With souls unpurged and steadfast breath
They supped the sacrament of death.
And for each one, far off, apart,
Seven swords have rent a woman's heart.
(Marching Men, 9-12)
Born near London at Gunnersbury on September 14, 1883, Marjorie Pickthall emigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto in 1889. After receiving her education at Bishop Strachan School for Girls, she worked in the library of Victoria College in the University of Toronto, where she helped compile a bibliography of Canadian poetry. Pickthall first published stories and poems in 1898 in the Toronto Globe and then very widely elsewhere. Her literary output, which includes several hundred short stories and five novels, nearly halted at her mother's death in 1910, but Pickthall returned to England from 1912 to 1920 and recovered her will to write. She lived both at a cottage at Bowerchalke, near Salisbury, and in London. During this period she published two volumes of poetry: The Drift of Pinions (1913) and The Map of Poor Souls (1916). Her war-time work overseas included farming, training as an ambulance driver, and working in the South Kensington Meteorological Office library. Late in this period she wrote the following in a letter dated December 27, 1919 (Lorne Pierce, Marjorie Pickthall: A Book of Remembrance [Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1925]: 104):
To me the trying part is being a woman at all. I've come to the ultimate conclusion that I'm a misfit of the worst kind, in spite of a superficial femininity -- emotion with a foreknowledge of impermanence, a daring mind with only the tongue as an outlet, a greed for experience plus a slavery to convention -- what the deuce are you to make of that? -- as a woman? As a man, you could go ahead and stir things up fine.
Homesick, she sailed back to Canada in 1920 and, after a brief time with her father in Toronto, settled in a cottage on Vancouver Island. She died unexpectedly from an embolus in the spring of 1922 following an operation in a Vancouver General Hospital for a recurrent ailment. She was interred in St. James' Cemetery in Toronto. After her death, three volumes of her poetry came out: The Woodcarver's Wife and Other Poems (1922), Little Songs (1925), and The Naiad and Five Other Poems (1931). Her father compiled and published her Collected Poems in 1925 and again, definitively, in 1936. Victoria College holds a major collection of her manuscripts.
Given name: Marjorie
Family name: Pickthall
Birth date: 1883
Death date: 1922
Literary period: modern
Cause of death: embolus
Buried at: St. James Cemetery, Toronto