The life of GD member Clotilde Rosalie Regina von Wyss in more detail: PERSONALITY, BELIEFS, RELATIONSHIPS WITH MARIE STOPES AND ETHELWYN MACKIE
For those of you who’ve arrived here other than via my file ‘Clotilde’s life in dates’, she was born in Switzerland in 1871, spent most of her life in England, and died in Surrey in 1938. She was a biologist and naturalist; a teacher, then a lecturer; and a writer. She never married. She had a long-lasting relationship with another woman.
One man who knew the staff of the London Day Training College (LDTC) in its early years first as a student, then as a younger colleague, said many years later that each of them had possessed a uniqueness that made them memorable. One of the things he seems to mean was that they were all at least a little eccentric - he obviously thought (but didn’t like to say) that it was true in Clotilde’s case. Perhaps her younger colleague had heard the tale of how Clotilde would cross London by tube to work with a wood ants’ nest in her handbag.
Percy Nunn, who was Clotilde’s colleague at LDTC for three years and her boss for nearly another 30, called her “a rare and very special person”. Teachers, students and pupils agreed that her enthusiasm for what she was teaching (and for the process of teaching it) infected even people who had started out thinking the subject was boring and irrelevant. They say that she was witty and vivacious. They admired her courage. And they all agreed - even one who was later very bitter towards her - that Clotilde was popular with everyone, contemporaries and young people alike.
Clotilde’s lack of embarrassment in stating her love of the natural world did embarrass some others. Percy Nunn was probably not embarrassed. He described her as having “an almost...mysterious intimacy” with nature. However, Dr Percival Gurrey (another colleague) remembered with some discomfort that a favourite phrase of hers was, “You could get down on your knees to that” - ‘that’ being a dandelion, or even a particularly good student essay. Some of her colleagues were obviously worried that that one day Clotilde might actually do that - get down on her knees to something that moved her - say, in the middle of the staff room. That sort of thing does make the English cringe though of course Clotilde wasn’t English.
A FEMALE WORLD
It’s struck me as I’ve been researching Clotilde’s life, how much she lived in a world of women.
Of course, men were around and they were in control: they held the top jobs, they held the purse strings, they took the decisions and women had to cope. But Clotilde’s experience of a world of women wasn’t that unusual during her lifetime. For various reasons, there were more women living in Britain than men; and assumptions about the appropriate behaviour of men and women - the public life/private life divide - though being challenged, were still tending to cause the two sexes to inhabit different social spaces.
Clotilde doesn’t seem to have had any brothers; her father had gone probably before she was a teenager; and any other male relations she might have had lived in another country. She went to a girls’ school with women teachers; learned how to teach at a college with only women students; before teaching in two more girls’ schools and then another women-only college. Most LDTC students even in the early years were women - the generally-held view being that men didn’t need to be taught how to teach - and the results of the first World War were that the preponderance of women students was compounded by the employment of more women staff-members in the 1920s. Under those circumstances, I don’t find it surprising that Clotilde’s closest relationships were with other women.
CLOTILDE, MARIE STOPES and all that jazz
Marie Stopes’ papers (now in the British Library) contain a group of letters to her from Clotilde von Wyss (written between 1899 and 1909) which show a close relationship between the two of them. Naturally, Marie Stopes’ biographers have all studied them closely, seeing them as important evidence from Stopes’ formative years. I hope I’ve studied them equally closely, but I want to discuss the relationship in a very different way. Focusing not on Stopes but on Clotilde, I’ve come up with a rather different picture of what was going on than the Stopes biographers have tended to see. I want to make a number of points.
1) with two exceptions, what Marie Stopes wrote to Clotilde von Wyss during those years hasn’t survived. Stopes’ views on the relationship seem to have changed a lot - essentially getting more embittered - in later years, ending with her making an attack on a woman teacher she had known, on the grounds that she had been a lesbian who preyed on her pupils. Naturally (given what Stopes was saying about her) the teacher wasn’t named in the book, but she’s generally thought (on the basis of the letters) to be Clotilde.
2) as far as I know, no letters from Clotilde to anybody else have survived. We have nothing to compare Clotilde’s to Marie with, to see if the relationship with Marie was unique in Clotilde’s life.
3) about the language Clotilde uses. Marie Stopes’ biographers have made a great deal of the passionate phrases contained in some of Clotilde’s letters, but I would like to suggest that passionate phrases were part of Clotilde’s character. I hope I’ve made clear in my section on Clotilde’s working life, that they were part of the normal way in which she expressed herself about the natural world - even about students’ essays. She was quite un-selfconscious when she was moved. For example: “I ran wildly at Mother”, Clotilde wrote as she described what she did when she opened a welcome and thoughtful birthday present in August 1899. (Actually she ran at the wrong person - the present, an artist’s easel, was from Marie). It’s as if the words of everyday English isn’t sufficient for Clotilde to express her feelings with, when she is strongly moved.
Marie Stopes also uses passionate phrases in one of the two items written by her and filed with the collection of Clotilde’s letters: and on that occasion (July 1900) she was writing on behalf of herself and three other pupils as they sent Clotilde a gift at the end of the academic year. “The enclosed” Marie writes (apparently it was a brooch) is “fraught with meaning”, representing as it does, not only, “a deep inner tie of friendship” but a “brotherhood” (sic - and interesting seeing they are all girls - ‘sisterhood’ doesn’t convey quite the same meaning, I guess).
It’s High Romantic stuff - almost like opera - an aria by Verdi, say. A little old-fashioned, perhaps - it made me think more of Byron and Shelley than the turn of the 20th century. It’s a particular way of communicating feeling. No other letters written by Clotilde have survived as far as I know, so we don’t know how she expressed herself in letters to other pupils, say - Olga Kapteyn, for example, who shared interests with Clotilde that Marie Stopes didn’t, and who was still in touch with Clotilde as late as 1909.
4) “no man is an island” - still less a woman. Women always come as a package deal; and other people were involved in the relationship between Clotilde and Marie Stopes - on both sides. The letters show that Marie Stopes often visited Clotilde at home. However, Marie wasn’t unique in this because the letters show Clotilde inviting other people to the house she shared with her Mother and sister - in April 1900 Clotilde bought buns for Gertie (probably her pupil Gertrude Colls) and someone called Dora (another pupil, I imagine), who were going to come to tea, and invited Marie round to share them.
Marie got to know Clotilde’s mother and sister and she obviously developed a great fondness for Mrs von Wyss - she was very sweet to her in the few months after the death of Mr von Wyss. Of a bouquet of flowers Marie had sent to Mrs von Wyss in April 1900, Clotilde wrote, “You have made my Mother happy and what that means to me few can realize”.
Conversely, Clotilde knew Mr and Mrs Stopes - probably only formally, but she did know them. Marie’s father was a palaeontologist - amateur, but well-known. Clotilde had been pleased to meet a man with whom she had interests in common. Two years after Marie had sent condolences to Clotilde when her father died, it was Clotilde’s turn to send sympathy on the death of a father; and in her condolences letter to Marie Stopes, Clotilde talked - with her usual ‘High Romantic’ language - of the “reverence and admiration” she felt for Mr Stopes. Marie’s sister Winifred (Winnie) was a pupil at North London Collegiate School so of course Clotilde knew her too - well enough for Winnie, as well as Marie, to write to Clotilde during the holidays. It’s clear, though - very clear - that Marie was Clotilde’s favourite of the two. Winnie tended to get remembered as an afterthought in Clotilde’s letters to Marie and there’s not much mention of Winnie in the letters Clotilde wrote after she and Marie had both left North London Collegiate School.
5) June Rose in particular has criticised Clotilde - as the elder woman, the one with responsibilities - for allowing herself to have a close relationship with a pupil. In Clotilde’s defence I just want to say that - because Clotilde had trained as a teacher at a young age for the times; and because Marie Stopes started going to school very late (her mother had taught her at home for several years) - there was an age-gap of only nine years between them.
6) the biographers focusing on Marie Stopes have not noticed, I think, that the years 1900 and 1901 were a difficult period for Clotilde, making her particularly vulnerable to and grateful for expressions of sympathy and kindness and declarations of love.
The two years began with news reaching the von Wyss’s in London, of the death of Clotilde’s father at the beginning of February 1900. The day the news carme, Marie had noticed that Clotilde was distressed about something while not knowing the cause. She sent her some flowers, and got in response a ‘thank you’ note full of despair and anguish. “I have lost my Father then before ever I knew a Father’s love and care”, Clotilde wrote, and ended that sentence with a phrase she used several times more in her short letter: “the bitterness of it!” I suppose that Marie had asked after all the family, because Clotilde went on to tell Marie not just about her own reactions but also about the feelings of her Mother and Martha: “The event has roused in us all the memories of sorrow and trouble unspeakable long, long buried”. She herself had lain awake all the previous night, regretting “this sad end of a sad life” and - though she didn’t put this into words - the end of any hope that she would ever have any kind of relationship with her father. Still over-wrought and “worn out with the strain of keeping up appearances all day”, she told Marie that she had “consecrated” Marie’s lilies “to the memory of my Father, they shall be a symbol of forgiveness”. There was a lot that Clotilde, her Mother and her sister, would have to try to forgive.
Perhaps such a letter shouldn’t have been sent by a teacher to a pupil, but the shock of the death and the emotions it had aroused, had put Clotilde far beyond thinking of that, she was thinking of Marie as a friend, who’d made a kind gesture of support at a desperate moment.
One of the results of the death of Mr von Wyss - or at least, something that happened within a few months of his death - was that Mrs von Wyss decided to return to live in Switzerland. I think that Mrs von Wyss and Martha had left England by October 1900, probably by the summer. Clotilde opted to stay where work and thus income was guaranteed but without her Mother and sister she began to feel lonely and described herself to Marie as “unutterably homesick”, even for a land she hadn’t lived in for over a decade. This wasn’t the right time for Clotilde to move away from London to a new job in Cambridge, but good jobs didn’t come up very often and she probably felt that she couldn’t pass on the opportunity of one that she heard of in the autumn of 1900. The application process was lengthy, and there was an unexpected fortnight’s delay in telling Clotilde whether or not she was actually going to be offered the post. Clotilde caught a cold and felt very low.
Clotilde did get the job, and by April 1901 was esconced at the “Training College Cambridge”. She had been allotted some rooms on the college premises but wrote to Marie that she was still finding it difficult to get to know anyone very well, as she was having to work so very hard. Wearing black for the death of Queen Victoria kept her spirits low and by this time Clotilde was sounding like a person suffering from depression. That and overwork began to tell on her - she wrote a letter to Marie which she found in her desk several weeks later - she’d forgotten to post it. She was worrying about something that she didn’t elaborate on in her letter of apology. It may have been anxiety about her work not being up to her own standards or because the job as a whole was not turning out as she’d expected; because she exclaimed, “oh Marie I am so endlessly, endlessly disappointed”. However, it may have been family matters that were worrying her, not the job at all, because in a letter written while visiting her family in Switzerland later in 1901, she mentioned that there was now “bitter feeling” between her Mother and Martha, Mrs von Wyss being “disappointed in my sister” for reasons Clotilde didn’t elaborate (so presumably Marie Stopes knew what they were).
The summer vacation of 1901 offered Clotilde a few weeks of respite, but then it was back to Cambridge where she hoped she would be able to “produce another year’s work, with better results”. And it was in November 1901 that Clotilde received from Marie a letter telling her that Marie had received an offer of marriage from a fellow student at University College London. The letter had assured Clotilde that Marie had turned the offer down, but the whole business gave Clotilde confirmation of a fear she was already living with: “a vague dread that you are drifting beyond my reach”. She knew that her relationships with her ex-pupils were changing from her side as well: she had cancelled plans to spend time in the summer holidays in London, in order to stay longer with her Mother; and once term had begun she had only had time to write to her Mother and the short letters necessary for business - she hadn’t written to Marie Stopes, for example, since August.
The letter Clotilde wrote in reply was quoted or referred to at length in all the biographies of Marie Stopes that I read: it’s the letter in which Clotilde wrote, “You have outgrown me, little one, and our life-streams make different windings”. None of Stopes’ biographers considered or at least they didn’t quote the words Clotilde wrote on either side of that sentence: “Can I in any way stay a stream...or determine its course long ago marked out by natural conditions?” Clotilde wrote, using metaphors from the natural world as she often did. “Nor would I do it if I could.” This is where the “life-streams” sentence belongs: “our life-streams make different windings. Would we wish it otherwise?”
Clotilde might not like it, but she was facing up to the fact that her ex-pupils were growing up; and would order their lives in ways she wouldn’t have wanted (more about what she would have wanted below). She didn’t act offended or hurt at Marie’s grown-up relationships with men: she ended her letter by making arrangements to meet her and Gertie Colls soon in London; and by sending “Love to Winnie”.
Times had changed though: Clotilde didn’t write to Marie Stopes again for over a year, until she had finally pulled out of the long period of depression that she had started to slide into in 1900. The death of Marie’s father late in 1902 prompted Clotilde to write again and tell Marie some news that would make it easier for them to meet in future - she would soon be working two afternoons each week in London. She had been offered the chance to leave the job in Cambridge the following summer and put behind her the “failures” which “threatened to choke all that is best in me and rob me of all vigour”. Clotilde wrote that it had been, “high time my fortune’s wheel should turn”; and evidence that it had done so was her current feeling that she was, “ready to move mountains”. That being so, Clotilde thought it would be nice to see Marie, either as part of her working afternoons in London, or if Marie could spare the time, over a weekend in Cambridge.
The relationship was certainly winding down, though as late as 1902 Marie was still sending Clotilde a book for Christmas. The remaining three letters from Clotilde in the Marie Stopes collection are all short notes. The first of the three was sent in October 1903, after Clotilde had not been at home when Marie called on her as part of her farewells before leaving to study in Munich. The next after that was in July 1904, in reply to one from Marie, saying she couldn’t meet her on the day Marie suggested as she’d already agreed to spend it with old friends of her Mother’s before leaving for Switzerland on her yearly round of family visits. Clotilde was very busy supervising teaching practices but hoped to be able to see Marie again if Marie could call on her one evening after 7.
Then all-but-five years went by before Clotilde wrote the last note in the Marie Stopes collection: in April 1909 she asked if Marie would be able and willing to come to a tea-party she was holding for other girls in “the old biology class” to meet up with Olga Kapteyn.
And that was it: not with a bang, with a whimper. Quite how we get from that to the long quote just below is hard to fathom. Unless Marie went to the tea party and there was a ‘bang’ then.
This is how (in 1926) Marie Stopes described Clotilde’s behaviour on p54-55 of her Sex and the Young: the teacher developed relationships with, “a dozen or so girls of adolescent age, each one of whom separately she made believe that she alone was her special favourite...She vowed to each one, and extracted a vow in exchange from each girl, that she would never marry but remain vowed and dedicated to herself. Each separately deluded girl felt herself pledged to remain all her life in a highfaluting (sic) fantastic kind of secret Order based on a muddled mixture of mysticism, pseudo-theosophical fantasies of ‘purity’ and crude physical expressions of personal love and sex feeling. The teacher accepted presents from the girls far beyond their means...Yet with it all so cleverly did she manage the veil of secret loyalty which she spun and which is naturally so congenial to a young mind, that all this continued for years undetected by either parents or head mistress”.
Naturally, Marie Stopes didn’t refer to Clotilde by name: if she had done, Clotilde would have had good grounds to sue her for libel.
I’m going to discuss the “kind of secret Order” below but here I’d just like to say that when she wrote the account of the popular but predatory and manipulative teacher, surely Stopes knew perfectly well that she was exaggerating. Perhaps she hadn’t looked at Clotilde’s letters in a long while; or only with eyes unable any longer to see them in their original light. Ruth Hall, in her Stopes biography, says that Marie Stopes had discovered the existence of masturbation and homosexuality at the age of 29 - that is, around 1909. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the relationship between Clotilde and Marie Stopes finally ceased at that time. It seems to me that after these discoveries, Marie started to see sexual perversion everywhere, including places and relationships where it had never been dreamt of.
The section in Sex and the Young may have been decrying perverted sexuality but what I see in the long quote is someone still raging against having discovered that in the competition to be the popular teacher’s Special One, she had not been the only winner. And yet, to feel such outrage at being duped, Marie Stopes would have had to forget that although Clotilde was particularly close to Marie, Marie was one of a small group of favoured pupils, “the old biology class”, all of whom were Marie’s friends. I’m sure that the three other girls who clubbed together with Marie to buy Clotilde the brooch were part of that group.
How Special was Marie Stopes to Clotilde? Pretty special, I think, particularly in the period 1899-1901. Was it love? Perhaps it was, on both sides, particularly during 1900, when Clotilde was struggling to cope with her father’s death; and both she and Marie were thinking of leaving North London Collegiate School soon. Clotilde’s letters make it clear that Marie thought she loved Clotilde and there’s one example in the Stopes Collection letters, a rough-copy of a letter that may never have been sent or at least not in that form, which Marie began, “Psyche my beloved”.
In a couple of her replies Clotilde writes of similarly deep feelings towards Marie. Both were written in 1900, in the months after the death of Clotilde’s father. The first was sent in response to birthday greetings and a gift from Marie, which had stirred up such a level of response that instead of writing her thanks immediately, Clotilde had gone out for a walk through a “ripe cornfield ablaze with dream-flowers”, giving herself up to “passionate thought”. And when she and Marie were both about to leave North London Collegiate School, she replied to gifts of a painting and some flowers from Marie, “My innermost being thanks you...and my soul gratefully loves you for it...What shall I do without you - oh that pain of parting it nearly wears me out. Good night my dear one”.
1900 was the most intense period of the relationship. At the end of the year, Marie started at University College London and Clotilde moved to Cambridge. Finding the new job much harder and less enjoyable than she’d probably expected, Clotilde had little time for deep feeling or even keeping in touch. She does seem to have had time to reflect on the relationship with her ex-pupil and - perhaps - come to some realistic conclusions about it: that it could scarcely continue as it had done; that now she had left school (at the late age of 20) Marie was likely to start growing up and leaving old relationships and feelings behind; and that - no longer seeing her every school day - there was precious little Clotilde could do about it. The letter from Marie telling her of the marriage proposal she had received did not come as a complete surprise.
I don’t know, of course, exactly how what feelings Marie Stopes expressed for Clotilde in her letters after this relationship-changing one. After receiving it, Clotilde did not write to Marie so often. In her letter of condolence after Mr Stopes’s death, she expressed “love” but also “sympathy” and after the first paragraph, the letter was a ‘what’s been happening to me’ one. “My old love to you”, actually used first by Clotilde in July 1900 now seemed appropriate as a letter-ending, and she used it once or twice more, the last time in 1904 when she hadn’t even seen Marie for over a year.
Marie Stopes’ biographers Ruth Hall and June Rose agree that it’s very unlikely that Marie Stopes and Clotilde von Wyss ever had sex. Under different circumstances - if they had both been wilder chacters, or from different social circles - maybe it would have ended that way. I do wonder about the “passionate thought” that Clotilde allowed herself while walking through the cornfield; but even if her thoughts were sexual, I think Clotilde’s own temperament inclined her towards a sex-free life. ‘Thought’ was as far as she was going to allow any sexual feelings to go.
I think that (if Marie had told her about it) Clotilde would have agreed, overall, with Mr Stopes’ order (I think that ‘order’ is probably the right word) that Marie should not even think of marriage - ie entering into a sexual relationship - until she was at least 25. In fact, Clotilde makes clear in many of the letters that she hoped Marie wouldn’t marry at all - that part of Marie Stopes’ indictment in Sex and the Young has some truth in it.
The Stopes biographers all consider Clotilde as Marie Stopes’ teacher; but I look at the letters in a different way - Marie Stopes as Clotilde’s pupil. The girls in “the old biology class” were amongst Clotilde’s favourites but Marie Stopes stood out because academically she was the best of them and was likely to go the furthest. Even after the bombshell news that at least one of her fellow-students wanted to marry Marie - perhaps I should say especially after that letter - Clotilde was all ears for news of Marie as a student. Again and again she writes back delighted to hear of yet more exam success on Marie’s part and when Marie was off to do postgraduate work in Munich she wished her well with, “come home covered with glory, when you have helped forward the cause of scientific study”. Some of the glory would be wearing off on Clotilde, of course, as one of the teachers who had prepared Marie Stopes for a career as a research scientist. (Marie started out as a palaeobotanist, putting neatly together the influences of her father and Clotilde.) “My child” and “Dear child of mine” can be read as Clotilde viewing Marie as, in some part, her own intellectual creation. “I am proud of all the things you have done”, she wrote in reply to the bombshell, and it’s in this context that I understand a phrase she uses that was used in June Rose’s biography to suggest an emotional possessiveness on Clotilde’s part: “I still consider you my property”. Intellectual property, that is. Clotilde feared not so much that Marie would marry; but that Marie would marry and have to give up her academic work. In her reply to the letter with Marie’s bombshell in it, Clotilde said that she wished she had Marie with her. Again, I read it not a wish to keep Marie to herself, but a wish to keep Marie in Clotilde’s familiar world of women, beyond the reach of any man who might bring an end to her brilliant career. It couldn’t be done, of course; Clotilde accepted that Marie would make her own decisions.
In Sex and the Young Marie Stopes accused the anonymous predatory teacher of binding pupils to her via a “highfaluting (sic) fantastic kind of secret Order based on a muddled mixture of mysticism, pseudo-theosophical fantasies of ‘purity’ and crude physical expressions of personal love and sex feeling”. Marie Stopes seems to be suggesting that Clotilde initiated some of her pupils into something like the Golden Dawn. I say ‘something like’ because the GD was a very restrained magical order, with nothing like ‘physical expressions of personal love and sex’ going on in it; Aleister Crowley, when he joined, was very disappointed that there wasn’t.
There’s definitely some truth in Marie Stopes’ accusation. “Soror” is the Latin word for ‘sister’; like ‘frater’ - brother - it was a term used by members of the GD; something Clotilde would have been well aware of by the first of her letters to Marie (August 1899). But she would also have known that the GD was a secret society, and that she shouldn’t have mentioned anything about it to anyone not in it. What was she up to?
I think it goes back to “the old biology class” - the girls who gave her the brooch, and probably one or two others. In the letter that Marie composed to go with the brooch, she described the brooch as a gift to Clotilde in recognition that there was a state of “brotherhood” between her and the four girls who were presenting the brooch. The brooch was also a sign that all four of them would in the future work to, “illuminate...the dark unfathomable enigma of Life”. Marie, as spokeswoman for the four of them, hoped that whenever Clotilde wore the brooch she would remember them all as a group, although in the future they might all be separated by distance and circumstance. And Clotilde did remember: in August 1901 when - writing to “My dear little soror” - Clotilde said about the group “how I love to think of the set of you”. And if the “brotherhood” and the “old biology class” were the same people - I think they must be - she was still thinking of them, together, in 1909.
Clotilde does seem to have created a kind of ‘inner circle’ of pupils who considered themselves bound together with her as more than just teacher and pupils, by mutual devotion and a grand purpose that the pupils would attempt to achieve in the rest of their lives. Marie Stopes seems to be saying that vows of personal loyalty were exacted; and/or perpetual chastity. If they were, Clotilde doesn’t seem to have been determined to hold the pupils to them once they had left school; her letter to Marie after the news of the marriage proposal does not insist that the vows were a binding contract. I don’t actually think that it was a very good idea for Clotilde to create this “brotherhood” or sisterhood. Secret Orders of that kind are ideas not to be taken lightly, nor entered into too young. But it was probably fun for a while; and the exclusivity of the girls in the “brotherhood” was something they could feel pleased about when sitting with their classmates who were excluded without even knowing it.
If Marie Stopes’ scathing 1926 summing-up of this “brotherhood” is correct (and heaven knows) the grand purpose was a theosophical one. The girls seemed to have had some discussion of theosophy with Clotilde by that time: in the first letter in the Marie Stopes Collection, Clotilde disclaims any chance of having found “the Key to Theosophy”. She had encouraged Marie at least, and probably the others, to read books on theosophy - she mentioned being glad to hear that Marie had been reading Edwin Arnold’s The Light of the World. She urged Marie to keep an open mind when considering works of Eastern philosophy; while at the same time admitting that the search for the Key was doomed to failure: “we shall never in this life complete that glorious song of truth, insight and adoration for which our soul craves” (High Romantic language again). At some stage - though not in this letter - Clotilde explained to her “brotherhood” that the search for the Key was helped by living a pure life. In 1926 Marie Stopes was interpreting ‘purity’ solely in the sexual sense; and seeing any attempt to insist on it as perverted and against the principles of eugenics. Her emphasis was too narrow - I’ve said she was seeing sex everywhere, and she seems not to have been able to see anything else in this case. It was true that in theosophical circles, sexual abstinence was approved of as likely to be a great help in the search for enlightenment. It was not enforced, though, and to theosophists ‘purity’ also encompassed drinking no alcohol and being a vegetarian, amongst other things.
Even theosophy was not on a par in Clotilde’s mind with the glories of the natural world as a basis for a rich spiritual life. Clotilde’s own soul sang amidst the beauties of Nature and when reading authors with similar views - like Henry David Thoreau, a book of whose writings she gave to Marie as a Christmas present in 1900. Neither theosophy nor transcendent Nature convinced Marie Stopes, but one of the “brotherhood” did retain an interest in theosophy throughout her life. In the concentration on Marie Stopes, and the absence of other letters by Clotilde, the relationship between Clotilde and Olga Kapteyn has been overlooked. It hasn’t helped that Olga left England as soon as she had finished school and lived the rest of her life in Europe; mostly in Switzerland.
Clotilde was a scientist with a deep appreciation of art. She could combine these two traits in her drawings of plants and animals, but they are an unusual pair and most people choose to follow one or the other of them. Marie Stopes - encouraged by her Father - went with the science. Olga followed the art.
I found a surprising amount about Olga Kapteyn via the web - but then I’d rather expected to find nothing at all, like I had done with Gertrude Colls and Christine Pugh who were also in Clotilde’s “brotherhood”. Most of the information I did find was under her married name of Froebe-Kapteyn (also spelled Fröbe-Kapteyn).
Although Olga was born in England (in 1881) both her parents were Dutch. Her father, Albertus Philippus was an engineer and her mother Geertruida a feminist and social campaigner. On leaving North London Collegiate School, Olga went to study art history at Zürich University. I haven’t been able to find out what she was doing in the 1900s but in 1909 she married the orchestral conductor Iwan Fröbe (or Froebe). He had been born in what is now Croatia. Because I can’t read German I probably haven’t understood the information on him that I found on the web but he seems to have worked with the Munich Tonkunstler orchestra around 1910, as their principal conductor or a guest conductor; and later worked in Berlin because that’s where he and Olga were living when World War 1 was declared. When the war broke out they moved to Zürich and Olga lived in Switzerland for the rest of her life. She and Iwan had twin daughters but Iwan was killed in a plane crash shortly before they were born in 1915.
In 1920 Olga moved to Ascona where she got to know Carl Jung, who spent his summer holidays there. The idea that became the Eranos Conferences (or seminars) originally came from Jung and the Rudolf Otto, author of The Idea of the Holy. But it was Olga who did all the work necessary to bring them into existence. They were a forum where experts in different disciplines could meet to discuss spirituality: in order to ‘pay’ for your attendance at one, you had to make a speech on that year’s conference topic. The conferences were still going in the 1950s.
As late as the 1920s, Olga was still studying theosophy and Indian philosophy: the first Eranos conference was on yoga and meditation. Under Jung’s influence, however, she began to research archetypes. In 1956 she founded the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (see its website at aras.org). She died in 1962.
Olga, like Marie Stopes, was a pupil after Clotilde’s heart - but interested in and following up all the interests that Marie rejected. Although they probably didn’t meet very often after Olga left England, they must have kept in touch at least until 1909 and probably much longer: when Olga paid a visit to England in April of that year, she went to have tea with Clotilde who invited other members of “the old biology class” to meet her.
If Marie had discovered at any time that Clotilde had a close and intense relationship with
Olga Kapteyn, rather like the one she thought she had exclusively with Clotilde herself... It’s pure speculation but if it was true, it might explain some of the hostility beyond the call of duty that Marie Stopes displayed towards Clotilde in 1926.
BEATRICE ETHELWYN MACKIE
As Marie Stopes continued to rage in Sex and the Young about the manipulative lesbian teacher she had known, the last accusation she made against the woman was that she was now in a relationship with another woman, one that showed every sign of being permanent; and that despite this, both partners were still employed as teachers.
It’s likely that Clotilde saw meeting Beatrice Ethelweyn Mackie in a very different light: as the only good thing that happened to her in the miserable years 1900 and 1901.
Clotilde and Ethelwyn met at Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers. Clotilde was a lecturer, and Ethelwyn was a student, but this was no adolescent-snatching exercise: Clotilde was slightly the younger, though only by a few months. Although Ethelwyn never published more than a couple of leaflets on how to teach specific topics in nature study, she shared Clotilde’s interest in the subject and must have taught it; she was also an active member of the Schools Nature Study Union. Ethelwyn was not Clotilde’s brilliant pupil; but Clotilde had more in common with her than she had with Marie Stopes: a better basis for a long-term relationship.
Ethelwyn Mackie had grown up near Wakefield in Yorkshire, where her father, Edward Alexander Mackie, and her mother, Emma Gertrude (née Dunn), were both the children of corn merchants. Edward Alexander continued to run the family business. He and Emma Gertrude were very comfortably off - in 1881 they were living in the manor house at Warmfield-cum-Heath, where they employed six servants including a butler (butlers came expensive). Ethelwyn was one of the older daughters in their large Victorian family. She was much less well-educated than Clotilde: although she may have gone to school for a year or two, in 1881 at least, she and her sisters were being educated at home by a governess. Any scientific knowledge that Ethelwyn gained was likely to have been hard-won, and on her own initiative. She might even have been one of the private pupils that Clotilde taught maths and chemistry to, during her time in Cambridge.
Times were changing but I think there was some resistance in the family to Ethelwyn’s wish to train as a teacher and earn her own living. Family resistance would explain why she didn’t start at training college until she was nearly 30; perhaps by then her parents had finally accepted that she was not likely to marry, or didn’t want to.
Clotilde and Ethelwyn were friendly enough to be writing to each other in the summer vacation of 1901. But their big chance to get to know each other very well came when Ethelwyn’s holiday in Norway fell through. She had been ordered to spend time in a mountain climate by her doctor; so she wrote to Clotilde and suggested that they pair up to go climbing (she can’t have been that ill!) in Switzerland - where Clotilde was already, visiting her family. There was no question (it seems) of keeping this holiday with another woman a secret from Marie Stopes. Clotilde was quite open about it, though she feel it necessary to give Marie two reasons for agreeing to go: “Of course I was delighted [to agree to Ethelwyn’s plan] because I too was a lonely female, besides I am very fond of her”. ‘Very fond’ - nothing to get het up about in that, surely - and Marie didn’t get het up.
Clotilde and Ethelwyn chose St Antonien (near Bern) as their base and rented a room in the vicarage. The weather wasn’t always good but Clotilde told Marie they had still been able to do “a big climb” every day. Clotilde wrote a typically lyrical description of the two of them sitting on a mountain-top where there was still snow in the gullies, “beholding the holiness of beauty” in the peaks and clouds around. On one day they splashed out some money hiring a guide so that they could attempt the highest local peak, one that hadn’t been scaled by a woman before. They were spending nearly all their time out of doors, nature-trekking when the weather didn’t allow climbing. Clotilde told Marie that she had caught two salamanders during their expeditions and was intending to bring them back to England in her luggage. They came back down to Bern by a circuitous route so that they could visit a local pilgrimage site.
Close though they might have been, there had never been any suggestion that Clotilde and Marie Stopes should go on holiday together on their own. Even if they had gone off together I don’t think Clotilde would have enjoyed a holiday in the Swiss Alps with Marie in quite the same way. In Ethelwyn she had found someone who shared some of her joy in Nature - who didn’t just see it as an arena for scientific research, but could understand why Clotilde should feel exalted just by looking at it.
Clotilde did not mention Ethelwyn Mackie again in her letters to Marie Stopes until the letter of December 1902 offering Marie love and sympathy on her father’s death. However, Clotilde’s friendship with Ethelwyn had gone on apace, because in the same letter she told Marie that she had been invited to spend Christmas with Ethelwyn’s family in Scarborough. She wrote her thank-you letter for Marie’s Christmas gift from the Mackie’s house there “in the midst of the riots of this lively household”.
Clotilde didn’t mention Ethelwyn by name in her three remaining letters to Marie Stopes so this next bit is conjectural, but I think that Clotilde and Ethelwyn were sharing their first flat together by October 1903: “I wish you could have seen our little flat”, Clotilde wrote, on learning that Marie had called on her when she was out - so she was certainly sharing with someone. Given the evidence from the 1911 census and elsewhere - including Marie Stopes’ allegation of a lesbian relationship between them, still going on in the early 1920s - I think it’s reasonable to suppose that “our” means Clotilde and Ethelwyn. The flat was in London where Clotilde was certainly working by 1903 and Ethelwyn probably was.
Somerset Terrace, facing Euston Road, was very convenient for Clotilde’s work but not necessarily for Ethelwyn’s. Flats near Euston Road were also noisy, dirty and you didn’t get many rooms for your money. By 1908, possibly earlier, Clotilde and Ethelwyn had moved to Cromwell Mansions, on King Street Hammersmith near Ravenscourt Park. It was a large flat, with six rooms in addition to the scullery and bathroom. Although Ethelwyn filled in the census form, she described Clotilde and herself as joint heads of household, wanting to show the census officials that they shared the responsibility. It was just the two of them in the flat - they did not employ any servants who lived in. Their incomes might not have run to that expense, of course, and even if it had, they might have chosen to spend their money differently. They probably sent their heavy laundry out to professionals to be washed, and had a cleaner in by the day - one who could be relied upon not to panic at the sight of Clotilde’s wildlife.
In 1911, Ethelwyn was working as a secondary-school teacher for Middlesex County Council; and I imagine that she had taken that job immediately on leaving the training college because that would have been typical of work-patterns at that time when there was much less moving from job to job than there is now. I also suppose that she remained as an MCC employee until she retired, which would have been at about the same time as Clotilde did (1936).
The evidence for a stable and long-term relationship between Clotilde and Ethelwyn is pretty clear in 1911. I can’t prove that they continued to live together after that date, though I’m sure they did and if they didn’t, they remained very close. There’s the hostile evidence of Marie Stopes that they were a couple in the mid-1920s, and plenty of other indirect evidence from Clotilde’s later books.
In the late twenties, Clotilde went back to writing after a gap of over a decade (mostly caused by the first World War, I imagine, with its financial uncertainties and its shortages of paper and compositors). She produced a series of books for an adult audience, some for people who were interested in nature study as a leisure pursuit, others for use by those who had to teach it. In Clotilde’s prefaces to three of the books, she thanks Ethelwyn for help of the sort all authors need during the process of getting their ideas out of their heads, onto paper, and away to the publishers. Most authors thank their partner for help of this sort; and I think so did Clotilde. Ethelwyn gave “sympathetic interest” and “valuable criticism”; she undertook the “wearisome task of revising the typescript”; and carried out the “correction of proof sheets”. Ethelwyn was involved in every stage of the preparation of the books. In addition, the most personal of them, Living Creatures (published 1927) is dedicated to her. So I don’t think there’s much doubt that the relationship between Clotilde and Ethelwyn was still fine, after nearly 30 years.
Some time in the 1930s - probably on her retirement in 1936 - Clotilde moved out of London to Mousehill Down, on Witley Common near Godalming. Although I haven’t been able to find any direct evidence, I imagine that Ethelwyn moved there with her and it might even have been Ethelwyn that suggested Surrey as the kind of place they would enjoy, because relations of hers had lived at Ewell during her childhood so she probably knew the county well.
Did the relationship involve sex? I’ve indicated above why I think not.
I don’t think it matters much. Surely what matters is the close emotional bond that’s indicated by Clotilde and Ethelwyn being together for so long. They supported each other, they could rely on each other. Marie Stopes’ greater knowledge of what a relationship between two women might involve meant that she could not see it in the light of a life-time’s emotional support and common interests. The result was that she comes across as less broad-minded about it than Ethelwyn’s family. When she made her Will, Clotilde named Ethelwyn as one of the executors. The other was Rupert Harold Whalley, son of Ethelwyn’s sister Elsie. Elsie was living in south-east London, at least before the first World War, and the two sisters had obviously kept in touch.
Clotilde died in November 1938 after only two years of retirement. Ethelwyn lived on for another twenty years. She didn’t stay in Surrey - perhaps she found it too difficult to go on living there without Clotilde. She died in Sidmouth in 1956.
SOURCES FOR THIS LOOK AT CLOTILDE’S RELATIONSHIPS
for most, see the ‘life’ file at the start of this sequence; but here I’ll give again the details of the Letters and the Marie Stopes biographies I used, which include references to Ethelwyn Mackie:
The Letters I continually refer to are: British Library Additional Manuscripts number 58538; Stopes Papers volume XCII ff 222. There are 22 letters from Clotilde to Marie Stopes in the group; one piece by Marie, probably a first try at a letter later sent to Clotilde with a gift from Marie and three other pupils - Olga Kapteyn, Gertrude Colls and Christine Pugh; and one letter from Marie presumably another first-try. The earliest letter is from August 1899; the last is from April 1909; however, most were sent between 1899 and 1901.
Marie Stopes: A Biography by Keith Bryant. London: The Hogarth Press 1962. He quotes from letters between the two, but doesn’t name Clotilde or even say she was one of Marie’s teachers.
Marie Stopes:A Biography by Ruth Hall. London: Virago 1978. Hall names Clotilde and identifies her as the young woman teacher castigated anonymously by Stopes in Sex and the Young.
Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution by June Rose. London and Boston Mass: Faber and Faber 1992.
For Olga Kapteyn:
At www.genealogieonline.nl there’s a 2-generation family tree for Olga and her parents. There’s no mention of any siblings in it. I don’t read Dutch, so I don’t know where the genealogical information has come from. The family don’t appear on the censuses of 1881, 1891 or 1901 - visiting family in Holland, I suppose.
Information on wikipedia is under Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn.
Olga is mentioned, with some biographical material, in Edges of Experience: Memory and Emergence by Lyn Cowan 2006, which is a book about Jungian psychology: pp834-835. You can see the text at this website as well: dev.iaap.org which is the home of the International Association for Analytical Psychology, its page Walking in the Footsteps of Eranos is written by Robert Hinshaw who works for the IAAP in Switzerland.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
5 November 2013