© Copyright 2023 Sara Alves Fernandes, Toronto Metropolitan University
THE VENTURE VOLUME 2
“The Skeleton” by Edward Thomas was published in The Venture: An Annual of Art and Literature Volume 2 (1905). The Venture only released two volumes in 1903 and 1905 (Kooistra). The first volume was initially released in 1903 however to make the issues seem more annual, John Baillie the publisher, advertised it as if it was released in 1904 (Kooistra). Baillie had a preference for “imaginative art” instead of realism as well as he had a preference for the works he displays to contain topics of love, sex, sexuality and death, which is demonstrated in his art and literary selections for the periodical (Kooistra). The periodical contains thirteen stories with “three of these set in contemporary London and three having European setting” (Kooistra). As well as Baillie selected numerous stories that are fanciful and some, including “The Skeleton” involved “horror and haunting” (Kooistra). This suggests not only a pattern of the stories Baillie selected for the volume but also connects to why Edward Thomas would want to publish in this magazine and why his story was selected for publication, as he is known for writing about England’s countryside. As shown in this quote from the Yellow Nineties about The Venture, “Marriott and Thomas set their stories in the countryside, connecting the natural environment to those who died there and continue to haunt the place” (Kooistra). However, despite getting many positive reviews, neither volumes made any profit so Baillie stopped publishing, which resulted in The Venture being “one of the last and best-produced of the late-Victorian little magazines” (Kooistra). Nonetheless, while he was publishing, “John Baillie made an innovative contribution to the little magazine as a publishing genre, bringing exhibition, print, and performance cultures together in portable form” (Kooistra). Due to it being more newly discovered and researched there is very little on this magazine which raises a lot of questions regarding the connection between Edward Thomas and The Venture. However, one can assume that Thomas, who at the time the magazine was published in 1905 was only known as a literary critic, decided to publish his own work in the magazine in hopes that it being published will boost his writing career. At the beginning of his career he was a literary critic and wrote and edited for numerous newspapers and magazines which is hypothetically how he ended up publishing “The Skeleton” in The Venture Volume 2, however there is no proof of this or even any connection of Thomas to the magazine, disregarding his contribution of “The Skeleton” to the magazine. It seems as if “The Skeleton,” is a forgotten piece of literature published by Thomas.
Edward Thomas was a literary critic, editor, writer and poet, who would occasionally write under the pseudonym Edward Eastaway when he began publishing his poetry and had six poems published under that name (Poetry Foundation). Edward Thomas was born in 1876 in London and he ultimately met his death in 1917 when he fought World War I which resulted in him being occasionally referred to as a war poet (Poetry Foundation). He is well known for his poetry, which he only published later in his literary career around 1915 when he joined the war, however he has published numerous books before and his work consists of many forms of literacy such as essays, biographies, national history, reviews, fiction and more (Poetry Foundation). The topics of what he wrote about varied but he was well known for the recurrence of the topic of nature and his life growing up in rural England in his stories. His stories also carried feelings of disconnection, alienation and unsettledness (Poetry Foundation). Rowan Middleton in, “Edward Thomas, Poetry and the Languages of Nature” discusses that Thomas uses nature often in his work and argues that,“this recurring theme is used to express a fascination with the hidden processes and forms that transcend our everyday awareness of the world. (…) the experience of dispossession and displacement in Thomas’ poetry can, in part, be traced back to the biographical and social conditions of his life” (Middleton). Which suggests that Thomas alludes to his life through his descriptions of nature. This topic is similarly discussed by Martin Brooks in the academic journal, “Running the ‘Household Poems’: Edward Thomas and Money”, which analyzes Thomas’s family life, financial status, marital problems with his wife and how he relates nature to his family life. He was married to his wife, Helen Berenice Noble from 1899 until his death. They also had four children of which he refers to in his writing. However, Brooks suggests that Thomas may have had marital problems with his wife which is shown in letters he sent and his poems. He also discusses how Thomas struggled with seeing nature’s beauty but doesn’t feel the beauty, “The quartet depicts Thomas unable to ‘feel’ when he encounters countryside places or describes his relationships with his family” (Thomas). One can relate his feelings towards the countryside to be the same he feels towards his family. This could be a result of him feeling as if he should be happy that he is with his wife and his family, following a heteronormative life, but is unable to feel truly happy as he isn’t truly himself. This is supported in “The Skeleton” when Thomas talks about how he finds the beauty in nature whenever he is with his friend Philaster and the world feels dull when he isn’t with his friend. His lack of emotion around his wife and family hints that he may not feel the same romantic love towards his wife as he feels towards Philaster. Brooks analyzes in the journal as well that Thomas had marital problems with his wife and one can argue that he was with her as a cover for his homosexuality. This is shown in this quote from the journal which is an analysis of Thomas’s letters that he wrote to his wife, “his letters to Helen involve affection, kindness, and his regular sign-off that he is ‘wholly yours’. But they also involve confusion, irritation, and doubt that he loved her adequately, (…) Thomas gestures at a more complete intimacy with Helen by telling her that he does not know who he is” (Brooks). The journal suggests that this feeling was due to financial strain; however, one can also interpret this as a loss of himself from being in an heteronormative relationship. He feels as if can’t love her properly because he is in a heterosexual relationship when he longs to be in a homosexual one. This essay will argue that Edward Thomas’ use of nature in “The Skeleton” and his other works, alludes to his romance with Philaster as he uses nature to represent forbidden male love.
MALE LOVE IN “THE SKELETON”
“The Skeleton,” is found in The Venture Volume 2 and it is a story about Thomas’s friend, who recently passed away. His friend was named Philaster, which seems to be a fake name to represent some who he knew in real life. This story is a good representation of Thomas’s well known used theme in which he describes nature, the English countryside and beauty in great detail. In this text, Edward Thomas talked about the beauty of nature, how his friend viewed the world and how the world in turn viewed his friend. He spends the story observing how Philaster interacted with nature and how nature interacts with him revealing how he himself viewed Philaster. He talks about how the natural world cherished Philister, which one could argue actually represented his true feelings of love towards his friend. In this story he describes nature at great length and personifies nature to relate to the feelings he feels when he is roaming the countryside with his friend. As seen in the quote from the story, “every moon, every sun, and all the winds cherished and changed him, as if it had been their sweetest toil” (Thomas 18). By personifying the moons, stars etc, by claiming they cherish his friend he reveals how much he loves and he admires Philaster. He uses nature to reveal how he feels about his friend, in words he cannot say he feels himself so he expresses in the only way he knows how, through nature. This is seen later as well in the story, “I went out to the barn and found that a lattice window concealed me and yet allowed me to look at him. I could see also the valley and the hills; hundreds of oaks; (…) but I knew not what they meant, and they were as things mentioned in a dull book, until my curving glance fell again upon Philaster, and then all were harmonized” (Thomas 25). He hides himself in nature and observes Philaster and the world. Thomas can’t find meaning in the world until he looks at his friend and everything makes sense to him. This also shows how love can change the way one sees the world. Where Thomas is lost in nature, hiding in a barn, unable to understand the world, once he looks at the one he loves the world makes sense, and is harmonized.
ANALYSIS OF “THE OTHER” IN COMPARISON TO “THE SKELETON”
Analyzing other poems from Edward Thomas in particular his poem called “The Other” helps support the theory that “The Skeleton” is a story of male love and that Thomas himself engaged in homosexual activities. In particular, this section will analyze the recurrence of an inn that Thomas references in both works. Where “The Skeleton” is more vague in terms of male love, “The Other” almost explicitly tells the tale of a man who sneaks out to an inn to have relations with a man. As seen in this quote, “That time was brief: once more at inn/ And upon road I sought my man/ Till once amid a tap-room’s din/ Loudly he asked for me, began/ To speak, as if it had been a sin,/ Of how I thought and dreamed and ran/ After him thus, day after day:/ He lived as one under a ban” (Thomas). This quote shows that he would go to this inn searching for this man fearful he would get caught with another man. The word sin, suggests that this meeting with this man is seemingly forbidden. This is further proven when he later says, “For all desire. These made not whole;/ They sowed a new desire, to kiss/ Desire’s self beyond control,/ Desire of desire. And yet/ Life stayed on within my soul” (Thomas). This concludes that he has felt homosexual desire and may have had relations with another man, further demonstrating the point that “The Skeleton” is about male love. As likewise, “The Skeleton,” references an inn as well which suggests Philaster may be the same man he met in this inn. Demonstrated in this quote from the Skeleton, “I have seen him in the autumn come bemused with spiritual joy into a country inn, and raise a fear by his wild accent and wild eyes and his nostrils wide as if he smelt pines or the sea. Slowly the beer and tobacco altered the sphere of his devotions” (Thomas 19). Devotion potentially meaning Philasters love for Thomas. “The Other” also connects to the argument that Thomas uses nature to allude to his feelings. Sen at the beginning of the poem as he describes himself walking through a dark forest and seeing the inn bring light, “The forest ended. Glad I was/ To feel the light, and hear the hum/ Of bees, and smell the drying grass/ And the sweet mint, because I had come/ To an end of forest, and because/ Here was both road and inn, the sum/ Of what’s not forest. But ’twas here” (Thomas). In this poem, the inn represents a place of light and joy from the otherwise dark and forbidding forest. This could parallel the joy he feels being with the man with the inn representing a safe haven. Where the forest parallels his life outside of meeting this man further proving the point that he uses nature to parallel his emotions.
NATURE AS A VEIL FOR HOMOSEXUALITY
Thomas uses nature to disguise his homosexual love, which is seen in his constant reference to hedges in his work. Thomas often uses nature as an allusion to his emotions as shown in “The Skeleton” and “The Other” and is also supported by a journal article: “Edward Thomas and the Imagination,” which analyzes Edward Thomas’s perspective on imagination and how he uses imagination in his writing. This article in particular analyzes how Thomas uses nature in particular wind to allude to the feeling of freedom, “Thomas writes that although people can never achieve that idealized imagination, poets are nonetheless driven to seek it. He writes that they have an “impulse” to use their faculty of imagination to try to make parts of nature into symbols.” (Brooks 580). This proves the point that Thomas believes poets in connection to his works, make nature into symbols. Supporting the fact that Thomas uses nature to symbolize events and feelings in his life. Thomas uses nature as a metaphor for queer love. Considering how this poem was published in 1905 he wouldn’t have been able to be open about being queer, he would convey his feelings instead through poetry by using nature as a cover. This argument is backed up by another journal article written by Brooks called, “Edward Thomas and Hedges: England’s going out of Stile” which argues that Thomas uses hedges to represent a sanctuary. Thomas alludes to his repressed queerness in his imagery of nature because hedges are known to be thick and hard to see through which could represent how he hides his true self as someone would hide behind a hedge. In this journal article Brooks argues that, “when Thomas’s speakers take the role of observers, they move away from enclosure or industry and foreground the hedge as a site of life, growth, and nesting” (Brooks). Much like the inn represented warmth in Thomas’s writing, so do hedges. This is representative of how he feels a comfort hiding in his hedges where he feels accepted and away from society, similarly as he feels in the inn with his love.
In conclusion, through analysis of Edward Thomas’s life and writings one can conclude that Thomas uses nature to disguise his homosexuality in “The Skeleton”. This is seen in his feeling of being unable to truly love his wife seen in his letters and his disconnection to nature when he is around his family. As well as in “The Skeleton,” where he uses the way nature reacts to Philaster to allude to his love for him and how he feels more connected to nature with Philaster than he does when describing his wife. In addition, while analyzing his other poem “The Other”, it suggests that he was in a homosexual relationship with another man as he sneaks away to meet a man at this inn that he references in “The Skeleton” as well. Finally, through analyzing Thomas’s use of hedges in his work it reveals how he uses nature to hide his true self in.
Brooks, Martin. “Edward Thomas and the Imagination”. English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, vol. 63, Issue 4, 2020, pp. 580-590. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/751264.
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Brooks, Martin. Running the ‘Household Poems’: Edward Thomas and Money. The Cambridge Quarterly, Volume 50, Issue 1, 2021, pp. 58–75. https://doi.org/10.1093/camqtly/bfab006
Kooistra, Lorraine Janzen. “General Introduction to The Venture: An Annual of Art and Literature (1903-1905).” Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, n. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2023. https://1890s.ca/VV-general-introduction/
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Thomas, Edward. “The Other by Edward Thomas.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation.
Thomas, Edward. “The Skeleton.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 2, 1905, pp. 17-26. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2022. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2022, https://1890s.ca/vv2-thomas-skeleton