Wickham, Anna (1883–1947)

views updated

Wickham, Anna (1883–1947)

English poet . Name variations: Edith Hepburn. Born Edith Alice Mary Harper in Wimbledon, Surrey, England,in 1883 (some sources cite 1884); committed suicide in London in 1947; daughter of Geoffrey Harper and Alice (Whelan) Harper (both Australians); married Patrick Hepburn (a lawyer), in 1905 (died 1929); children: four, including sons James, John, and George.

Anna Wickham was the pseudonym of the prolific English poet Edith Harper Hepburn. Born in 1883 in Wimbledon, she grew up in Australia and then returned to England as a young adult. She was encouraged in the arts by her parents, a musician and a teacher, and at age ten she announced that she would become a poet. She earned a scholarship to the Tree's Academy of Acting, and studied opera in Paris. However, in 1905 she gave up music when she married an English lawyer, Patrick Hepburn, later secretary of the Astronomical Society. The marriage was unhappy and arguments were frequent; her husband disapproved of Wickham's liberal political views and creative writing.

Wickham, who gave birth to four sons between 1907 and 1919, found consolation in caring for her children and in writing poetry in her spare time. She also became interested in social welfare causes, especially with helping ease the burdens on working-class women. Her desire for freedom from the constraints of her married life intensified after Hepburn had her forcibly confined to an asylum for six weeks after an argument. A collection of her poems, Songs for John Oland, was privately printed in 1911, against her husband's wishes. Her poems also appeared in an anthology by the Poetry Bookshop in 1914. These were followed by three more volumes of poetry, The Contemplative Quarry, The Man With a Hammer (1916), and The Little Old House (1921). Her poetry followed rhyme conventions while expressing feminist views on oppression against women, especially against married women, and satirizing the bourgeois values held by her husband and his social class.

Wickham's poetry found a large audience among middle-class women in England and in the United States, and was frequently included in anthologies. In 1922, grief over the death of one of her sons led her to leave her husband and move to Paris. There she met the American writer Natalie Clifford Barney , with whom Wickham would conduct a passionate correspondence for the next ten years, after her return to London. The wealthy Barney became a source of financial and emotional support for Wickham as she faced the disintegration of her marriage. In 1926, Wickham and Hepburn legally separated, though they briefly reconciled in 1928.

Wickham's letters to Barney, as well as much of her poetry from this period, has erotic undertones and testifies to her growing woman-centered consciousness.

After Patrick Hepburn drowned accidentally in 1929, Wickham continued to live in London with her three sons. The last of her works to appear in her lifetime were included in three anthologies edited by John Gawsworth in the 1930s, Richards' Shilling Selections, Edwardian Poetry, and Neo-Georgian Poetry. In 1943, Wickham's home in Parliament Hill in London was firebombed by the German army, destroying most of her correspondence and original manuscripts. She committed suicide by hanging in 1947. A book of Selected Poems was published in 1971 and several previously unpublished essays appeared in 1984 in The Writings of Anna Wickham, Free Woman and Poet.


Shattock, Joanne, ed. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Wickham, Anna. The Writings of Anna Wickham, Free Woman and Poet. Edited by R.D. Smith. Boston, MA: Salem House, 1984.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California