The William Sharp "Fiona Macleod" Archive

The Letters of William Sharp "Fiona Macleod"

Edited by William F. Halloran, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Sponsored by the Institute of English Studies

This edition is dedicated to Noel Farquharson Sharp, Rosemarie Sharp and Esther Mona Harvey.

Life and Letters

Life and Letters
Year File
1855-1881 PDF, 161KB
1882- 1884 PDF, 169KB
1885-1886 PDF, 106KB
1887-1888 PDF, 123KB
1889 PDF, 135KB revised version added June 2009
1890 PDF, 134KB
1891 PDF, 99KB
1892a PDF, 135KB
1892b PDF, 105KB
1893 PDF, 123KB
1894 PDF, 245KB
1895a PDF, 205KB
1895b PDF, 237KB
1896a PDF, 278KB
1896b PDF, 395KB revised June 2007
1897 PDF, 227KB
1898 PDF, 169KB
1899a PDF, 175KB
1899b PDF, 125KB
1900 PDF, 154KB
1901 PDF, 692KB
1902 PDF, 219KB
1903 PDF, 300KB
1904 PDF, 376KB
1905 PDF, 844KB
1907 Forthcoming

Sections 1855 to 1893 are currently in the process of being re-edited and will be progressively replaced with updated versions (which will be marked as second editions). The first edtions of the pdf files will remain available in the SAS-SPACE e-repository.


The Archive contains transcriptions of William Sharp's letters that have been made available to the editor by libraries and private collectors throughout the world.  The letters are interesting because of the wide range of people Sharp corresponded with and the topics he addressed.  He was a close friend with many of the most important literary people of his age, among them Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Walter Pater, George Meredith, Thomas Hardy, and William Butler Yeats.  He also corresponded with firms who published his books and with editors of magazines, journals, and newspapers for which he wrote articles and reviews.  The letters will be of interest to individuals interested in literary and publishing activities in Great Britain and the United States in the 1880's and 1890's.

In 1894, William Sharp decided to publish a romance set in the western isles of Scotland under a female pseudonym, Fiona Macleod.  He soon realized he would need to engage in correspondence from its supposed author in order to publish more works by Fiona Macleod while keeping his authorship secret. He enlisted his maiden sister, Mary Sharp, who lived with their mother in Edinburgh, to provide the Fiona Macleod handwriting. Sharp composed the letters and sent them to her to copy and mail from Edinburgh.  Until his death in 1905, Sharp engaged in a double out-put of correspondence.  This section includes letters Sharp wrote under both names.

The mechanism he devised to produce the Fiona Macleod letters contributed significantly to his ability to preserve for more than a decade the fiction that Fiona Macleod was a real woman. Claims that  he was the real author emerged in print occasionally and were countered by pointing to the different handwriting.  The  letters were mailed always from one place while Sharp was constantly on the move.  Sharp also moved Fiona Macleod about from place to place in order to preserve the secret, and it was convenient for her to send her letters to a friend in Edinburgh for posting.

The letters also gave Sharp the opportunity to create the person or, more accurately, the persona of Fiona Macleod.  With great literary skill, he defined and entered the consciousness of a character and had that character project herself convincingly to her correspondents.  She came through the letters as a  well-educated young woman steeped in Celtic lore.  She was shy and reclusive, but also firm in her decisions, formal in manner, and resolved not to let herself be taken advantage of by publishers or diverted from her writing by  newspaper reporters or suitors.  She was also well-traveled, able to disappear on a yachting trip at a moments notice, because she had the good fortune to be married to a wealthy Scotsman who owned a yacht that could whisk her away to the western isles.  She also had a sharp tongue which she exercised in correspondence when she thought her privacy or integrity endangered.  She was particularly harsh in chastising anyone brash enough to suggest she had no existence except in the mind of William Sharp.

Fiona Macleod was William Sharp's most impressive literary achievement.  Her personality emerges in many stories that describe the people she met and the places she visited and in dedications and prefatory notes in her books.  Yet it is in the letters that Sharp brought her into being.  His  ability to sustain the fiction that Fiona Macleod was a real human being was due, primarily, to his ability to project her in the letters as a woman who interacted easily with the people she wrote about and who genuinely cared about them and about the people she addressed in  her letters. 

The Fiona Macleod letters are best approached as a body of literature which Sharp composed as a matter of necessity and because he enjoyed the process of creative deception.  Cast in this light, the letters and the character who emerges through them constitute one of the most interesting and provocative literary productions of the 1890s in England.  The goal of this section of the Archive is to reproduce all of Sharp's surviving letters.   It may become, however, the basis for a selection of the most interesting Fiona Macleod letters,  the most revealing prefatory and dedicatory notes Sharp wrote from within the Fiona Macleod persona, and some of the Fiona Macleod stories in which she speaks about herself.  That volume would present a rounded view of the Fiona Macleod character and demonstrate the care and skill Sharp exercised in creating her.

Archive Plan & Abbrieviations

Archive Plan

The letters section of the Archive will be its first section.  The letters will be mounted chronologically in chapters containing brief biographical introductions intended to set them in context and make them more understandable.

The letters have been given a uniform format:

Line one contains the name of the recipient and date of composition.  In many cases a letter contains no date or only a partial date (e.g., Wednesday).  In that case a probable date derived from a postmark or from internal evidence or from the context provided by other letters is placed in brackets. Questionable aspects of assigned dates are preceded by a question mark as [January ?12, 1892].

Line two contains the place where the letter was written and/or from which it was mailed in a single line with vertical rules denoting line divisions in the original.

Line three contains the salutation where one exists.

Lines four and following contain the body of the letter with Sharp's paragraphing preserved, where it can be determined, followed by a separate line (when separate in the original) containing the complimentary close and signature separated by a vertical rule (if the close and signature were separate lines in the original).

The body and signature are followed by one or more postscripts when they occur in the original.

Finally, the form of the original and its provenance are given in a separate line at lower left.

Obvious errors of spelling have been silently corrected.  Errors of punctuation and grammar have been corrected only when necessary to attain clarity of the author's intention.  Writing on margins that is marked as an insert has been placed within the body of the text at the point of intended insertion.  Postscripts on margins have been placed at the close of the main body of the letters. Every effort has been made to attain a balance between authenticity and readability.  In rare cases, the particular handling of a text has been described in a note.

The footnotes are and will remain a work in progress. Their intention is to provide information that will be useful to readers in understanding references in the letters and to provide information that will clarify points in the letters that would otherwise be unclear to the general reader.  Given the multitude of people, places, literary and artistic works, and events mentioned in the letters, the process of annotation is an onerous one.  It requires judgments about what is too much and what is not enough. Some notes have been left blank because efforts to track down the information have so far been unsuccessful.  All notes are subject to expansion and revision as new information becomes available.  This form of publication is particularly useful for the annotations because they can be viewed as works in progress.  The editor will be grateful to readers for any information that improves their accuracy and completeness.


WS       =   William Sharp
FM       =    Fiona Macleod
EAS     =    Elizabeth A. Sharp
EWR    =   Edith Wingate Rinder
Mem     =   William Sharp (Fiona Macleod): A Memoir, Compiled by his wife, Elizabeth A. Sharp (New York: Duffield & Company, 1910)

The following abbreviations are used to describe the form of the original letter at the foot of each letter:

AD       =   autograph draft
ALS     =   autograph signed letter
ALCS  =   autograph lettercard signed
APS     =   autograph postcard signed
TL        =   typed letter

TLS     =   typed letter signed

About William Sharp

William Sharp was born in Paisley, near Glasgow, in 1855. His father was a successful merchant; his mother was the daughter of the Swedish Vice Consul in Glasgow. A talented, adventurous boy who read voraciously, he spent summers in the Inner Hebrides, where his family rented houses for the season. He developed there a strong attachment to the land and its inhabitants. In the summer of 1863, his aunt and uncle brought their children from London to spend time with their Scottish cousins. Sharp became especially attracted to his cousin Elizabeth, a bright girl who shared many of his enthusiasms. They formed a bond of friendship which led eventually to their engagement and marriage. Sharp went on to study literature for two years at Glasgow University, an experience that fed his desire to become a writer and a man of letters. After an adventurous year in Australia, where he was sent to restore his health, Sharp settled in London in 1878. With the help of family and friends, among then Dante Gabriel Rossetti, he began to establish himself as a poet, literary journalist, and editor. Through his wife's contacts and those he made among writers and editors, the Sharps became by the end of the 1880s well-established figures in the literary and intellectual life of the city. Sharp published three books of poetry, wrote many articles and reviews, and edited the work of other writers during the decade. At its close, he decided to reduce his editing and reviewing obligations, leave London for a time, and focus on producing literary works of higher quality.

In the fall of 1890 William and Elizabeth went to Germany and then to Italy for the winter. In  January, Edith Wingate Rinder, a beautiful young woman the Sharps had known in London, accompanied her aunt, Mona Caird, a close girlhood friend of Elizabeth, on a three-week visit to Rome. There she and William Sharp fell in love. Inspired by the joy he felt in her presence and the warmth and beauty of the country, he wrote and printed privately in Italy a slim book of poems, Sospiri di Roma, that far exceeded in quality any he had written previously.

Returning to England in the spring of 1891, he began to write under the influence of his continuing relationship with Edith Rinder a  prose romance set in the western islands of Scotland. When he found a publisher for that work, Pharais, A Romance of the Isles (Derby: Frank Murray, 1894)), he decided to issue it pseudonymously as the work of Fiona Macleod. In choosing a female pseudonym, Sharp signaled the importance of Edith Rinder in encouraging its composition and inspiring its author. The story of a love affair doomed to failure is a veiled, romanticized version of their relationship. The pseudonym was designed primarily, however, to disguise his authorship from London critics who, he feared, would not treat it seriously if they knew it was the work of William Sharp.

Pharais changed the course of Sharp's life. Along with The Mountain Lovers, another west of Scotland romance that followed in 1895, it attracted enthusiastic readers and critical notices. When it became apparent that his fictional author had struck a sympathetic chord in the reading public and that her books were bringing in money, Sharp proceeded to invent a life for Fiona Macleod and to project her personality through her publications and through letters he wrote in her name. In letters signed William Sharp, he promoted the writings of Fiona, added touches to her character, and sometimes functioned as her agent.  To some he asserted she was his cousin, and he implied to a few intimate friends they were lovers.  In fashioning Fiona, Sharp drew upon Elizabeth, his wife and first cousin, as well as Edith Rinder with whom he was in love.

Sharp enlisted his sister Mary Sharp, who lived with their mother in Edinburgh, to provide the Fiona handwriting. Drafts he wrote of Fiona Macleod letters went to her for copying and mailing.. For the decade prior to his death in 1905, Sharp conducted a double literary life. As Fiona, he produced poems and stories which, in their romantic content, settings and characters and in their  mystical aura, reflected the spirit of the time and attracted an extensive readership. As Sharp, he continued reviewing and editing and tried his hand at several novels. As Fiona's chief public advocate and protector, he deflected requests for interviews by insisting on her desire for privacy and whisking her off to undisclosed locations in the Hebrides. Were it to become generally known he was writing the Fiona Macleod works, so he believed, he would lose the ability to produce them.  Destroying the fiction of her reality would block his creativity and, consequently, deprive him of needed income. So he persisted in the fiction and in the double life until he died, refusing to disclose even to the Prime Minister of England that he was Fiona Macleod . Fiona might have qualified for a Civil List pension, money the Sharps sorely needed. The Prime Minister could not justify such benevolence for the writer William Sharp.

Sharp had been ill frequently since youth, a fact obscured by his rugged good looks and hearty manner. Scarlet fever in his youth and rheumatic fever as a young man damaged his heart, and he was a diabetic. Given his worsening heart condition, his death on December 12, 1905 was not a surprise to family and friends. It occurred while he and Elizabeth were staying with their friend Alexander Nelson Hood at his Castello Maniace on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Sharp is buried there in the estate's protestant cemetery where a large Celtic cross marks his grave.

Contact & Acknowledgements


Should you have any queries about The William Sharp "Fiona Macleod" Archive, its content and subject matter, please contact:   William F. Halloran, the Editor by email at:

To obtain permission to use material in the Archive that is not otherwise available in print, contact:
William F. Halloran, the Editor by emai atl:; or

Warwick Gould, the Director of the Institute of English Studies by email at:

Please read the terms of use for details about copyright protection of this Archive.


Following Mrs. Sharp's death her brother, Robert Farquharson Sharp, became William Sharp's literary executor.  Upon his death, his son, Noel Farquharson Sharp, assumed that role.  Following his death, Rosemarie Sharp, his wife, succeeded him as executor.  Noel and Rosemarie Sharp have been endlessly generous not only in granting permissions to publish William Sharp's writings, but also in sharing their recollections of people with whom he interacted. The editor is heavily indebted to them and grateful for their assistance and friendship. Noel Sharp would have been particularly pleased to see his uncle's letters and other works published in this format. As Deputy Keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum (now the British Library), he was a leader in the nineteen sixties and seventies in an international effort to move libraries into the age of computers. This edition is dedicated to Noel and Rosemarie Sharp and to Esther Harvey, Edith Wingate Rinder's daughter, to whom Noel Sharp introduced the editor in 1963 and who remained his close friend until her death.  Like the Sharp's, Esther Harvey was endlessly generous in sharing with the editor  recollections of her mother, of Elizabeth Sharp, and of their friends.

The editor is also grateful to a succession of English graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who assisted him over many years in transcribing and annotating the letters. They are Ann Anderson Allen, Edward Bednar, Richard Nanian, and Trevor Russell.  The editor is also grateful for the support he has received from the Graduate School and the College of Letters and Science in the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

The editor is heavily indebted to the owners of William Sharp letters, both libraries and private collectors, who have made copies available over the years.  Many librarians and curators have been made special efforts to search out letters in their collections and provide copies. The following have provided copies of letters: The British Library, the Library of the University of British Columbia, the Library of Colby College,  the Lilly  Library of Indiana University, and the Smith College Library.