William Sharp / Fiona Macleod 1855 – 1905

William Sharp / Fiona Macleod

William Sharp was truly a Victorian man of mystery. He was a forerunner and pioneer of the present time in so many ways – poet, novelist, biographer and friend of many prominent Victorian pioneers such as W.B.Yeats, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and John Arthur Goodchild. He also was impelled to invent for himself a completely ‘other’ secret life with a second identity as Fiona (a name he invented!) Macleod who wrote about her life in the Scottish Isles tapping into the ancient Celtic oral traditions with their stories of fairies, spirits and nature beings from what she called ‘the green world.’ Writing to Goodchild in the dedicatory introduction to ‘The Winged Destiny’ she wrote of Iona, ‘Do you, too, not hold Iona, motherland of all my dreams, as something rare and apart, one who has her own  lovely solitude and her own solitary loveliness that is like no other loveliness? In your heart, as in mine, it lies an island of revelation and peace.’ These writings became so popular at the time that she was listed in the social directory of ‘Who’s Who’ from 1899-1905. Yet few guessed at the identity of Fiona Macleod, an identity that even his wife, Elizabeth, kept hidden as did his ‘secret lover’ Edith Wingate Rider.

From 1893-1905 Sharp wrote as Fiona Macleod and revealed a treasury of ancient Faery Lore dealing with both Christian and pre-Christian beliefs, revealing unknown aspects of the life of St.Columba and several beautiful stories of the Christ child. Sharp, as Macleod, found it easy to step between the worlds and write enchanting prose, poetry and plays about the ancient Celtic world, revealing the lost traces of the old Gaelic traditions for the first time in the English language.

After Sharp’s death in 1905 Rutland Boughton produced the opera ‘The Immortal Hour’ (words by Macleod) displaying on stage the contact between humans and the hidden worlds on the other side of the veil. Elizabeth Sharp wrote ‘A Memoir’ (1911), a large but ultimately frustrating book as it tells us little about the creation and dynamics of the Sharp/Macleod axis. However, it does reveal certain things such as ‘the three influences that taught him most in childhood were the wind, the woods and the sea.’ In the conclusion to the memoir she quotes the early feminist and theosophist Mrs. Mona Caird that Sharp lives ‘almost unencumbered by the infinity of his perceptions; by the thronging interests, intuitions, glimpses of wonders, beauties and mysteries which made life for him a pageant and a splendour such as is only disclosed to the soul that has to bear the torment and the revelations of genius.’

In recent times Steve Blamires has become a champion of the cause, taking up the challenge of writing a new biography ‘The Little Book of the Great Enchantment’ (R.J. Stewart Books 2008) and a collection of Selected Writings, ‘Foam of the Past’ (Skylight Press 2014) which is a wonderful collection of her work for those wanting to investigate this Celtic marvel.

Further Reading

There are many cheap re-prints available of the work on-line.

The main works of Fiona Macleod and William Sharp are listed in Appendix 1 of ‘The Little Book of the Great Enchantment’. Recommended are:

The Sin-Eater and Other Tales (1899)

From the Hills of Dream (1896)

The Divine Adventure: Iona (1900)

The Winged Destiny: Studies in the Spiritual History of the Gael (1904)

Where the Forest Murmurs (1906)