Edward Thomas and three women, Edna, Eleanor and Helen
|Still Life, Basket on Chair|
Edna Clarke Hall and Edward Thomas met when both were about twenty and married.
The Edna episodes that I wrote were by far the most speculative, based chiefly on poems of Edward and Edna. Then belatedly my speculations were to some extent confirmed by Matthew Hollis who had access to Edna's journals of the period. But whether she actively tried to seduce Edward - well, I can only say I think it quite likely, and likely that she would not have succeeded.
|A- Hare Hall B- Great House, Hall Lane.|
The relationship between Edward and Edna was always something I felt very tentative about: having first heard of it, then learned a little more from Alison Thomas's work, I based everything else on the poems, his and hers. Matthew Hollis had access to Edna's diary, so long after I had written my novel I was able to see that I hadn't been far out in my speculations - but the account in A Conscious Englishman is fiction, more speculative than anything else in the novel.
It was clear that Edward enjoyed her company - and what a welcome change from the bare barracks hut her house must have been!
I have a book of Edna's poems kindly sent to me by Alison Thomas.
The poems - well, I do wonder whether Edward was asked to read them and if so what he would have said. They are almost all full of pain, all too abstract to be effective, lacking Eliot's 'Objective Correlative'. Their subjects are often (capital letters) Love, Desire or Death.
These are rather better.
Edna hated the war and was in effect a pacifist - she painted very little during the war years. Somewhere around 1918 she had a serious mental breakdown. Her therapist persuaded Willie, her husband, to respect her and her art more.
She had a studio and gallery in London and continued to paint.
In 1930 (aged 51) she was drawn by Augustus John.
(I have tried hard but failed to find COPYRIGHT information for any of these pictures. I apologise, and will remove them immediately if requested.)
Her gallery, studio and most of her extant work was destroyed in a bombing raid in WW Two, and she ceased painting. Edna lived till she was a hundred, dying in 1979.
Thomas's poem, written 4th March 1916
Thinking of her had saddened me at first,
Until I saw the sun on the celandines lie
Redoubled, and she stood up like a flame,
A living thing, not what before I nursed,
The shadow I was growing to love almost,
The phantom, not the creature with bright eye
That I had thought never to see, once lost.
She found the celandines of February
Always before us all. Her nature and name
Were like those flowers, and now immediately
For a short swift eternity back she came,
Beautiful, happy, simply as when she wore
Her brightest bloom among the winter hues
Of all the world; and I was happy too,
Seeing the blossoms and the maiden who
Had seen them with me Februarys before,
Bending to them as in and out she trod
And laughed, with locks sweeping the mossy sod.
But this was a dream; the flowers were not true,
Until I stooped to pluck from the grass there
One of five petals and I smelt the juice
Which made me sigh, remembering she was no more,
Gone like a never perfectly recalled air.