Friday 3 January 2014

What Did She See in Him?

'Woman's metier in the world - I mean, of course, civilized woman, the woman in the world as it is - is to inspire romantic passion... Romantic passion is inspired by women who wear corsets. In other words, by women who pretend to be what they not quite are.'
So opined Hubert Bland, born on this day in 1855. A founder member of the Fabian Society, Bland would be an even smaller footnote than he is, had he not also been the husband of the great children's writer E. Nesbit. Clearly no feminist, he was also a rum kind of socialist, holding strongly pro-imperialist views and characterising democracy as 'anti-national and vulgar'. A large, pugnacious and fearsome man, with a voice 'like the scream of an eagle' (according to Shaw), Bland completed a full house of contradictions by joining the Roman Catholic Church in his middle age, though he was barely observant. Nobody seems to have had a good word to say for him, and yet many otherwise intelligent people fell under his spell - including, alas, Edith Nesbit.
 Edith was just 18 when she met Bland, and they married in haste, with Edith seven months pregnant. At first Bland lived partly with Edith and partly at home with his mother and her companion - whom Edith later discovered to have had a son by him. And there turned out to be another woman who believed herself to be Bland's fiancee. But worse was to come later, when Edith discovered that her good friend Alice Hoatson was also pregnant by Hubert, who bullied Edith into taking in Alice and the child. Thirteen years later, Alice bore another child by Hubert, who was also taken in to the household and adopted.
 Bland also found time to father three children by Edith, of whom her favourite son Fabian tragically died at the age of 15 in a botched tonsilectomy. By now Nesbit was launched on the successful career as a children's writer that would support Hubert and the family and enable them to entertain on a grand scale - though Edith was often upstairs writing, sustained by gin and cigarettes. Around 1911, Hubert began to go blind, and Edith, of course, cared for him until his death in 1914. Happily, she went on to remarry - this time to the genial and much less problematic Thomas 'the Captain' Tucker, at the time an engineer on the Woolwich ferry. They ended up living companionably and very happily in New Romney, where Edith died. She is buried in the churchyard of St Mary in the Marsh, her grave marker made by her grieving second husband.

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