then that the effects of his boyhood experiences of childbirth and of his reading on the subject of woman's suffering seem to have taken total hold of his sensibility and emerged in the way that has made him so problematical a figure, so strongly transcending the compassion of the other male "feminists" who were his contemporaries.
It would seem only natural, then, to look to Sharp's activities during this period of the early nineties for the immediate causes that turned a sensitivity "normal" for his time into an extraordinary one for any time.
Many factors, some slow-working, with their roots in preceding years, some sudden, all complex, went into the making of Sharp's new strategy with regard to woman and marriage. His own marriage in 1884 though a satisfactory and even a happy one from all appearances, had nevertheless been subjected between then and 1890 to many kinds of strain. Childlessness was one. Sharp seems to have loved children; witness his editorship of the Young Folks' Paper16 and his later creation of a book of Celtic tales for children (tenderly dedicated to Mona Caird's young daughter).17 And he seems also to have longed for children of his own, as a poem entitled "The Unborn Child" amply reveals in its poignant expression of the yearning of would-be parents for the child of their union.18
But equally demoralizing (and perhaps an effective cause of the Sharps's failure to have children) must have been the constantly precarious state of Sharp's health. The weakness of his rheumatic heart and the hypertensity of his nervous system, though belied by his appearance of robust good health and Viking strength, must for that same reason have offered frequent temptation to abuse. Many periods of total nervous and physical prostration are recorded in the Memoir, gradually becoming more lengthy in their demands for recuperative time and energy. It was partly for his health, it may be remembered, that he had been sent to Australia in 1876. He became seriously ill again in 1886 when, according to his wife, he underwent his first so-called "psychic experiences" in a debilitated and bed-ridden state.19 Thereafter he was under dire strictures not to exhaust himself unduly. The potential threat that existed in his uncertain health and his restless urge for travel working reciprocally upon one another, and putting a terrible strain upon the Sharps's meager financial resources, must have demanded from Elizabeth a stupendous capacity for wifely endurance.
Ironically, the trip to Italy, so thoughtfully planned as a means of reviving their depressed spirits, may merely have aggravated Elizabeth's difficulties by supplying the conditions for her husband's catastrophic meeting with the "other woman." The grounds for this perilous possibility are not entirely conjectural. Sharp admitted his own frailty, observing in his journal, after conferring with Blanche Willis Howard on their projected novel, that he was near to falling in love with her and cautioning himself to "be on guard against my too susceptible self."20 The important "other woman" in Sharp's life at the time, however, was not Miss Howard but the "friend" of such frequent mention. Who she was is not difficult to determine. In one of the essays written after Sharp's death in an attempt to explain the "Fiona Macleod mystery," Richard Le Gallienne, speaking of the circumstances that might have had causal connection with the use of the female pseudonym, cannily directed his readers to the Memoir. He pieced together Elizabeth's discreet revelations and paraphrased the following passage from volume II: "Though this newer phase of his work [i.e., Fiona Macleod] was at no time a result of collaboration, as certain of his critics have suggested, he was deeply conscious of his indebtedness to [the] . . . friend [who had provided] the desired incentive towards a true expression of himself, in [her] stimulus and sympathetic understanding."21 He pointed to the further clue in Elizabeth's describing this friend as the person to whom Sharp "dedicated the first of the books published under his pseudonym."22 This was Pharais, published in 1894.
For one so close a friend of the Sharps, whose name is juxtaposed with this mysterious lady's in one of Mrs. Sharp's Sunday guest-lists, Le Gallienne appears strikingly disingenuous in his pedantic efforts to trace the identity of the woman in Rome. Had it merely been a literary influence he was uncovering, one is tempted to feel he would not have been so cautious. Even a second-rate sleuth would scarcely have stopped at the "bewildering" (Le Gallienne's own adjective) initials "E.W.R." contained in the dedication to Pharais, for the name behind the initials is easily located in the passage from the Memoir dealing with Sharp's sojourn in Rome, 1890-91. There, says Elizabeth, "Mrs. [Edith] Wingate Rinder joined us for three weeks, and with her my husband greatly enjoyed long walks over the Campagna and expeditions to little neighboring hill towns."23
But this is all mere intrigue beside Sharp's own declaration, "in a letter of instructions, written before he went to America in 1896, concerning his wishes in the event of his death," that it was "to her," that is, Mrs. Rinder, "I owe my development as 'Fiona Macleod,"' that "without her there would have been no 'Fiona Macleod.'"24 Evidence in the Sospiri di Roma indicates that "without her" neither might several of those poems have been written. Pharais may have been the first of the Fiona Macleod writings dedicated to Mrs. Rinder, but it was not the first of Sharp's. "A Winter Evening," which Elizabeth described as one of the first of the Sospiri to be composed in Italy, was explicitly dedicated to E.W.R. It is a tempestuous piece, certainly, and contains foreboding of "strange joy or strange sorrow," but beyond that is really too cryptic to supply any reason for the dedication. But there are two poems dedicated thus: "To ----." They are the Prologue and Epilogue and are openly love poems. The first speaks of "a flower of love" that sprang from the heart of a poet who loved a lady on the hills of Tusculum, the flower representing a promise of "deathless joy." The Epilogue, subtitled "II Bosco Sacro" (The Sacred Wood), is an even more effusively sexual lyric. In it the poet relives the "passion and pain" of rapture experienced in a wooded grove somewhere in the Campagna.25 Whether or not the "passion and pain" have any connection with the "strange joy or strange sorrow" of "A Winter Evening" is difficult to say. Either these are totally factitious love rhapsodies, in which case the mysterious dedications are gratuitous, or they are the results of an attempt on the poet's part to be both gallant and cautious about a romance he had actually experienced "on the hills of Tusculum." If it is the latter, Mrs. Rinder is the only available candidate, for no one else is mentioned in the Memoir as having accompanied him alone on his excursions through the Roman Campagna, not even Elizabeth herself.
Moreover, Mrs. Rinder is the only "other woman" with whom Sharp may be linked in any significant way thereafter. That link is provided by his two most prevalent literary concerns after his return from Italy, the impressionist drama, especially Maeterlinck and the others of the Belgian school, and the Scoto-Celtic outburst represented by the Celtic studies at the University of Edinburgh and by the publication of the Evergreen (1895-96) and the Celtic Library series. The latter included a good deal of the work of Fiona Macleod, as well as Edith Rinder's translations of Breton folktales, entitled The Shadow of Arvor (1896). Sharp's letters from this period indicate that he made several special appeals to Patrick Geddes, the financial as well as spiritual force behind the Edinburgh movement, to have the Celtic Library include such Breton translations and also translations from the Belgians. In both these areas he had Mrs. Rinder in mind as translator.26 Beyond these good offices, he also gave her the sub-editorship of a volume in the Canterbury Poets series, Poems and Lyrics of Nature, which was appropriately dedicated "To W.S."27
But these facts are scarcely sufficient basis for describing with any certainty the bounds of the liaison between Sharp and Edith Rinder. Elizabeth tells us only that the "friend" of whom she cryptically spoke, with her "beauty," her "strong sense of life and of the joy of life," her "keen intuition and mental alertness," stood for him "as a symbol of the heroic women of Greek and Celtic days".28 What Elizabeth does not touch is the nature of the exchange that made these insights posslble and ultimately provided the inspiration for Fiona Macleod. It is even possible to believe her when she says that whenever Sharp wrote the pronoun "we" into his letters from Scotland during the midninties, he intended it to mean "himself in his dual capacity."29 He was a sufficient illusionist to do so, and it is barely a step from this device to the letters she tells us Sharp wrote to himself "in his dual capacity." Her technique of limiting herself to explaining Sharp's motives almost strictly in terms of conscious, voluntary motives, and avoiding discussions of normal human weaknesses---trials, mistakes, discomfitures, the accidents of outside experience in general---comes near to being impenetrable.
It is quite possible, of course, that the secrecy and evasion in which Elizabeth shrouded the Sharp-Rinder relationship was motivated not by a desire to hush a scandal, but by the desire to prevent one from being inferred where none existed. If that is the case then one can only lament, with the wisdom of hindsight, that her (and probably Edith Rinder's) excruciating exercise of caution was all but completely vain. Le Gallienne's article, written after the Memoir, was clearly designed to sensationalize by innuendo. And Ernest Rhys, later on, went even further than Le Gallienne, quoting alleged conversations in which Sharp hinted of secret trysts with his woman-inspirer.30 But where Elizabeth Sharp misjudged her readers, Rhys and Le Gallienne perhaps more seriously misjudged the man. Sharp was fully capable of sensual and even sexual rhapsodizing over a strong emotional affinity, unrealized physically. For a man of his emotional tinder, such an affinity could have supplied flame enough to make a substantial change in his life. Indeed, the very fact that Edith Rinder was unattainable might have functioned to exaggerate his passion.31 The evidence also suggests that Mrs. Rinder was of the same stuff as Sharp, for it was her flame that seems to have ignited him, spiritually if not otherwise. At any rate, their relationship appears to have yielded nothing overt beyond Fiona Macleod and a few French translations, stuff for dull scandal indeed. The Sharps and the Rinders remained close friends, and Frank Rinder, Edith's husband, wrote a glowing tribute to Sharp when he died.32
The effect this relationship may have had on Elizabeth's psychology---and therefore indirectly on Sharp's---would, of course, be every bit as important as its direct effects on Sharp and Mrs. Rinder. It is very difficult to believe that, even if temporarily, Elizabeth was not in some way perturbed by it, no matter how innocent it may have been. One can hardly imagine her contemplating in utter detachment her husband's passion for another woman-even if it were an imaginative passion only---and intruding absolutely no claims of self. Yet even supposing that Edith Rinder had taken care to spare her, Elizabeth, in no more than her role as second mother to Sharp, would have been disturbed by the strain he suffered sustaining two completely separate bodies of literary production. It must be admitted here, of course, that evidence of any marital difficulty is extremely circumstantial. Although Sharp was, between flying stops to London, suffering a more than ordinary siege of wanderlust during the year following the Italian trip, Elizabeth describes his mood as "exultant" and, as usual, does not describe her own. Sharp, on his travels, wrote lengthy epistolary calendars to his friends, projecting, among other things, various plans for meeting with his wife---in Paris, in Scotland, in Sicily.33 "Regretfully," says Elizabeth, the "wanderings" together through Scotland and to Sicily "had to be postponed. During the summer of 1892, Sharp went for a time to Loch Goil with a friend [unnamed], and I went to Bayreuth." The explanation offered for this postponement was the discovery of a "pleasant cottage" in Sussex.34 At the summer's end Elizabeth's probable hopes for some kind of settled life were at last realized, and they established themselves in that "pleasant cottage" at Phenice Croft, Rudgwick, for two entire years, perhaps a record for Sharp's career.
The few of Sharp's letters quoted by the Memoir from the period preceding the Phenice Croft episode, for Sharp a time of frenzied exhilaration, are newsy and superficial; surviving letters to his wife after Phenice Croft (from 1895 on) are thoroughly warm and devoted. These display no evidence whatsoever that a strain in their affections resulted from any of the causes so far delineated. And yet one of Sharp's letters quoted by the Memoir, which Mrs. Sharp has dated 1898, does suggest that the Sharps had undergone some form of adjustment in their relationship, and seems to touch on some past alienation of spirit for which no previous explanation had been given:
The hiatus here is Elizabeth's. The letter goes on:
Is Sharp referring perhaps to an earlier reluctance on Elizabeth's part to accept some aspect of the status quo?
Here, quite clearly, is evidence of the synthesizing of a new relationship on a principle of "responsibility" after the disillusioning destruction of an earlier one by some internal strife. The cause of the "suffering" of which Sharp speaks is vaguely alluded to:
Meredith had already written a satisfactory marginal note upon these remarks: "We are betrayed by what is false within." Indeed this personal conversion on Sharp's part was no doubt largely responsible for his statement in 1899 that Meredith's Modern Love and Rossetti's House of Life, both dealing with the anguish of love disintegrated, were "among the finest legacies of poetic genius left to us in the latter half of the nineteenth century."37
As Sharp's letter to his wife continues, the autobiography implicit in its generalizations is obvious---
It is a sane letter, with little hint of the remorse of a man who feels himself partly to blame for the misunderstanding. But it seems also to be a reply to a letter from Elizabeth, and it could well have been the outcome of a long period during which she had expressed sympathy for her husband's troubled sense of guilt and a willingness to understand the cause of what she had described in the Sharp of the middle and later nineties as "suffering for him and anxiety for me.39
However equivocal this complex series of events in the Sharps' marriage, they may explain the appearance of a theme of infidelity in Sharp's fiction between 1891 and 1894 that is very different from the infidelity treated in The Children of To-morrow. There is little reason to doubt that Sharp meant, in that novel and in "Madge," to decry the marriage bond only insofar as it put strictures upon the marriage of true minds, and enough sheer bravado in both these tales reassures the motive-hunting critic that they did not originate from tensions existing in Sharp's own marriage. Where they touched on the marriage issue they were more social diatribes á la Caird than autobiographical romans á clef. But in the epistolary novel written with Blanche Willis Howard, A Fellowe and His Wife (1892), comes the first instance of Sharp's representing the bond of matrimony as one of honor rather than slavery, and suggesting that the power of honor itself can lend to married people strength to achieve a new and higher level of harmony and compatibility.
The story concerns a newly-married young woman who has convinced her husband to allow her to go to Rome alone in order to pursue her study of sculpture, assuring him that such a liberty is only the truest expression of their equality and fraternity. While in Rome, unfortunately, she permits herself to get entangled in an extramarital affair. At the crucial moment, however, she discovers her lover's betrayal of another woman, calls off their elopement, and breaks completely with him. Overcome with guilt and self-recrimination at her violation of her husband's trust, she attempts to forestall his wrath by nobly offering to separate from him. Equally noble, he forgives her completely and draws her tenderly back to his embrace. Though the infidelity is the woman's, it is to be noted that the man in this collaborative enterprise wrote the woman's part---in this case, in other words, Sharp was not the "fellowe" but the wife.
Frau von Teuffel's contribution to this novel and to its marriage problem ought not, of course, to be neglected. She may well have been the model for the wife with artistic propensities, and her husband, Julius von Teuffel, the original for the understanding husband, for von Teuffel has been elsewhere described as encouraging his wife in her literary career.40 But from there on one can be fairly assured Sharp's invention took over. The "wife" of his conception is virtually obsessed with duality and role-playing. She confesses in her letters to a vague but irresistible sense of slipping in and out of personalities, and all her doubts surrounding her marriage rest ultimately on the notion that her mercurial artistic nature can be satisfied by her husband in only one of its aspects, leaving the remainder restless and unfulfilled. Clearly at work is the "man-artist" dichotomy so frequently seen in Sharp's biographies, but here it is offered as an explanation of instability in marriage and the craving of other partners.41 This change in application might easily have emerged from Sharp's recent discovery about himself.
A Fellowe and His Wife was written in 1891. Between 1892 and 1894, Sharp wrote many of a large group of stories published several years later under two titles, The Gipsy Christ and Other Tales (1895), and Ecce Puella and Other Prose Imaginings (1896). Two of the stories, "The Lady in Hosea" from the first volume and "The Birth, Death, and Resurrection of a Tear" from the second, are especially appropriate here. Both concern marital infidelity, in one case actual and in the other a truancy of spirit, and both are resolved by the reconciliation of the marriage partners in a manner similar to that of A Fellowe and His Wife. The plot of "The Lady in Hosea" follows the novel's outline very closely--wifely infidelity, disillusion with the lover, and return to the husband's bosom. The triteness of its episodes, as so frequently with Sharp, is in sad contrast with its often bold and sensitive revelations of character, particularly in the case of the lover, who cuts a rather pathetic and not wholly villainous figure as the conscience-salving roué. The woman scorned by this lover, suggestive in her beguiled romanticism of Madame Bovary, has her pathos too, but also a capacity for wisdom that is truer perhaps to Sharp's sense of female dignity than to nature. This careful delineation of mixed motives, offering a range of alternative courses of action to the characters, is new to Sharp's fiction in this period.
More interesting, however, both in concept and treatment, is the relationship described in "The Birth, Death, and Resurrection of a Tear." Its essential situation somewhat parallels that of Felix Dane and his wife in The Children of To-morrow, but its resolution is significantly different. The husband, through whose stream-of-consciousness the story is told, has been alienated from his wife by her coldness. At the critical moment when he is prepared to reject her, he discovers that her coldness has merely been a device for self-protection and that it disguises a love she could not express. That critical moment for him is a moment of weakness for her. A tear she allows to fall is the simple revelation he needs that beneath her glacial reserve is imprisoned the warm, ideal woman he had sought, and of whom he had had, during the wanderings of his fancy, a fleeting vision. It is quite conceivable that Sharp found in his own wife the source of this gallant inspiration, and in their own process of "birth, death, and resurrection" the inspiration for the process outlined in the title.
Although these stories are not followed by other works concentrating on marriage, the bulk of Sharp's writings after 1891 evince a prevailing concern that may reflect in another very important way the circurnstances surrounding his experiences with women. The concern was to find some means of sympathetically expressing, more often than not from the viewpoint of a woman, the nature of women's sufferings and humiliations. There is a possibility that Sharp's anguished preoccupation with suffering in childbirth may have had its direct and immediate source in some miscarried attempts of his wife to have children. Even if this is not so, however, the births of both Mona Caird's and Edith Rinder's daughters in the early nineties would have provided sufficient substitute. At any rate, Sharp linked the three together when, in a letter to his wife during the composition of Fiona Macleod's "Rune of the Sorrow of Women" in 1896, he confessed that "you, Mona, Edith, and others swam into my brain."42
The cause or causes of the dramatic increase in the force and passion of Sharp's concern with the suffering of women may only be conjectured. But dramatic the increase certainly was. His early poem "Motherhood" (1882) had been a relatively impersonal study of childbirth as it revealed evolutionary development. Mona in The Sport of Chance (1887) delivers her child prematurely, but there is no hint of any difficulties in labor---so standard in Sharp's later fiction---and the child Lora survives remarkably well. "Madge o' the Pool" provides the first instance of stillbirth, and even there the story's delayed publication may well indicate a later hand in the introduction of that event.
The earliest authentic portent of Sharp 's darker vision of womanhood comes in 1889, in "Fragments from the Lost Journals of Piero di Cosimo." Piero reflects ominously upon a woman he is painting: "She was with child, and oft looked suddenly at naught, in a wild trouble, as I have seen a white hart do at the falling echo of a far-off baying hound." And he cries out, "Ah! this terrible brutality of motherhood. It is a device of nature to humiliate the soul, of which she is jealous unto death. She has conveyed it in a rainbow, as a Borgia might convey a debilitating slow-killing poison in an exquisite rose."43 By 1891 Sharp was capable of developing this hint of the "brutality of motherhood" into the copious and explicit detail of "The Birth of a Soul," one of the "Psychic dramas" later included in Vistas (1894). The entire action of this drama takes place in a woman's bedchamber during the convulsive agonies of her labor. Dying as her child is born, the mother utters this pitiful exclamation: "O God, may the child that is within me not be a woman-child, so that she may never know the bitterness of shame and all the heritage of woman's woe."44 From there on the theme is taken over by Fiona Macleod, and her roster of suffering women is painfully long. Perhaps it is significant that Green Fire, published in 1896 as Fiona Macleod's third novel, contains the only instance of a wife's losing her first child but having her second survive. Was this a fresh expression of hope on Sharp's part that was unfortunately not to see fulfillment?
But Green Fire provides more than an unusual instance of the theme of compassionate identification with woman, for in it Sharp gives a strikingly clear illustration of the theme of divided loyalties in love, exploring that theme as had William Sharp's realistic fiction and resolving it with a reconciliation in marriage. Green Fire, perhaps more than any other single work, suggests the complex, reciprocal interplay of Sharp's strangely contrary impulses to truancy and compassion. Like the "wife" of A Fellow and His Wife, the hero of Green Fire is compelled by opposing forces in his personality to seek fulfillment in more than one partner. In a letter written in 1896, Sharp spoke of the two women entangled thus in Alan's fortunes, Ynys, his betrothed, and Annaik, his "woman": "Annaik is the real human magnet. Ynys is an idealised type, what I mean by Ideala or Esclarmoundo, but she did not take hold of me like Annaik . . . Annaik has for me a strange and deep attraction: and I am sure the abiding personal interest is in her.45 The characterizations of both Alan and the earlier "wife" are reminiscent of Shelley's "Epipsychidion."46 The Memoir also notes that Sharp was reading Restif de la Bretonne's autobiography during this period of reappraisal of "the sexual morale." If so, he may have been culling some of his material from Restif's account of his own multiplied affections, based on a theory of shared ideality or "transfusion of souls," which supplies a striking analogy for Alan's divided loyalties.
But Sharp had his own divided loyalties too. By the time of Green Fire in 1896, Sharp was already deeply in literary debt to Edith Rinderand perhaps deeply in love with her too; it seems unlikely, at least, that his "susceptible self" impassively acknowledged the "beauty," "strong sense of life and the joy of life," and "mental alertness" of which Mrs. Sharp later spoke. But it is equally unlikely that his love for Edith could entirely obscure the debt for inspiration he owed to the woman who had received his first love poems and waited nine long years to marry him. In fact, Elizabeth's strength and capacity for sacrifice were formidable. The delights of travel could scarcely have been full compensation for a married life consisting of the rigors of Victorian tourisn, when she accompanied her husband, the solitude of home life when she did not, and the strain of nursing and breadwinning when Sharp was ill and unable to work. She herself gave only the barest hint of how she felt. "To me," she recalls in the Memoir, "he came for sympathy in his work and difficulties and to others he went for gaiety and diversion."
Some of the mystery of Sharp's split literary personality is entangled in this complicated web of divided feelings. Loving two women, but like Alan of Green Fire sure of his loyalty to the woman he had loved first, Sharp may well have sought to adjust to his emotional fracture by dividing the allegiances of his imagination, giving them separate representation in the public images of William Sharp and Fiona Macleod. For Edith Rinder, Fiona Macleod, because Edith Rinder embodied all the fullness of his new creative life and had awakened in him a Celtic enthusiasm he had not known himself capable of feeling. It was she who had seen him as the re-maker of Scottish legend, she who had inspired him and perhaps collaborated in the conception, if not the execution, of his Celtic work. But William Sharp, nursed by "Lill", through a career of potboiling to a modest, if dandyish artistic success, in a real sense belonged to her and could not also belong to someone else. Sharp seems to have made his conciliation through pseudonym, a device comfortingly familiar, since the Pagan Review, for reconciling the dilemmas of opposing forces within himself. Edith Rinder, for her part, appears to have contented herself, like the Thea of lbsen's Hedda Gabler, with a form of spiritual wifehood.47
Sharp's choice of a female pseudonym, however, requires some further analysis, and may hinge upon another aspect of his emotional life. He had long been aware of possessing unusual insight into the psychology of women and was increasingly conscious, as he moved into his new and freer imaginative life, of the extraordinary character of his identification with them. Edith Rinder's inspiration at this critical moment was an explosive reagent. Experiencing that special mystic affinity with her that he was inclined to attribute to truly kindred souls in his work, Sharp may well have thought at times that he shared one personality with her. The theory then in vogue among some men and women of his artistic generation that the prophetic artist was hermaphroditic by nature would have sealed his determination to become Fiona Macleod, had he required anything more to seal it.
But such ideal resolutions never entirely make over reality, and the reality of Elizabeth's suffering and of his desire to sustain their marriage may still have existed. This might explain the depression, the anxiety, the guilt that expressed themselves in a hypersensivity to the plight of woman, primarily in the mother-role, and particularly in the work of Fiona Macleod, where woman is symbol of patience and forbearance, type of the sufferer, suffering in the getting of love, suffering in the losing of it, suffering in childbirth---yet devoted, helping, inspiring. Moreover, Fiona Macleod's work in this vein represented a mere fraction of all Sharp had hoped to write. Among his notes were plans for a novel, The Woman of Thirty, a collection of short stories, The Comedy of Woman (planned to be sent forth, significantly, under the name of H. P. Siwaärmill), and a dramatic version of Anna Karenina.49 The testimony of some of the people to whom Sharp spoke of the "mystery" of Fiona Macleod would lead one to conclude that Sharp grew to believe---or to think he believed---a woman's nature really dwelt within him, whether by possession or some other means he never clearly specified. His reading in contemporary anthropology and folklore confirming the sexual duality of the seer; his strong sympathy with the literature of extraordinarily heightened sensibility (a French literary tradition since Rousseau, and exemplified by Maeterlinck, Loti, Coppée, Bourget, and others), characterized by an extreme poignancy, and affecting the entire early Celtic movement; his identification with the arguments and feelings of the strong-minded and sensitive women around him---all of these must have led him to exaggerate his claims to a special understanding of women.
He was, moreover, given in life as well as in fiction to attributing fixed ideas of any sort to fatal or occult motives. What he failed to see, perhaps, was that to take away the principle of unearthly mystery from the cause did not necessarily impinge upon the pathos and humanity of the effect. Suffering need not be preordained to be suffering, nor joy cut down by fate to evoke the sense of loss Like many people, he possessed a tender and vulnerable inner life which had, because of his childhood and later accidents of experience, become associated with womanhood. What he needed more than others usually do, perhaps, was to impose upon that inner life a secrecy that could give him both the joy of possessing a personal, inviolable domain and the terror of its being under constant threat of exposure. It was more important to the quality of his inner life, however, that in childhood it had been victimized---perhaps even terrorized---and in manhood it had accreted to itself all forms of victimization.
This identification with the victimized was the source of his pleasure in the work of Pierre Loti, just as it was assuredly his reason for admiring Maeterlinck. They expressed what Sharp called "the distinguishing feature of our [modern] literature":
But there is nothing in contemporary literature apart from the work of Maeterlinck "which so poignantly conveys the sense of overwhelming pity for the tragic and inevitable mischance of the weak, of those who live and go to disaster and death blind and baffled, the sport apparently of terrible and august powers."50 It was just such pity, such desire to appeal for the victimized, that inspired Sharp's own essay on the exiles of nocturnal London, those whose only home is "The Hotel of the Beautiful Star." It was out of this pity that he exalted this "dull monotone of wreckage"51 to the level of special creatures perversely blessed by nature and the night to know, as no one else in demoniacal London could know, how much in the deep quiet of night the city could possess "a beauty as of the remote country, a spaciousness as of the desert, a silence as of ocean in calm"52 And it was of course, just such pity that inspired his own peculiar view of the condition of woman.
Fiona Macleod was indeed the creation of a mind or heart divided, but there was no need for the theory Sharp hinted at, and which others occasionally advanced, that the lifelong maintenance of this special Pose was evidence of a dual or split personality; the theory indeed is usually employed without real knowledge of what it means.53 The tension borne of suppression of what was most weak and tender in him he had always required and would have found some way of sustaining, even had the accident of Edith Rinder never occurred to give it its special feminine direction.
But there is another essential reason that Fiona Macleod endured where H. P. Siwaärmill and W. H. Brooks did not, for a pose that achieves popular success is thereby provided with its own principle of survival. The Fiona Macleod myth that "E.W.R." had helped to create was quickly to become the rock on which were built several hectically productive, if shortlived, publishing enterprises. In the course of a few years, the myth was to develop into a sacred premise for an entire movement, an article of faith for a whole generation of neo-romantics. When the combined strictures of poor health and depleted finances seemed to require in 1902 that Sharp appeal to the Home Secretary to be placed on the Civil Pension List, he refused to do so because it would have entailed revealing his secret authorship. In a letter written at the time to Alec Hood, he confessed that, in addition to his deep need for the "aloofness and spiritual isolation of Fiona Macleod," he also felt that "a great responsibility to others has come to me, through the winning of so already large and deepening a circle of those of like ideals or at least like sympathies in our own country and in America."54 He was well aware that had Fiona Macleod been revealed as a man the entire architecture built upon her would have collapsed.
Sharp in his practical moods was as susceptible to the female charms that made Fiona Macleod successful as he was to those that made her a convenient and secure means of expression. It may be a curious paradox, but it is true nonetheless, that in this period of transition for women's rights, when women were crying oppression and lack of dignity, among those "of like sympathies" to Sharp's it was very fashionable to be female. At a time when both men and women were awakening to potentialities in woman no previous era had even thought of realizing, the possibilities of exploring, through her, infinite new realms of human experience must have seemed exhilarating. This second, smaller English renaissance has perhaps not been given the place it deserves in literary history, though its reverberations are enormous and obvious. Hitting upon Fiona Macleod was like striking the rich vein of woman-receptiveness in Sharp's generation. A romantic infinity of possibilities in women must have seemed to lie beneath the magical surface of Fiona Macleod's strange, evocative prose. She herself was a conception exotic and outrée. And where the very nature of convention with regard to women was being disputed, one could risk the unconventional and dare the wavering tribunal to bring its charge.
Certainly it must have appeared so to Sharp, who, in his characteristic metaphor of place, spoke of woman as "an unexplored country,"55 and again later as "the Dark Continent of Man."56 Woman was for him, in these characteristic terms, another imaginative Eden of desire. "We are all seeking," he said in "Ecce Puella," "the Fountain of Youth, the Golden Isles, Avalon, Woman,"57 and he quoted as a companion to his own metaphor that of the Flemish novelist Georges Eekhoud: "Ma contrée de déliction n'existe pour aucun touriste, et jamais guide on médicin ne la racommandera."58 Certainly, too, Sharp could tell as a woman the story of his debt to them and his sympathy for them in a way that could cause no raising of prejudiced eyebrows, either among women doubtful of his sincerity or among men doubtful of his manhood.59
For Fiona Macleod's first three novels, at least, that is precisely the story that he told. In Pharais (1894)---Gaelic for Paradise---the wife of a Highlander doomed to be lost to her by the gradual "clouding of his mind," and therefore in a sense by his transmigration into a wholly new and isolated personality, determines that they shall die together rather than suffer this alteration in the conditions of their love. They attempt this union by binding themselves together with seaweed in the dark belly of a cavern, dry at ebb, but filled by the ocean at high tide. Their "sea-change" does not quite succeed as planned, for the tide not only unbinds them but casts both of them up alive and separated, neither aware that the other still lives. The wife gives birth prematurely to the child she had wanted to die with them, but mother and child are weak and ill, and they die just as the husband reappears. He has suffered the sea-change, however, and dimly conscious of his wife's sacrifice as the "cloud" slowly engulfs his mind, he goes forth to his rew, transfigured life with her strength having somehow passed into him. Similarly, in The Mountain Lovers (1895), a beloved wife, dying in childbirth, leaves to her surviving husband a new revelation in the human capacity for suffering and sacrifice. The blissful dream of their young pastoral love, shattered by the agony of her labor and her death, is supplanted by a new, more compassionate ideal, a transforination which the child symbolizes and to which the husband rededicates bimself.60
Finally, in Green Fire (1896), a novel already partially treated for its suggestions of autobiography, the hero Alan is torn between his attraction to two sisters, Ynys and Annaik, both of whom love him. Ynys is dark, earthy, stable; Annaik is fair, gay, a spirit of natural joy and pagan freedom. Though betrothed to Ynys, Alan yields to a night of passion with her sister. The child of this illicit union dies, and Annaik, the pagan spirit, returns whence she symbolically came, joining the forest-dwellers and disappearing into the woods with them. Alan's marriage with Ynys is eventually sanctified by the birth of a child, though a first child had died, and in this birth Alan sees through woman the realization of his own desire for immortality. In the course of a long reflective passage in the novel, Alan analyzes the nature of his divided affections and resolves the quest they had represented by asserting that it was through Ynys that he first conceived an understanding of woman and of motherhood, but through his mysterious relationship with Annaik that he realized a newer and "deeper conception of womanhood."
The significance of this "deeper conception" to Alan is emblematic of its significance to all the work of Fiona Macleod. It involved a belief that woman would be the medium of a universal redemption, for in woman are summed up all the powers of continuum, all the beneficence of Nature, in fact all the love respondent to the pathos of mankind both individually and as a race. Must there not inevitably be, Alan envisions, "a woman saviour, who would come near to all of us, because in her heart would be the blind tears of the child, and the bitter tears of the man, and the patient tears of the woman; who would be the Compassionate One, with no doctrine to teach, no way to show, but only deep, wonderful, beautiful, inalienable, unquenchable compassion?"
"For in truth," he continues, "there is the divine, eternal feminine counterpart to the divine eternal male, and both are needed to explain the mystery of the dual spirit within us-the mystery of the Two in One."61 It is not surprising that Sharp should recall as late as 1895, in an essay on Christina Rossetti, her eminent brother's dictum, irritating to Christina, that the worship of Mary was "the lasting grit of the Romish faith" and an "idealization of humanity, through the mother idea."62 This same idea was one of the pervasive, near-religious doctrines of the Fiona Macleod "faith," with its heavy emphasis upon St. Bridget, "St. Bride of the Isles," "The Second Mother of Christ," as the center of Celtic folklore, and with its promise of a "second coming," a reincarnation of the deity in the form of a woman, as the salvation of the world.63
Paradoxically, this messianic view of woman may explain Sharp's aloofness from the practical, activist branch of the feminist movement, and ally him with the artistic generation that followed him. The feminism that was largely the product of positivist attitudes toward social reform in the later nineteenth century had as its major goals the social and economic emancipation of women. It involved the leveling of sexual distinctions and, as far as possible, the equalization of the sexes. In Sharp's view, however, the sexes are neither alike nor equal in their virtues or capacities. They are instead complementary, with woman figuring in her traditional role as matrix of future generations. Sharp shared the outlook of radical feminists to the extent that he desired greater acknowledgment and appreciation of women's contributions to the progress of the race. But the distinction of his outlook from theirs---and, though slight, it is a distinction---is that while they viewed woman as agent of social and cultural change, he viewed her as instrument or catalyst of such change. To be such, in the Sharp scheme, she must retain rather than alter her traditional functions, and conserve the values---feeling, sympathy, intuition---through which men must work.
It is not too gross to suggest, then, that compared with some of his contemporaries Sharp was something of a reactionary. This may explain why Lafcadio Hearn should once again prove himself Sharp's Oriental counterpart. Hearn's adoption of Eastern culture was sufficiently thoroughgoing to entail his acceptance of its traditional social subjection of women. Yet, like Sharp, he possessed an extraordinary interest in woman's role as a crucial and defining factor in developing and perfecting general human culture, from both its Eastern and its Western sides. He regarded Baudelaire's conception of "the woman thou shalt never know" as the best expression of Western man's aspirations toward the impossible and unattainable. His Japanese woman, no less than Sharp's Celtic woman, symbolized "all the possibilities of the race for goodness."64
At the height of the feminist movement of the nineties, this oblique, conservative aspect of feminism was not recognized as a challenge to its Social and political goals. Indeed, some radical feminist arguments, like those of Olive Schreiner, for example, depended for some of their force upon such symbolic interpretations of female nature. Thus, while the figure of Fiona Macleod herself, along with the female characters Sharp created through her, epitomized and embodied a kind of feminist counter-revolution, the subversive element in them went unperceived. It was not until after the turn of the century that literary artists, often in partisan opposition to the "new woman" of the age, began to make full use of the "symbolic" woman as the advance guard of a counterforce. Thus Fiona Macleod has something in common with Molly Bloom of Ulysses and with the peasant women who appear in the luminous background of James joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Her image can perhaps lay claim to archetypal value: she might be the end result of a process by which intellectual and denatured woman is de-intellectualized and re-natured, a process undergone by many of D. H. Lawrence's heroines. In a sense she is the same woman, hands outstretched in final supplication and benediction, who closes Conrad's Heart of Darkness, or the same who, as Lena Grove in William Faulkner's Light in August, bears the burden of regeneration forfeited by the missionizing American "new woman." She is linked to the mother whose incanted name, "Esmiss Esmoor," is heard over the gulf between East and West in Forster's A Passage to India. She represents the creative spirit of our culture, as twentieth-century literature has defined it, supplying an explicit rebuke to radical feminism, and perhaps testimony of its failure.65 Though Fiona Macleod expressed no vocal antagonism to the social and political goals of the feminist movement, she was conceived in a spirit that cut deeply across them. She stands as Sharp's canny resolution of a Victorian dilemma regarding women. The success of Fiona Macleod is thus a phenomenon of genuine importance to literary history and no mere eccentricity of a strayed imagination.
Yet it must be said that in the sense demanded by the canons of twentieth-century taste, Sharp did not realize the full potential of his creation. Through her, his private reconciliations were made, dramatized in his literary life, and transmuted into a principle of belief. Fiona Macleod and her people were intended to dwell in a world of prophecy, where ordinary woman, ordinary marriage, ordinary human trials had no place. Sharp appears to have decided from the very beginning that the Macleod vein would be evocative, poeticized prose and that nearly all the relationships expressed in it would be conceived in idealized form. Essentially this meant that, whatever vicissitudes are suffered by the lovers Fiona Macleod depicts, they are never more than temporary exiles from Eden and always gravitate back to the ideal state of innocence, which experience may "transmute" but can never wholly alter. As in the adventures of Eilidh and Isla in The Sin-Eater (1895) and of Ula and Urla in The Washer of the Ford (1895), the direction of movement is merely from one ideal plane to another. Love divided inevitably becomes love reunited in another more permanent world that is like the immobilized reflection of the real one in some dark mountain tarn. The change by water is appropriate, for it is often by way of water that such metamorphoses take place; sexual unions between men and seals are, for example, a repeated motif in the stories of The Washer of The Ford.
Only in rare moments did the real touch of human feeling break through Fiona Macleod's attempts to evoke the spiritual and emotional scope of womanhood. One of these occurs in "The Rune of the Passion of Women," with its plaintive refrain echoing the sounds of life lived close to the earth---
Fiona Macleod dealt with the love of this world only as unresolved, lost, or misplaced. Such love represented a spiritual condition in itself and in one of her stories was symbolized, with a typical Sharp metaphor of place, as "The Distant Country."67 Yet Sharp's concern with this theme was not to be bound by the strictures of dual and secret authorship. His last major work of fiction as William Sharp, Silence Farm, was an attempt to bring the distant country into realistic focus, to trace the "sorrow of women" in the unlovely history of Margaret Cray, a rural girl struggling with the poor bargain of womanbood's inheritance. Margaret is an illegitimate and unwanted child, grinding out her life in the poverty of a dying countryside, a menial in her fatber's household, where she ought to be honored as a daughter. Her sorrow is unwittingly to waste her devotion upon her worthless brother, and be deserted by him. Sharp at this point in the narrative provides a vivid and grotesque dramatization of Margaret's experience of dead love:
Later, when Margaret's father dies, she addresses the corpse with a frantic and pitiful abandon that is a moment of stinging insight into the potential tragedy of womanhood:
Margaret is "Madge o' the Pool" set in a totally different atmosphere, but like her trapped between the fragrant incense of a spiritualized love-ideal and the stink of material decay. The theme was obviously suited to Sharp's gifts; there might have been more to hope for from him had he not chosen with such singleness of purpose to avoid the road of Hardy and Gissing and take his way instead through Fiona Macleod's myths and allegories.70 Perhaps too long preoccupied with these, as well as too exhausted by his own consuming restlessness, he could not sustain a conception like Margaret Cray, even through the rest of Silence Farm. In this novel, Sharp came as close as he was capable to a Hardy-like success and revealed in technique, and in the urgency with which he seems to have written it, that Hardy was the novelist with whom he was in most basic sympathy, and that Jude the Obscure, that immense epic of cancered ideals of love and loveless marriages, was the Hardy novel after Tess which most impressed him.71
But after Silence Farm the creative voice of William Sharp grew fairly silent, and the tone of Fiona Macleod was allowed to prevail. Sharp's pity for the Madges and Margarets of this world was only powerful enough to evoke briefly their lonely and desolate images---images of the essential woman, abandoned if not destroyed by the swift, ruthless pace of "progress." That pity was not powerful enough to create a mediating vision, a theory of redemption more palpable than his "woman-redeemer," that might fully unite his grief for the disintegrated Edens of this world with his passion for the Edens of desire.