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Reviewed by:
  • Graham R.: Rosamund Marriott Watson, Woman of Letters
  • Celeste Pottier (bio)
Linda K. Hughes . Graham R.: Rosamund Marriott Watson, Woman of Letters. Athens: Ohio UP, 2005. 392 pp. ISBN 0-8214-1629-4, $46.95.

In The Renaissance, Walter Pater explains that "we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among 'the children of this world,' in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into that given time." The subject of Linda K. Hughes's biography, Graham R.: Rosamund Marriott Watson, Woman of Letters, had the gift of getting the most "pulsations" she could out of every stage and facet of her life. Not only is this first biography an attempt to recover this obscure late Victorian poet, but it is also an account of a fascinating New Woman and writer. With its impressions of urban life and focus on the Decadent movement, it presents a bustling and accurate depiction of the fin-de-siècle social milieu.

In her preface, Hughes uses Judith Butler's concept of performativity (the idea that a person's identity is made up of specific performances carried out) to discuss how Graham R. "was quite literally a different person, a different self, at each stage of her life" (xiv). Certainly, the beautiful Graham R. was a woman capable of reinventing herself several times throughout her life. In this biography, Hughes divides Graham R.'s life into four sections: Rose Ball (birth and childhood), Mrs. G. E. Armytage (marriage to her first husband), Graham R. Tomson (marriage to her second husband), and Rosamund Marriott Watson (companionship with the man with whom she would live for the remainder of her life). There were social and professional prices to be paid for a woman who, like Graham R., had obtained two divorces and left three children behind, but time and again Graham R. shunned Victorian convention to pursue her passion in love and in literature.

Her lyrics earned Oscar Wilde's praise; he wrote that her "verse, especially in the series entitled 'New Words to Old Tunes,' has grace and distinction. Some of the shorter poems are, to use a phrase made classical by Mr. Pater, [End Page 349] 'little carved ivories of speech.' She is one of our most artistic writers in poetry" (qtd. 95). Graham R. was even mentioned by the Black and White as a potential candidate for poet laureate (171). Many of her works are impressionistic, and major themes include the fleetingness of beauty, life, and love. At times her poems are both religiously and socially subversive; she takes a male pen name (Andrew Lang famously invited her to the Savile, a club for men only, thinking she was male), and at times, she appropriates in her poetry the male voice in order to tout her authority. A few of her poems are political, but the most prominent theme in her work seems to be that of the supernatural; Graham R. was interested in portraying those liminal states, particularly between the dead and the living.

Not only was Graham R. a poet, wife, and mother, she was also a literary, art, and fashion critic (her debut was an essay on fashion entitled "Modern Dress" published in the Fortnightly Review). Graham R. was an ambitious, shrewd businesswoman who looked at the market demand to intelligently market her work. In her prime, she was editor of Sylvia's Journal, a New Woman magazine, and in her later years she published a collection of garden essays, in vogue at the time. In fact, Graham R. seems to have adopted Wilde's principle of all life being a form of artistic expression: she was an artist in her dress and appearance, her poetry, her household, and her gardening. The tall, willowy brunette was a great beauty, admired by all who saw her. In fact, there seems to have been a direct correlation between her beauty and her productivity: as she aged, Graham R.'s confidence in her writing seems to have decreased as well. Although...


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