Queer Places:
Tabley House, Tabley Lane, Chester Rd, Tabley, Knutsford WA16 0EZ, UK
Llanelli Cemetery, Old Road, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales

Hon. Margaret Leicester Warren (February 6, 1847 - August 14, 1921) was the daughter of George Fleming Leicester Warren, 2nd Baron de Tabley (1811-1887) of Tabley House and Catharina Barbara de Salis Soglio (1814-1869). She married Sir Emile Algernon Arthur Keppel Cowell-Stepney, 2nd Bt. (1834-1909), son of Sir John Stepney Cowell-Stepney, 1st Bt. and Mary Anne Annesley, on 24 August 1875. She had one daughter, Catherine "Alcy" Meriel Stepney (1876-1952).

Maggie & Alcy Stepney Cowell, niece and great-niece of William De Salis. Margaret Leicester Warren (1847-1921) married in 1875 Sir Arthur Cowell-Stepney, 2nd Bt. (1834-1909), of Llanelli. (aka Emile Algernon Arthur Keppel Cowell-Stepney). Alcy Catharine Meriel Stepney of Cilymaenllwyd (1876-1952) married in 1911 Sir (Edward) Stafford Howard (1851-1916), the son of Henry Howard of Greystoke Castle, a nephew of the 12th Duke of Norfolk.

An example of outright insouciance about a deeply felt erotic fascination between women is found in the journals of Margaret Leicester Warren, written in the 1870s and published for private circulation in 1924. Little is known about Warren, who was born in 1847 and led the life of a typical upper-middle-class lady, attending church, studying drawing and music, and marrying a man in 1875. Her diary attests to a fondness for triangulated relationships that included an adolescent crush on her newlywed sister and her sister’s husband, and a brief, tumultuous engagement to a male cousin whose mother was the dramatic center of Warren’s intense emotions. In 1872, when Warren was twenty-five, she began to write incessantly about a distant cousin named Edith Leycester in entries that reveled in the experience of succumbing to another woman’s glamour: “Edith looked very beautiful and as usual I fell in love with her... Tonight Edith took me into her room... She is like an enchanted princess. There is some charm or spell that has been thrown over her.” Warren’s fascination with Edith lasted several years. Warren never self-consciously reflected that her feelings for Edith differed from conventional friendship, but ascribed an intensity, exclusivity, and volatility to her feelings for Edith absent from most accounts of female friendship. Indeed, Warren rarely referred to Edith as a friend when she wrote of her desire to see Edith every day and recorded their many exchanges of confidences, poetry, and gifts. Warren fetishized and idealized Edith, was fixated on her presence and absence, and used superlatives to describe the feelings she inspired. Within months of meeting Edith, most of Warren’s entries consisted of detailed reenactments of their daily visits and the emotions generated by each parting and reunion: “Edith was charming tonight and I was happier with her than I have ever been. She looked beautiful”. Warren created an erotic aura around Edith through the very act of writing about her, through a liberal use of adverbs and adjectives, and by infusing her friend’s most ordinary actions with dramatic implications. Describing how Edith invited her to visit her country home, for example, Warren wrote, “Edith came in and threw herself down on the chair and said quietly and gently ‘come to Toft!’”. Although Warren got along well with Edith’s rarely present husband, Rafe Oswald Leycester, she relished being alone with her and described the awkward, jealous scenes that took place whenever she had to share Edith with other women. Warren found ways to dwell on the details of Edith’s beauty through references to fashion and contemporary art. Like many diarists, Warren had an almost novelistic capacity to observe and characterize people in terms of prevailing aesthetic forms. She described Edith with flowers in her hair, looking like a pre-Raphaelite painting, and recorded her desire to make images of Edith: “I would so like to paint her... It would make a good ‘golden witch’ a beautiful Enchantress”. A ride with Edith inspired Warren to pen another impassioned tableau: “All the way there in the brougham I looked at Edith’s beautiful profile, the lamp light shining on it, and the wind blowing her hair about— her face also, all lit up with enthusiasm and tenderness as she leant forward to Rafe and told him a long story... I... only thought how grand she was”. Shared confidences about Warren’s broken engagement to their male cousin became another medium for cultivating the women’s special intimacy. By assuring Warren that she did not side with the jilted fiancé, Edith declared an autonomous interest in her: “‘I wanted you to come here because— because I like you.’ She was sitting at her easel and never looking at me as she spoke for I was standing behind her, but when she said ‘because I like you,’ she looked backwards up at me with such an honest, soft, beautiful expression that any distrust I had still left of her trueness melted up into a cinder”. Just as Warren heightened her relationship with Edith by writing about it so effusively and at such length, the two women elevated it by coyly discussing what their interactions and feelings meant. Before one of her many departures from London, Edith asked Warren: “‘Are you sorry I am going?... How curious— why are you sorry?’ Then I told her a little of all she had done for me... how much life and pleasure and interest she had put into my life, and she said nothing but she just put out her hand and laid it on my hand and that from her means a great deal more than 100 things from anyone else”. Edith’s gesture drew on the repertory of friendship, but in the private theater of her journal, Warren transformed the touch of a hand into a uniquely meaningful clasp. This is not to say the relationship was one-sided. If Warren’s diary reports the two women’s interactions with any degree of accuracy, it is clear that both enjoyed creating an atmosphere of pent-up longing. Edith fed Warren’s infatuation with provocative questions and a skill for setting scenes: “She asked what things I cared for now? And I said with truth, for nothing— except seeing her”. Warren is exquisitely sensitive to every element that connotes eroticism: a darkened room, physical proximity, complicit silence, a romantic demand that the beloved remain present in her lover’s mind even when absent, a kiss whose uniqueness—“ for the first time”— suggests a beginning. Any one of these actions would have been unremarkable between female friends, but comparison with other women’s diaries shows how distinctive it was for Warren to list so many gestures within one entry, without defining and therefore restricting their meaning. Warren’s attitude also distinguishes her emotions from those articulated by women who took their love for women in a more conjugal or sexual direction. Her journals combine exhaustive attention to the beloved with a pervasive indifference to interrogating what that fascination might mean. Never classified as friendship or love, Warren’s feelings for Edith had the advantages and limits of remaining in the realm of suggestion, where they could expand infinitely without ever being realized or checked.

Margaret Leicester Warren wrote in 1859, when she was about twelve, of an afternoon spent talking “to the little Lasselses particularly to Amy a very nice and pretty girl of 14”; describing women she met in London three years later, she wrote of Lady Adelaide, “quite beautiful” and Miss Grant, “also very pretty, very light indeed with pale yellow hair and like the women in ‘Once a Week’”. Margaret Warren, for example, experienced great distress when she became engaged to a man for whom she felt only a “kindly affectionate feeling” that she identified as “not... the love that a woman should give to her future husband” but “only the love of pity and of friendship”. When Margaret Warren rescinded her betrothal to her cousin Amyas in 1871, she was as distressed about upsetting his mother as she was about disappointing him. Warren’s life had been disrupted after her own mother’s death and the prospect of acquiring a new maternal figure had made marriage to Amyas appealing, but she also desired his mother as a friend, an object of affection who would be both an intimate and an ideal.

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