Pinehurst Island, 1000 Islands, near Gananoque, ON K7G 2M2, Canada
Bowerchalke, Salisbury SP5 5BE, UK
Saint James Cemetery Toronto, Toronto Municipality, Ontario, Canada
Marjorie Lowry Christie Pickthall (14 September 1883, Gunnersbury, London – 22 April 1922, Vancouver), was a Canadian writer who was born in England but lived in Canada from the time she was seven. She was once "thought to be the best Canadian poet of her generation." In a 1911 letter, Ethelwyn Wetherald explains the sleeping arrangements at Pinehurst Island (one of the Thousand Islands near Kingston, Ontario, became a gathering retreat for women writers): I had the most charming little front bedroom, with a wide open door giving on a balcony overlooking the river. On one side of me was H.C.’s room and on the other Marjorie Pickthall’s, and as the partitions were thin varnished boards reaching about halfway up, we three had most delightful talks in the early morning and while dressing. M.P. is lovely in soul and body–pure undiluted genius. She is very dear to me and I can never be grateful enough for this opportunity of knowing her. Wetherald’s description of Marjorie Pickthall suggests the respect and admiration she felt toward her. The link between Pickthall and Helena Coleman is explained by Alex Kizuk: “At the University of Toronto, Pickthall attracted the friendship and encouragement of the older poet Helena Coleman”. In a separate article, Pickthall is described as an “intimate friend” of Helen Coleman, niece of Helena Coleman. The use of the term “intimate friend” by early Canadian critics appears to have been their coded way of intimating loving relationships between women. Wetherald herself has been suggested was in an intimate friendship with Helena Coleman.
Marjorie Pickthall was born in 1883 in the west London district of Gunnersbury, to Arthur Christie Pickthall, a surveyor and the son of a Church of England clergyman, and Elizabeth Helen Mary Pickthall (née Mallard), daughter of an officer in the Royal Navy, part Irish and part Huguenot.
According to her father, Pickthall had planned her career before she was six; she would be a writer and illustrator of books. Her parents encouraged her artistic talents with lessons in drawing and music; an accomplished violinist, she continued studying the instrument until she was twenty.
By 1890, Pickthall and her family had moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada where her father initially worked at the city's waterworks before becoming an electrical draftsman. Her only brother died in 1894.
Marjorie was educated at the Church of England day school on Beverley Street in Toronto, (possibly St. Mildred's College) and from 1899 at the Bishop Strachan School. She developed her skills at composition and made lasting friendships at these schools, despite su poor health and suffering from headaches, dental, eye and back problems. Summers were spent walking and studying nature on the Toronto islands. As well, she read poetry: her favourite English poets were Fiona Macleod, William Morris, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
According to The Canadian Encyclopedia From an early age [Pickthall] contributed stories to the magazines and newspapers; and before her first book appeared, her genius was recognized. She sold her first story, "Two-Ears", to the Toronto Globe for $3 in 1898, when she was still a student at Bishop Strachan.
"Two-Ears" (along with one of Pickthall's poems) would go on the next year to win The Mail and Empire's writing competition. By the age of 17 she was writing for both the Mail and Empire and the Globe, contributing to their "Young People's Corner" and "Circle of Young Canada" pages.
Pickthall won the Mail and Empire contest again in 1900, this time for her poem "O Keep the World For Ever At the Dawn." "With its Canadian inflection of the dream landscapes of late-19th-century aestheticism and its impassioned language and musicality," says the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, "it attracted the attention of professors whose critical support would ensure Pickthall's lasting reputation." To those academics, Pickthall's "rejection of modernism ... and futurism's abrasive forms represented continuity with the idealism of the 'Confederation Poets'." In that year, she quit school and began to write full-time.
In July 1903 Pickthall's short story The Greater Gift was featured in the first edition of East and West (Toronto), a church magazine for young people. She became a regular contributor. Three serials she wrote for the magazine – Dick's Desertion: A Boy’s Adventures in Canadian Forests (1905), The Straight Road (1906), and Billy’s Hero, or, The Valley of Gold (1908) – were published as juvenile novels, illustrated by Charles William Jefferys.
In 1904 her poem "The Homecomers" won third prize in a poetry contest and caught the attention of Pelham Edgar, professor of English at the University of Toronto's Victoria College. He began publishing her work regularly in the college magazine, Acta Victoriana. He also introduced her to Sir Andrew Macphail, editor of the prestigious University Magazine, who also began regularly printing her poetry from 1907 on.
In 1905 Pickthall hired a New York agent, and soon began appearing in American magazines like the Atlantic Monthly, The Century Magazine, Harper's, McClure's, and Scribner's. "Pickthall wrote more fiction during her very productive decade after 1905. Her poetry might be highly praised, but it paid little, while stories fetched as much as $150."
Pickthall was devastated by her mother's death in February 1910. With the help of poet Helena Coleman, she got a job at the Victoria College library to make ends meet. However, back problems (and possibly a nervous breakdown) caused her to take a leave of absence in spring 1912. Later that year, determined to see some of the world, Pickthall went to England.
In her absence from Canada, Macphail's University Magazine published Pickthall's first collection of poetry, The Drift of Pinions, "in an edition of 1,000 boxed copies that sold out in ten days in November, 1913."
In England, Pickthall first stayed with her uncle, Dr. Frank Reginald Mallard, in Hammersmith and then began renting Chalke Cottage in Bowerchalke, Wiltshire, with her second cousin Edith Emma Whillier. Successive summers were spent at Chalke Cottage. She began writing again and in 1914 wrote the historical novel Poursuite Joyeuse, which was published in 1915 as Little Hearts. The book was a failure; "it earned no more than £15. Nor, despite favourable reviews, did it facilitate Pickthall's entry into the London literary world, which she felt was closed to her as a colonial.... Moreover, she was out of touch with the American market."
In 1916 she published The Lamp of Poor Souls, an expanded volume of poetry.
During 1915 and 1916 Pickthall trained in automobile mechanics to do her part in the war effort. She was not accepted, so instead took work as a secretary and market gardener. This experience formed the basis of an essay, Women On the Land In England, which was subsequently published in East and West. It also led to an unsuccessful commercial venture in 1917, growing vegetables at Chalke Cottage with a woman known as Long-John.
In May 1918 health problems forced her to quit as assistant librarian in the South Kensington Meteorological Office, so she returned to Bowerchalke and completed 20 stories by the end of the year, "half of which were sold by January. Another creative burst between September and December 1919 produced a novel (The Bridge: A Story of the Great Lakes), a verse drama (The Wood Carver's Wife), and 16 stories."
On 22 May 1920 she sailed from Liverpool for Toronto, and then journeyed on to Lang Bay in the Sunshine Coast area of British Columbia with Edith Joan Lyttleton; then on to the Boundary Bay summer camp of Isabel Ecclestone Mackay where she revised The Bridge. She then began a new novel, The Beaten Man: "She struggled over this novel in Victoria in the winter of 1920–21 ... and rejected five drafts."
'The Wood Carver's Wife', published in the University Magazine in April 1920, "was staged at the New Empire Theatre in Montreal in March 1921 and later at Hart House Theatre in Toronto." Audiences and reviewers responded enthusiastically.
In 1921 Pickthall settled in the Clo-oose community of the Ditidaht people on the west coast of Vancouver Island (a community immortalized in her poem, "The Sailor's Grave at Clo-oose, V.I."). Soon, though, her health failed and she was admitted to a nursing home in Victoria, British Columbia.
Pickthall was 38 years old when, 12 days after surgery, she died of an embolism in Vancouver in 1922. She is buried beside her mother in St. James Cemetery. Although her father was her executor her estate was bequeathed to her aunt, Laura Mallard, in whose home she had done most of her writing.
A collection of her poems and a volume of her collected short stories were both published posthumously.
Her father compiled and published her Collected Poems in 1925 and again, definitively, in 1936.
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