The Fastest Neighbourhood in Town: Graham R. Tomson in St John’s Wood

  • Ana Parejo Vadillo
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


Katharine Tynan described Graham R. Tomson (Rosamund Marriott Watson) as the ‘woman fin de siècle’, ‘impressionable to the seen world and the unseen’, as an urban poet ‘touched to the magic of crowds’ and ‘alert to the magnetism’ of cities (my italics). Tynan’s remarks brilliantly illuminate the underlying qualities of Graham R. Tomson’s poetics and her sensuous engagement with the modern city. It also presents Tomson as an exuberant poet, overtly exposed to city life and to its urbanscape, who willingly allows herself through the world of the senses to experience the ‘magic’ and ‘magnetism’ of cities. Tynan’s description of Tomson indeed goes beyond words to enter the phenomenological world of experience through sensoria. If Meynell saw herself as an impressionist artist who respected her audience but asked to be trusted, Tomson’s attitude is quite different. If Meynell was a detached, dispassionate, sensible passenger, Tomson on the other hand, was an engaged, passionate, sensuous one. If Meynell offered her impressionistic accounts of urban life, Tomson let herself be impressed by the city. If Meynell was an active passenger, Tomson was a passive one, allowing her body to be touched by the metropolis. But Tynan’s praise of Tomson’s fine and sensuous nature, which alludes to her intimate affinity with urban life, insinuates, one suspects, something else; namely that Tomson’s embodiment of the urban is expressive of her radical and transgressive poetics.


Urban Life Circle Line Garden Wall Active Passenger Urban Identity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    See Katharine Tynan, ‘A Literary Causerie’, Speaker 29 (October 1892): 535. Quoted in Hughes, ‘My Sister, My Self’, 12.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Alan Montgomery Eyre, Saint John’s Wood: Its History, Its Houses, Its Haunts and Its Celebrities (London: Chapman and Hall, 1913), 296. This is by far one of the best studies of St John’s Wood and it offers a detailed account of the celebrity inhabitants of the neighbourhood.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Amanda Anderson, Tainted Souls and Painted Faces: The Rhetoric of Fallenness in Victorian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), 2.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Augusta Webster, ‘A Castaway’ in Portraits (London: Macmillan, 1870), 38.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See Hugh McLeod, Class and Religion in the Late Victorian City (London: Croom Helm, 1974), 200.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    See Rosemary Ashton, Little Germany: German Refugees in Victorian Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 169.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Eyre, Saint John’s Wood, 297. Donald Thomas writes that Mathilde Blind was ‘looked to as the means of saving Swinburne from the grotesque routines of Circus Road […]. She was infatuated by Swinburne, who expressed admiration for her poetry and her family’s revolutionary faith. But he ignored her devotion and the opportunities created for him to propose marriage to her.’s ee Donald Thomas, Swinbume: The Poet in his World (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979), 150. For an excellent examination of Blind’s poetics in relation to Swinburne’s, see James Diedrick ‘“My love is a force that will force you to care”: Subversive Sexuality in Mathilde Blind’s Dramatic Monologues’ in Victorian Poetry 40:4 (2002): 359–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 13.
    Mathilde Blind, The Poetical Works of Mathilde Blind. Edited by Arthur Symons with a memoir by Richard Garnett (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1900), 17. Garnett argues that Mathilde Blind was a poor collector and that she was finally discharged from her duties.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    William Michael Rossetti, Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti, ed. Roger W. Peattie (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990), 275. See letter 203.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Sims’ mother was a feminist activist. At her house a number of women (and men) activists, who worked for the welfare of women and who advocated female suffrage, met regularly and held private meetings: ‘But nothing delighted her [Sims’ mother] more than to gather her “working friends,” as she called them, around her at our house in Hamilton Terrace [also in St John’s Wood]. Among our frequent guests were Augusta Webster, the poetess, Karl and Mathilde Blind, Dr. Anna Kingsford, Mrs. Fenwick–Miller –she was Miss Fenwick–Miller then –Emily Faithfull, Ella Dietz, Dr. Zerffi, Professor Plumtree, Samuel Butler, the author of “Erewhon,” Frances Power Cobbe, and occasionally Lydia Becker.’s ee George R. Sims, My Life: Sixty Years’ Recollections of Bohemian London (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1917), 53.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    Levy, Diary. Entry for Sunday 14 April 1889. The diary and letters of Olive Garnett give an excellent account of Sergei Stepniak’s presence in late–Victorian literary circles, most notably the Garnetts. See Olive Garnett, Tea and Anarchy! The Bloomsbury Diary of Olive Garnett, 1890–1893 ed. by Barry C. Johnson (Birmingham: Bartletts Press, 1989) andGoogle Scholar
  12. Olive Garnett, Olive and Stepniak: The Bloomsbury Diary of Olive Garnett, 1893–1895, ed. Barry C. Johnson (Birmingham: Bartletts Press, 1993). During the late 1880s Stepniak lived in St John’s Wood. To see a photograph of his house see Eyre, Saint John’s Wood, facing page 290. He moved to 31 Blandford Road, Bedford Park (W4) in 1892 and to 45 Woodstock Road, also in Bedford Park, in 1894. The British Library owns a letter written by Stepniak to Mrs Tomson (Add. MS. 42584f.151) in which he sends her press notices of one of his lectures. The letter is undated.Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    For a more detailed account of Sergei Stepniak’s political ideas see James W. Hulse, Revolutionists in London: A Study of Five Unorthodox Socialists (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970). See especially Chapter II, ‘Stepniak: From Terrorism to Liberalism’, 29–52.Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    See, for example, Mathilde Blind’s letter to William Sharp in Elizabeth A. Sharp, William Sharp (Fiona MacLeod): A Memoir, vol. 1 (London: Heinemann, 1912), 235.Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    See Richard Garnett’s introduction to ‘Mathilde Blind, 1847–1896’ in Alfred H. Miles (ed.), The Poets and the Poetry of the Century, vol. VII (London: Hutchinson, 1898), 609.Google Scholar
  16. 33.
    Julius M. Price, My Bohemian Days in London (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1914), 3.Google Scholar
  17. 35.
    See Cecil Smith, A Short History of St. John’s Wood and Some of Its Former Inhabitants (Shrewsbury: Wilding & Son, 1942), 12, 13, 14.Google Scholar
  18. 37.
    See Matt Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 131.Google Scholar
  19. 44.
    John Lawrence Waltman, The Early London Journals of Elizabeth Robins Pennell (PhD thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1976), 444–5. Entry for Wednesday 9 July 1891. The entry says, ‘In the rain to Mrs. Tomson’s and with her to hear Prince Kropotkine [sic] lecture on Siberia and its exiles to a fairly large audience.’ Kropotkin was a Russian refugee, friend of Stepniak, who lived first in Harrow and later in Acton.Google Scholar
  20. See George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic, The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin (London: Boardman & Co, 1949).Google Scholar
  21. 49.
    Graham R. Tomson, ‘A Summer Night’ in A Summer Night and Other Poems (London: Methuen, 1891), 1–2.Google Scholar
  22. 55.
    Rosamund Marriott Watson (Graham R. Tomson), Vespertilia and Other Verses (London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1895), 7–9. This was her first collection of poems under the name ‘Rosamund Marriott Watson’. She dedicated it to Alice Meynell ‘in sincere admiration and friendship’. Some of these poems were written while she was still living in St John’s Wood, as the poem ‘At Kensal Green Cemetery’, which was written 21 January 1892, illustrates.Google Scholar
  23. 58.
    Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful and Other Pre-Revolutionary Writings (1757, 1759; London: Penguin, 1998), 86.Google Scholar
  24. 65.
    See, for example, May Probyn’s ‘The Model’ in A Ballad of the Road and Other Poems (London: W. Satchell, 1883), 37–40.Google Scholar
  25. 68.
    Graham R. Tomson, ‘A Silhouette’ in The Bird-Bride: A Volume of Ballads and Sonnets (London: Longmans, Green, 1889), 67–70.Google Scholar
  26. 71.
    See Deborah E. B. Weiner, Architecture and Social Reform in Late–Victorian London (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994), 65–80.Google Scholar
  27. 75.
    Christina Rossetti, The Complete Poems. Text by R. W. Crump. Notes and Introduction By Betty S. Flowers (London: Penguin, 2001), 796.Google Scholar
  28. 86.
    A. Mary F. Robinson, The Crowned Hippolytus, Translated from Euripides with New Poems (London: C. Kegan Paul, 1881), 157–9.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ana Parejo Vadillo 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ana Parejo Vadillo

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations