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  • The Life of Graham R.
  • Melissa Purdue
Linda K. Hughes. Graham R.: Rosamund Marriott Watson, Woman of Letters. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005. vii + 397 pp. $46.95

Graham R. : Rosamund Marriott Watson, Woman of Letters, winner of the first annual Robert Colby Scholarly Book Prize (awarded by the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals), traces the life of a gifted fin-de-siècle poet, art and fashion critic, editor and essayist. Linda K. Hughes pulls from obscurity the New Woman variously known as Rose Ball, Mrs. G. F. Armytage, Graham R. Tomson and Rosamund Marriott Watson in this intriguing biography. Hughes chronologically divides Rosamund's life into four parts and seeks to combine multiple biographies into one: "a literary biography of a talented poet, the story of a fascinating fin-de-siècle woman, and a study of how literary careers are formed and managed." The result is a well-researched and important scholarly work.

The biography begins with an account of Rosamund's childhood. (Hughes refers to "Graham R." by a different name in each of the four parts of the book but "Rosamund" is always in some way part of her name.) Uneventful in many ways, her formative years involved much "time alone and endless reading and writing." Having the run of her father's library, Rosamund immersed herself in poetry as well as the works of Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald and Charles Kingsley. Rosamund's brothers and sisters were much older and her mother died from uterine cancer when she was only twelve, so Rosamund often turned to literature for companionship. On the whole, however, her childhood proved to be relatively ordinary and happy—giving little indication of the unconventional life she would later lead. [End Page 343]

Part II of Hughes's book moves on to discuss Rosamund's early marital and literary life. We see her here begin to defy traditional "Victorian womanhood" to live life on her own terms. At nineteen she married Francis Armytage and delivered two daughters. The marriage soon failed, however, and Rosamund lost custody of the children. She then eloped with Arthur Tomson, becoming Graham R. Tomson—"a betwixt-and-between name, neither announcing an identity entirely separate from that of Arthur … nor (given the R) utterly losing her own name in his." The two stayed together for many years and had a son, Tommy. This time in Rosamund's life also marks the beginning of her publishing career with "Modern Dress," an article on "improvement in taste and fashion among English women," and a volume of poetry, Tares, published in 1884. Continuing to publish poetry, Rosamund also garnered the interest of editor Andrew Lang, who at first thought "Graham R." to be a male author.

Chronicling the next portion of Rosamund's life, from 1888–1894, Hughes details her entrance into literary London as well as her acquaintances with socialists (E. Nesbit), New Women (Mona Caird, Amy Levy and Alice Meynell), and other writers (Thomas Hardy and Oscar Wilde became lifelong friends). It also marks the beginning of Rosamund's work in art criticism, short story writing, and editing Sylvia's Journal, "a weekly publication for ladies" that, according to Hughes, revolved around the three poles of feminism, aestheticism, and traditional femininity. In addition to her new endeavors, she also continued to write poetry and published A Summer Night and Other Poems in 1891. It was during this period, Hughes claims, that Rosamund reached "the pinnacle of her fame." She was publishing frequently and was widely accepted as a talented poet.

Rosamund's success, however, was soon tempered. The final section of the book begins with Rosamund's flight from her second marriage, prompted by an affair with H. D. Marriott Watson (referred to simply as "Marriott" throughout Hughes's biography). Although her earlier elopement with Arthur failed to result in public outcry or professional obstacles, she was not so lucky this time. Rosamund's abandonment of Arthur resulted in lost friendships, like that with her longtime friend Elizabeth Robins Pennell whose husband sided with Arthur, and a period in which she and Marriott became social pariahs. The Oscar Wilde scandal a year after their...


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pp. 343-345
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