La fleur et le chardon: Wilfred Owen’s Franco-Scottish influences.


Wilfred Owen, Patrick Geddes,Albertina Dauthieu, France, Scotland, Franco-Scottish, Edinburgh, Milnathort. 

Thus far studies of Owen have followed similar, well-trodden paths sharing Sassoon’s. influence. McLennan uses Geddes’ sociological model to re-examine Owen’s life and influences (see notes 1-3 below). This paper analyses “folk” (people) around Owen with specific Franco-Scottish connections via two cases studies. Francophile Patrick Geddes and his protégée Arthur John Brock, were initial instigators of Owen’s significant 1917 poetic writing. Secondly, Owen’s little discussed meetings with Albertina Marie Dauthieu, a Frenchwoman living in Scotland, provide fresh insightss to Owen’s life.

Les études sur l’œuvre d’Owen se sont bien souvent rapprochées de celles des influences de Sassoon. McLennan se fonde sur le modèle sociologique de Geddes pour étudier la biographie et les influences d’Owen. Cet article se penche sur les « gens » qui autour d’Owen appartenaient au réseau Franco-Ecossais : le Francophile Patrick Geddes et son protégé Arthur John Brock, donnèrent tous deux un élan singulier à la création poétique d’Owen en 1917 ; et Albertina Marie Dauthieu, une française qui vivait en Ecosse, et dont la relation avec Owen (peu explorée jusqu’à présent) nous offre un nouvel éclairage sur la vie du poète anglais.


A key assertion of this analysis of Wilfred Owen is that his Craiglockhart doctor, Dr Arthur John Brock, and Brock’s correspondent and mentor, the Francophile Professor Sir Patrick Geddes, were prime influencers in Owen’s poetic development.[4] The thinking behind the socio-medical approaches Brock took with Owen and other patients at Craiglockhart came from Geddes. It was Geddes who inspired the “ergotherapy” approaches which Brock used with shell-shocked officers at Craiglockhart, and which led him to stimulate Owen to compose poetry again. Both Geddes and Brock had connections with an enlightened socio-cultural set in Edinburgh.  Brock introduced Owen to many of these thinkers and creative minds, some of whom were Geddes’ personal connections and friends, some of whom  had a distinctive Franco-Scottish feel.  Owen’s poetic and personal development will undoubtably have owed something to this enlightened group Geddes and Brock had formed and nurtured.

Owen’s first task when in Edinburgh was to visit Outlook Tower, Geddes’ museum to mankind, and write an essay on it.  Geddes bought the building in 1892 and created a museum based upon his philosophy of “Think Local, Act Global,” a phrase attributed to him by David Barash in 2002, and also his fascination of man’s replication of environmental life and how it influences man. Visitors to Outlook Tower started at the top of the tower, where they surveyed the local area around them as if from a camera’s and viewpoint.  There are stories of Geddes encouraging visitors to run to the top so that they were physically, as well as mentally, energised.  Thereafter, visitors progressed through the museum which led them through the local area, the region, the country, Europe and then the wider world.  Geddes said: “How many people think twice about a leaf? Yet the leaf is the chief product and phenomenon of Life: this is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent upon the leaves”.[5]  Geddes compared everyday living and world events to the interactions between plants and their environments. Geddes, through Brock, stimulated Owen’s most productive and powerful poetic period, starting with an essay on the Outlook Tower.  Today, the poetry emanating from that first writing tasks, is still used to promote peace and denounce war. 

Owen met other figures in Edinburgh who helped develop his ideas and his writing as well. He was to describe his “education” in Edinburgh as “a free and easy Oxford” (Bell 268).  As he entered its elite socio-cultural set of the day, Owen noted: “I might if I want become mildly lionized by Edinburgh society” (Bell 279) and “a better mode of life than this present I could not practically manage” (Bell 272). The impact of Edinburgh was clear on Owen.  He  wrote of “the charm of Edinburgh, and all the love it has thrown at me” (Bell 278). By the time of his discharge from Craiglockhart War Hospital by a  Medical Board  he noted “I am beginning to have aching sensations at being rooted up from this pleasant Region” (Bell 287). Owen’s capitalisation of “Region” is significant, as it is a word he only used in one other of the Collected Letters, on 21October 1915.  This was the day he joined the army, and “region” referenced his locality as opposed to the broader, sweeping term of the word for a wider area.[6]  Being “rooted up” is also of interest as this links directly to Geddes’ assertion that men, like plants, are influenced by the environment – both by the soil around them and by the surrounding organisms which might be likened to people. Amongst those people influencing Owen, in this fertile learning environment, were two Edinburgh inhabitants who had strong Franco-Scottish connections.

“By Leaves We Live” Professor Sir Patrick Geddes

It is not known if Owen ever met Professor Sir Patrick Geddes in person.  However, we know of the influence Geddes had on Dr Brock’s treatment plan for Owen, which allowed Owen space and time for thinking and to focus on poetry and writing. Without Brock’s treatment, we might not have seen the powerful poetry we now associate with the First World War. Owen was to meet many other figures who indirectly influenced his poetry, expanded his ideas and contributed to an intellectual enlightenment which Owen had hoped to experience at university. Unfortunately, circumstances, including the war, never allowed him to experience higher education. Nevertheless, Edinburgh and this socio-cultural circle enhanced his broad general education. Those contributing to Owen’s enlightenment were from an eclectic mix of Edinburgh individuals. Many of them, but not all, were linked to Dr Brock and Geddes’ social, cultural and intellectual networks.

Geddes was born in Ballater in 1854, son of Alexander and Janet Geddes. He was to become an internationally known polymath and enlightened figure with impacts on the fields of botany, sociology and town planning. His influence extended from Scotland to France and India.  He is less well known in Scotland these days, although revered elsewhere. Despite his vast intellect, he never finished any degree. Whilst studying with Thomas Henry Huxley in London between 1874-77, a period of illness necessitated his leaving London. Geddes  was encouraged to visit the French town of Roscoff in 1878.  A year later, the University of Aberdeen opened the Scottish Zoological Station, a marine observation station at Cowie, Stonehaven. An appointment there was one of Geddes’ first jobs. Either Stonehaven, Roscoff or one of Geddes’ childhood homes on the River Tay, inspired his “Valley Section”. The idea joined topography with people’s lives: hill, farm and sea with the various roles attached be it miner, woodman, hunter, shepherd, peasant, gardener or fisherman.[7] The Valley Section showed the complex interaction and relationships between this physical geography and human settlement and activity. 

The same can be said of Owen’s poetry, with many people and places impacting on it as much as the experience of soldiering and warfare itself.   Moreover, Owen benefited greatly from Geddes’ idea of regional survey.  Whilst a patient at Craiglockhart, Owen was a member of the Field Club. He took part in active outdoor surveys of the region. Surveying botany, brought about his “Do Plants Think?” lecture. Exploring the locations where Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing was inspired led to teaching Tynecastle School students about Stevenson in the places where he wrote. All of this was part of Owen’s “ergotherapy” recovery from shell-shock.  It had been during Geddes’ time in Roscoff in 1878 that he met with an interdisciplinary group that inspired him: scientist Louis Pasteur, economist and cooperative movement advocate Charles Gide, historian and education reformer Ernest Lavisse, and Frédéric Le Play disciple, Edmond Demolins.  Geddes’ regional survey was in part borrowed from Le Play’s concept of studies of a region.  This enlightened group formed Geddes’ ideas. This process of osmosis continued with ideas influencing and nurturing his own disciples’ ideas (such as Brock) and they in turn influencing others (such as Owen).  What we see is an enlightened education ecosystem[8] and informal socio-cultural knowledge transfer system between people who have perhaps not even met.

Owen benefited from his time spent in Scotland where he became at one with nature and benefited from the university type education to which he had aspired but not achieved. Part of that intellectual group in Edinburgh was formed by Geddes who brought people together and created spaces for cross-disciplinary and international learning. As well as establishing Outlook Tower, Geddes also established university halls in Edinburgh as self-governing hostels, which were also areas of knowledge and cultural exchange between international students. In 1895 the prolific Francophile also set up the Franco-Scottish society in Edinburgh. 

Scotland and France were strongly connected.  In the era of Geddes and Owen, Britain and France had joined in “Entente Cordial”.  “The petite entente” dated back to  1295.  The “Auld Alliance” still resonated strongly, intellectually and culturally if not militarily through Great War geopolitics. Siân Reynolds  describe Geddes’ activities as “comparatively unobserved”, both in France and Scotland.  However, “with only a little exaggeration, it can be argued that the Geddes networks were among the most significant and thoroughly integrated of Franco-British contacts at the time” (Reynolds, 82). Geddes fostered those cultural ties, from attending the 1889 Paris Exhibition through to forming the Collège des Écossais in Montpellier in 1924, and with many cultural, intellectual and educational exchanges in-between. 

Geddes’ archives show him to be a prolific correspondent with many figures across the world and on many topics. Furthermore, a band of dedicated followers corresponded with him and were influenced by his thinking. The foundations for Owen’s Edinburgh enlightenment had been set before he arrived anywhere near Scotland.  Geddes’ work, long before Owen was even born, laid the foundations for the progressive liberal treatment, “re-education”, and indeed cultural education which Owen received whilst in Edinburgh. Geddes’ pre-war letters to Edinburgh physician Arthur John Brock helped shape Brock’s thinking which resulted in the new approaches to treat the broken men who were shell-shocked. On 20 August 1910 Brock wrote one of his many letters to his mentor figure Geddes. However this one was different.  As well as the letterhead, a new word appeared at the top of the letter, written in block capitals and written over many times so that the word stood out.  That word was: “ERGOTHERAPY”.  This was the start of Brock’s pioneering “therapy by work” approach,  which  he  pioneered.  It  was  the  foundations  for  later thinking in what we now call Occupational Therapy.  Brock  believed  that  cures  were  to  be  found in activity and work.[9]  Whilst other Owen biographers have talked of Geddes’ impact, none have cited this all important correspondence which provided the eureka moment that led to groundwork to be set for Owen’s own thinking.  Geddes is not cited in Potter (2014), is only indexed on two pages in Dominic Hibberd (2003); Guy Cuthbertson (2014) has one indexed reference to Geddes and Stallworthy (1974) has not indexed references to the Edinburgh Francophile.

Nevertheless, it was no coincidence that Owen’s first writing task on being admitted to Craiglockhart War Hospital was to visit Geddes’ Outlook Tower and write an essay on it for Dr Brock.  This again seals the role of Geddes in creating the inspirational spark, albeit indirectly.  Geddes gave Brock the medical inspiration, and gave Owen a site of learning[10] when he first arrived in Edinburgh alongside a readymade enlightenment group to connect with. Whilst Geddes did not appear on the list of those Owen wrote should receive a copy of his first collection of poems, no less than 5 of the 21 names were part of the Geddes/Brock social-cultural network: Dr Brock, Dr Sampson (Astronomer Royal) Miss Wyer (later chairperson of Geddes’ Outlook Tower), Mrs Gray (Edinburgh socialite and artistic set), Mrs Fullarton (teacher Tynecastle School) and a further two were people Owen met in Edinburgh.  Thus a total of a third of the names Owen valued enough to be gifted a copy of his first edition were from his “Edinburgh enlightenment”.[11]  Two further names on the list were direct France connections from Owen’s time in France before the war: Johnny de la Touche and Laurent Tailhade.  The impact is clear to see by the proportionate break down of this list by location and part of Owen’s life.  Edinburgh was the site of Owen’s enlightenment.

A piece of evidence in the “Geddes inspired Owen” Franco-Scottish case study is of interest.  Having visited Outlook Tower for his essay task, Owen penned his first Edinburgh written poem “The Ballad of Lady Yollande”. Whilst biographers note its Walter Scott influence (Stallworthy 1983, 472) many have overlooked French connections. Yolande of Aragon is the granddaughter of Margaret of Anjou, an important character in Scott’s Anne of Geierstein. The other characters of Owen’s poem come from other Scott works are Baron Oberon features in Rokeby, a Shakespeare incarnation perhaps and with Sir Lance the Gay and Sir Price the Prince both worthy of further research.  Scott letters show that the abbey tower of Kelso, a modern mansion of Fleurs, form together a kingdom for Oberon and Titania.  Owen had visited Kelso first in 1912 on a family holiday and came across Sir Walter Scott’s work again.  This is another area ripe for further enquiry.  Owen first noted Scott when he saw his work in the British Library in 1911 (Bell 24). Owen found Scott’s writing “absolutely illegible”, however it is clear that Scott becomes a recurring feature in Owen’s thinking, especially when in Scotland. For now, the Ballad of Lady Yollande begins with perhaps Owen being taken into the bosom of care he received both from France and Edinburgh:

 My Ladye owed a stripling lad
 Unto her privie page.
 Though five and ten he scantly had,
 Both stalwarte was and sage;
 And in his sarlette sylke y-clad,
 Was the flower of her equipage. 

Owen’s writing marathon had now begun.  He used the pseudonym “Mustard Seed” when writing in the Hydra, the Craiglockhart War Hospital publication.[12]  A literary link perhaps with previous Hydra contributors including pseudonym Peaseblossom; but also as in the Gospel of St. Matthew (13:31-32), Owen developed from the smallest of seeds to the mighty tree of the English anti-war literary canon, albeit not seeing his ultimate success.  Like mustard, there are two definitive types, English and French. Owen met many people and fused ideas and people together to form the man and poetry he is known for.   

Owen’s writing marathon had now begun.  He used the pseudonym “Mustard Seed” when writing in the Hydra, the Craiglockhart War Hospital publication.[12]  A literary link perhaps with previous Hydra contributors including pseudonym Peaseblossom; but also, like Matthew 13:31-32 Owen developed from the smallest of seeds to the mighty tree of English literature anti-war canon, albeit not seeing his ultimate success.  Like mustard, there are two definitive types, English and French. Owen met many people and fused ideas and people together to form the man and poetry he is known for.    My Ladye owed a stripling lad Unto her privie page. Though five and ten he scantly had, Both stalwarte was and sage; And in his sarlette sylke y-clad, Was the flower of her equipage.

The Flourishing, Albertina Maria Dauthieu The Thistle and the Rose. 

Having looked at two Franco-Scottish influenced figures, about whom we cannot say with certainty Owen ever met, the next study is perhaps more straight-forward though under reported. Owen certainly met Albertina Dauthieu, though this meeting seems to have been virtually written out of history. First and foremost , it is often assumed Owen remained within Edinburgh when he was a patient at Craiglockhart War Hospital in 1917. However, Owen and fellow Craiglockhart patient Siegfried Sassoon did travel beyond the city boundary. Sassoon travelled to Glasgow (Sassoon wrote from Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow), North Berwick (where he played golf) and possibly also St Andrews (the Craiglockhart Hospital magazine, The Hydra, told of golfing trips being arranged for St Andrews, and Sassoon wrote a poem about golfing there). An account of Owen’s visit to Milnathort assumes he was stationed at the nearby Kinross military camp.[13]  In searcg if ebtertainment, it seems that both Sassoon and Owen traveled north of Edinburgh, over the Forth Bridge following the northward direction of Queen Margaret and many pilgrims before, into the Kingdom of Fife in central Scotland. Possibly traveling by train, as railway maps of the time show a direct route, the two officer-patients arrived at the Thistle Inn, Milnathort, some 30 miles north of Edinburgh. The connections between the patients and the inn in Milnathort, Fife, are unclear.  It is possible there may have been an Edinburgh connection as the Dauthieu family had lived in Edinburgh.[14]  It may even have been simply the fact that Milnathort Golf Course sat right next to the Thistle Inn they visited in Milnathort and this was, initially at least, a Sassoon sojourn.[15] The course had been established in April 1910, its location offering ease of access from Edinburgh, Perth and Glenfarg.[16] Recent information gives a further insight into why Sassoon and Owen were perhaps drawn to the Thistle Inn. Its owner and head  chef, Albert Dauthieu not only brought French cuisine to Scotland but did so in style. Dauthieu had been trained by the celebrated chef, August Escoffier in Paris and then moved to the Savoy in London before taking on a number of hotels across Scotland, including this one at Milnathort.  There can be no doubt that Albert’s cooking could have been a welcome treat away from the hospital food at Craiglockhart, which was documented to have been mediocre at best.

Whatever the reasons for the poets’ Milnathort visit, Owen’s meeting with the Inn owner’s daughter, Albertina Dauthieu sheds fresh light on his sexuality.  Owen’s visits to Milnathort also allow us to understand more about one of Owen’s lesser known poems, “The Ballad of Many Thorns”. 

Owen’s two most recent biographers, Guy Cuthbertson and Jane Potter, do not mention Owen’s meetings with Dauthieu in Milnathort. The names do not appear in the indexes. Dominic Hibberd’s book of 1992, a focussed account on Owen’s last year, including his time as a patient in Scotland did not mention the event. The only account of it amongst Owen’s biographers comes via Jon Stallworthy (1974). Even then, the episode takes up less than one page of a three hundred and thirty-three page account of Owen’s life. Full details of Owen’s visit offer insights, as does his returning to see her more than once. This significant omission is of interest. Stallworthy, even in mentioning the meeting, did not share all his research notes. The full account would have painted a fuller picture than that which his book gives.

Stallworthy notes that Sassoon and Owen would sometimes go for a drink and meal to “The Thistle” pub in the main street of Milnathort (Stallworthy 1974, 231). There is certainly evidence that the officer poets visited this former coaching inn, however that they both visited many times is speculation. Stalworthy notes reveal that, “he [Owen] came back once or twice to borrow my [Dauthieu’s] photograph album and he came to say goodbye”.[17] Stallworthy notes Owen “evidently delighted” by the publican’s “good French name and ‘his wife’s good French cooking’” (Stallworthy 1974, 231). Stallworthy records “one night” when they moved into the parlour to sing songs with a Cameron Highlander playing the piano. Stallworthy notes Sassoon speaking with the Colonel, whilst Owen sat in the window seat talking with the publican’s 19 year-old daughter, Albertina Marie Dauthieu. He noted that she thought him “gay and charming” (although there is no implication of this being a homosexual reference, considering the use of the word “gay” at the time). Nevertheless, Stallworthy does nothing to inform readers of the exchange in that window seat. This omission leads to a continued mono-narrative of Owen and homosexuality. Stallworthy only notes Owen not talking of his war experiences, only of the “good fortune of meeting Sassoon” and that he was helping him with his work (Stallworthy 1974, 231). According to Stallworthy, Albertina took this as a refence to his soldiering, only later to realise this misunderstanding. Stallworthy finishes his very short account of their meeting and dialogue with the fact that Owen had taken her autograph book and that he took it away, later bringing it back (again this is unclear) with the song they had sung together:

 And so I’ll have my posy
 Of the fairest flower that blows
 Embower’d by The Thistle
 And accompanied by a Rose 
(From In Merrie England (1902) written by Basil Hood and composed by Edward German according to Stallworthy (174: 231))

Stallworthy ends his description of events on this, never returning to it and never giving it analysis. However, a deeper dive into the archives reveals Stallworthy’s research notes and various correspondence with Dauthieu.[19]  These give a fuller insight to the episode and leave us asking questions as to why it was muted by Stallworthy when he first shared the Owen-Dauthieu meeting, and then never written about again by other biographers.  A narrative of Owen and “homosexuality only” has arisen and formed as the established Owen narrative for many. Firstly, this came via Owen letter collector, Professor Joseph Cohen. He felt there was a “conspiracy of silence” around Owen and homosexuality and sought to prove what Robert Graves had alluded to in an American edition of his Goodbye to All That: Owen as an “idealized homosexual”. Then the idea of Owen as a homosexual is reinforced by one of Owen’s biographers.  Potter notes that Hibberd “categorically states, in his 2002 biography, that Owen was ‘gay’ ” albeit she states there is “no historical evidence of any sexual encounter” (Potter 124). Hibberd certainly explicitly identifies Owen as homosexual.  He states “One claim often made about Owen is undoubtably true…. He was gay” (Hibberd 2003, xxi). This certainty has now seeped into the narrative. Owen is now identified as both a celebrated war poet but also a celebrated homosexual (Shephard 90 and 93). Hibberd cites as proof of this “the abundant evidence in his writing of a strong homoerotic impulse” (Hibberd 2003, xxi) although he also states that evidence of sexual relationships is “less obvious” (Hibberd 2003, xxii). It may be worth considering that Hibberd ascribes homosexuality elsewhere in his Owen biography without detailed evidence.  Laurent Tailhade is described as “almost certain bisexual or gay” (Hibberd 2003, 168) and Captain Sorrel is described as “perhaps gay” (Hibberd 2003, 283) without any further evidence.  Hibberd uses “perhaps”, “probably” and “could be” many times in the text. One example of it counters Hibberd’s main evidence plank for Owen’s homosexuality. Hibberd declaires, “His [Owen’s] sexuality, central to his writing…” (Hibberd 2003, 346). It is another example of presumptions, maybe even poetic licence, as opposed to facts in writing the story of Wilfred Owen.  On the same page Hibberd notes that his poetry “would be driven by love for men” (Hibberd 2003, 346). Assumptions can take primacy without detailed evidence presented to turn them into fact.  Hibberd makes no mention of Owen’s visits to Dauthieu in Milnathort, despite it featuring in the biography of Owen published before Hibberd began writing on him. A review of Owen’s meeting with the French woman Dauthieu helps to give a further view on Owen’s life, demonstrating his engagement with females and their strong admiration of him.

Dauthieu wrote to Stallworthy in an undated letter, “It was such a tragedy that he should lose his life at the very last and makes one think of the verse:

 Your life is like a little winter’s day
 Who’s[20]  sad sun rises late, to set too soon
 You have just come, why will you go away
 Making an evening of what should be noon?[21] 
 Your life is like a little flute complaining
 A long way off, beyond the willow trees
 A long way off, and nothing left remaining
 But memory of music in the breeze
 Your life is like a pitiful leave taking
 Wept in a dream before a man’s awakening
 A Call with only shadows to attend
 A Benediction whispered and belated
 Which has no fruit beyond a consecrated
 A consecrated  silence at the end”.

Dauthieu notes these words from Hilaire Belloc who lived near Dauthieu’s Sussex home at the time of her correspondence with Stallworthy.  The letter closes with directions to her house. 

Stallworthy met Dauthieu, and started their meeting by saying, “I hope you won’t think of this as an ‘interview’, far less an ‘interrogation’, but simply a gentle talk about a ‘mutual friend’, whom I unfortunately know only through his writings. You must remember that it is a rare privilege for me to talk to someone who really knew Wilfred”.[22] 

Dauthieu clearly did know Wilfred well, and she was particularly keen to see and use a picture: “this happy photo of him”, but that she cannot find or source.  She clearly has vivid memories of Wilfred and his visit.

A follow up letter to Stallworthy notes that he sent her a typescript of the meeting. In it Dauthieu noted that he forgot Madame Sergeants’ remembrance of lives and encloses a xerox paper cutting (although that is not in the archive file today).  Dauthieu has written to a librarian to search for a book which contains “this happy photo of lives” and has written to a second hand book seller and author but he could not help. She hoped to find the picture as, “I think the picture is very necessary – it shows him so happy”. Another letter states “I must get the other photograph because it will show you the Wilfred as he showed himself to me- kind- gentle- sensitive & with me I felt, happy”.[23]

In the same letter she states, “he didn’t propose to me, but he was the only man who wrote me such charming verses I have long mourned their loss”.  In another letter she noted “I do wish your book every success and regret I could not show you the full poem he wrote for me so long ago”.

However, on another sheet of paper she encloses the last verse and asks, “if you should ever find the two others – one line of which runs ‘an lily flower of la belle France’ – will you promise to give me a copy?”  The only verse we thus know of Owen writing to Dauthieu is:

 and so I’ll have my posy
 Of the fairest flower that blows
 Embower’d by the thistle
 & accompanied by a Rose 

Stallworthy’s notes of the meeting suggest Dauthieu found Owen to be “charming, gentle and lively company” and “in no sense a tragic figure”. His typewritten scripts show Dauthieu recalling:

 Owen sitting beside me…. He asked me a lot of questions about myself on which subject there was really nothing to tell except I wasn’t very old for my age and even less clever.  He didn’t seem to mind and asked me shyly if I were ‘promised’ or engaged- and to my horror just as he said this there happened one of those sudden silences in the general talk [presumably of the others in the bar that night and around the piano] and his question was heard by everybody.  I hastily said “no” and someone called, “Not yet”, which made me blush.[24]

This specific part of the episode, the detailed discussion between the two did not make it into Stallworthy’s biography nor the fact Owen returned many times and, in particular, returned to say goodbye to Albertina Dauthieu. The implication of a closer bond is there but is not in the narrative of Stallworthy (1974) or other biographers thereafter.  It is possible that the writing out of such episodes, and highlighting and inferences on Owen’s other relationships, with men in particular, has allowed for a particular “mono-homosexual” narrative to form.  As we can see from this evidence, that narrative is perhaps in need of revision and light could be shed on Owen’s close female connections.  We might also consider why this episode does not appear in Owen’s letters.  If they are noted in the ones destroyed or redacted, why might that be?  It may be the case that Owen did not want to share his most intimate relations with females with his most regular female correspondent, his mother – Susan Owen.

A letter from Alan Denson to Harold Owen in 1968 offers some clues on reductions and removed letters.[25] Denson writes “I was rather tickled by your admission of guilt about excisions from the holograph of the letters.  Naughty, naughty! – and as you rightly say you cannot now see why you could have imagined any of the parts deleted here reprehensible.  Poor kid, in his letters having an outlet for repressed sensuality –  that uncomfortable twin to spiritual potential! (Have you read Cezanne’s letters?  He (sic) poor fellow suffered all his long life from living in the realms of sense”.[26]  The destroyed and redacted letters of Owen are for another article. There is much more to consider and research here, especially in light of the above.

Fresh finds:  Owen’s Franco-Scottish fiancé[27]

The Dauthieu family (McLennan Pers. Corr. 22 July 2020) noted that Albertina, as per the tradition in France at that time, took her name from her father.  She was a stylish, attractive French lady and later travelled the world whilst connecting with “the good and the great”.  In letter correspondence with this author it was noted:

My sister’s take on the Marie – W.O. relationship is that there was [an] H.L.I. officer heavily involved with Marie when W.O. appeared on the scene.  Her understanding was that W.O. was infatuated with Marie and approaches the said officer and told him that if he did not make it back from the front then he, W.O. would ask Marie for her hand!  I suppose these were strange days with a soldier’s life expectancy measured in days, strange things were said and done. (McLennan Pers. Corr. 22 July 2020)

In follow up conversations it has become apparent that Albertina was betrothed to two men – Wilfred Owen and the H.L.I. officer (later enquiries reveal this to have been 2nd Lt James Miller M.C. , 6th Bn. Cameron Highlanders from nearby Dollar. Cameron was killed on 11th March 1918 aged 28 years old).   

At the time of Owen meeting Dauthieu and in the post war era of Stallworthy’s enquiries this was seen as an embarrassing state of affairs and, as such, it was not shared.  However, the family are content for this information to be shared as it helps to shed light on the events of the time.  Stallworthy had sight of correspondence between Albertina Dauthieu and Wilfred Owen however it was all burned after her death (Pers. Corr.). 

Further dialogue with the family helps garner further information which alters what we know of Owen’s poetry.  It reveals that Owen had written a poem for Albertina’s sister.  It is believed that “The Ballad of Many Thorns” may have been written about the sister – Rose – as opposed to Albertina herself.  Rose was also regularly in the Inn when officers were enjoying the venue’s hospitality and convivial nature.  Rose was deaf and dumb and the officers took her on as an almost mascot figure in the locality (McLennan Pers. Corr. 22 July 2020).  Rose had an autograph book which contained the names of many of those who visited the Inn during this era including Lord Allanby and Forbes McKenzie. That autograph book has now been gifted to Edinburgh Napier University’s War Poets Collection, in addition to another artefact, an Imperial War Museum invitation to a war poetry event, extended to Albertina Dauthieu by Jon Stallworthy. These items may help to shed light on this Franco-Scottish connection of Wilfred Owen’s that has lain unshared for over a century. Owen’s meetings and correspondence with Dauthieu allows us an insight into Owen’s heterosexual activity.  Whilst it does not eliminate homosexual inferences, it does allow some further nuanced understanding of the man. How that impacted on his poetry is for further papers and analysis.

By simply shedding light on Owen and his connections via a Franco-Scottish lens on his time in Edinburgh, one can see some new angles worthy of consideration, whilst developing fresh perspectives on Owen the man and Owen the poet.  We can see more about his intellectual development and socio-cultural and personal relations, with poetry forming with each of them and in Dauthieu’s case, poetic lines shared with her and inspired by her.  Owen was to pen “The Ballad of Many Thorns” inspired by his trips to The Thistle, and “the Rose”, according to Stallworthy (Stallworthy, 1983:122), was supposedly Albertina Dauthieu whom Owen met there.  We can however now see that the “Rose” was specifically taken from Rose Dauthieu.  The poem places The Thistle in the context of wounds received walking through fields and “the barb of Iron”.  It even shares an episode of joviality, wine and “wind ups” which may well have been taken from the episode Dauthieu described to Stallworthy. The location of the Thistle Inn is also placed in the poem, for the Inn was book ended by two churches, and a manse, at either end of the street. “There hung near by a Jesus” was more than accurate in Owen’s Ballad.  Most of all, Owen closes the poem with the pain of meeting Dauthieu and then having to leave:

 Then cried the gentle Poet:
 ‘Not one among ye knows:
 The cruelest [sic] thorn I know
 For having kissed the Rose.’ 

In conclusion, scholarship of Wilfred Owen has followed a familiar path for many years with established narratives forming. Owen’s time in Edinburgh has been largely overlooked by biographers thus far and shedding light on it opens up new knowledge. [28]  Whilst Owen’s time in France is well documented, fusing Owen’s two sites of poetic inspiration and work allows for fresh consideration of the poet and his life and love. During his time in Edinburgh, Owen connected with a socio-cultural set which included a number of Franco-Scottish influences.  In some cases there are direct links, in other cases more scholarship is needed to make a direct connection between them, or to tease out  links and influences in Owen’s Brock-Geddes facilitated Edinburgh network.  However, there are some direct links and those are revealing.  Francophile Patrick Geddes provided the “ergotherapy” conditions for the most significant period of Owen’s thinking and writing.  The seed was planted and truly did blossom.  Between a fifth and a quarter of his poems and manuscripts were written in, updated in or inspired by Owen’s time in Edinburgh. These included, arguably, his most significant: “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and “Dulce Et Decorum Est”. Furthermore, all the poems published in his lifetime come from this time.[29]  Finally, in the list of people to receive a copy of his published poems, Franco-Scottish influences come to the fore. 

Scotland provided a bridge between Owen’s pre-war and wartime France experiences and his return to Britain.  In Edinburgh, Owen flourished in a social cultural set beyond that of Sassoon. Furthermore, he met with Frenchwoman Albertina Dauthieu, even if most Owen biographers fail to mention these meetings. This demonstrates the need for more scholarship on Owen for this paper has shown that further investigation of these seemingly innocuous interactions opens new paths of enquiry which may alter our perceptions of Owen on his life, loves and writing .  We can add another tier of influencers and impacts on Owen from La fleur (Geddes providing the seeds of thinking) to et le chardon (Dauthieu meeting Owen at her family-run Thistle Inn). Owen’s use of Mustard Seed as a name is apt as he hoped to flourish just as the plants he studied came to life. In Owen’s meetings with Albertina Dauthieu it seems he certainly did flourish. This evidence may challenge extant mono-narratives of Owen and homosexuality.  Hopefully more scholars “will grasp the thistle”[30], to open more knowledge on Owen in Scotland, and the strong Franco-Scottish influences on his life and writing. 

Works cited

Bell, John. Wilfred Owen: Selected Letters.Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985.

Cohen, Joseph. “Owen Agonistes”, English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, January 1 1985, 1:5, pp 253-268.

Cuthbertson, Guy. Wilfred Owen. New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2014.

Hibberd, Dominic. Wilfred Owen: The Last Year 1917-1918. London, Constable, 1992.

– – – Wilfred Owen: A New Biography. London, Phoenix, 2003.  

Pittock, Murray, Enlightenment in a Smart City: Edinburgh’s Civic Development 1660-1750. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2019.

Potter, Jane. Wilfred Owen: An Illustrated Life. Oxford, The Bodleian Library, 2014.

Shephard, Ben. War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists 1914-1994. London, Jonathan Cape, 2000

Siân, Reynold. Paris-Edinburgh: Cultural Connections in the Belle Epoque. London, Routledge, 2016.

Stallworthy, Jon. Wilfred Owen. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1974.

– – – Wilfred Owen: The Complete Poems and Fragments. Chatto and Windus, London, 1983.

[1]McLennan, N 2018a, ‘Six o’ Clock in Princes Street: An analysis of Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh ‘re-education », Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 148, no. 2018, pp. 333-351.[ONLINE] DOI: HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.9750/PSAS.148.1256

McLennan, N 2018b, ‘Regeneration, re-education and an anthem for peace: Insights for education from the re-education of Wilfred Owen during his 1917 convalescence at Craiglockhart War Hospital’ British Educational Research Association Blog. [ONLINE] DOI: HTTPS://WWW.BERA.AC.UK/BLOG/REGENERATION-RE-EDUCATION-AND-AN-ANTHEM-FOR-PEACE

McLennan, NDR 2018c, ‘War Poets’ Trail’ History Scotland, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 27.

McLennan, NDR 2018d, ‘Wilfred’s Walk: Princes Street, Edinburgh (2)’, Wilfred Owen Association Journal, vol. 2018, no. 1, pp. 20-24.

McLennan, NDR 2018e, ‘‘Owen and Sassoon’s Strange Meeting Reconsidered?’’, Siegfried’s Journal, vol. 33, pp. 10-16.

McLennan, NDR 2017a, ‘War Poet’s Walk: Princes Street, Edinburgh’, Siegfried’s Journal.

McLennan, NDR 2017b, ‘Wilfred’s War’ History Scotland, vol. 2017, no. 4, pp. 48-48.

McLennan, NDR 2017c, ‘‘Wilfred’s Walk [1]: Princes Street Edinburgh’’, Wilfred Owen Association Journal, vol. 2018, no. 1, pp. 20-24.

McLennan, NDR 2016, ‘Edinburgh’s Pentland Hills: Wilfred Owen’s ‘Oxford University », Wilfred Owen Association Journal, vol. 2016-1, no. 1, pp. 14-17.

McLennan, N 2010 ‘A Very Special English Teacher: Wilfred  Owen  and  the  Lost  Boys  of  Tynecastle  High School’, Western Front Association Journal – Stand To!  88

[2]McLennan 2018a, McLennan N, 2017d, Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh Enlightenment, Royal Society of Edinburgh Lecture, Craiglockhart, Edinburgh, 15 August 2017; McLennan N 2017e War Poets Meeting Holed in One: Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves at Baberton Golf Club, 1917, Pentland Book Festival, Baberton Golf Club, 13 October 2017.

[3]McLennan, 2018a


[5]Patrick Geddes 1854-1932, National Library of Scotland website

[6]Wilfred Owen to Susan Owen, 21 October 1915, “I am two minutes from the Headquarters. Only 3 minutes from Imperial Hotel and 5 from Waverley, in I am at home in the region.”  (Bell, 167).

Also of note, Owen’s letter from Tavistock Square on 27 October 1915 sees him ask his copy of Tailhade: Poèmes Aristophanesques (Paris, 1904) to be sent to him from his bookcase.


[8] The Edinburgh Owen experienced was not all that different from the “smart city” Professor Murray Pittock described during the era ascribed as “Edinburgh’s enlightenment” with Owen influenced by the professions, arts, taverns and social meeting places, books and newspaper reading and production. 

[9]“Ergotherapy”  letter  is  in  the  University  of   Strathclyde Geddes collection: T-GED 9 General Correspondence  9/939.  Further  correspondence between Geddes and Brock can be found both in the University of Strathclyde archive and also the Patrick Geddes archives at the National Library of Scotland.

[10] Owen also had a Geddes published book in his library from his time in Edinburgh.  Victor Branford (1913) St Columba (Edinburgh). Stallworthy (1974) notes this book in Appendix C but the omission of the full title and publisher impacts on researchers. The full reference should read Branford, Victor (1913) St Columba: A Study of Social Inheritance and Spiritual Development (Patrick Geddes and Colleagues, Outlook Tower, Edinburgh and More’s Garden, Chelsea). 

[11]McLennan, (2018a)

[12]McLennan, N (2017) RSE lecture shared the premise that “Mustard Seed” name in The Hydra was Owen.

[13]Stallworthy typed noted of Dauthieu visit Saturday 8th August 1971 (Oxford University, uncatalogued)

[14]Dauthieu, Albert, chef, 10 Brunton Place, Edinburgh (1911-12 Edinburgh and Leith Postal Directory)

[15] National Library of Scotland maps online: Fife and Kinross Sheet XVIII.SW (includes: Kinross; Orwell)
Publication date: 1919   Date revised: 1913

[16] Milnathort Golf Course history:-

[17]Stallworthy typed noted of Dauthieu visit Saturday 8th August 1971 (Oxford University, uncatalogued)

[18]From In Merrie England (1902) written by Basil Hood and composed by Edward German according to Stallworthy (174: 231)

[19] Research notes are kept at Bodelian Library, University of Oxford [Stallworthy (11875) 13- Dauthieu folder]

[20] Note, this appears as ‘whose’ in Belloc’s text.

[21] Note, the ‘?’ Does not appear in Belloc’s text.

[22]Dauthieu to Stallworthy (undated letter) in Owen archive, Oxford University [Stallworthy (11875) 13- Dauthieu folder]

[23] Dauthieu to Stallworthy (undated letter, possibly 8 August 1971) in Owen archive, Oxford University [Stallworthy (11875) 13- Dauthieu folder]

[24] Stallworthy typed notes of interview with Dauthieu (8 August 1971) in Owen archive, Oxford University [Stallworthy (11875) 13- Dauthieu folder]

[25]Alan Denson to Harold Owen, 22 March 1968, University of Oxford (uncatalogued).

[26]Alan Denson to Harold Owen, 22 March 1968, University of Oxford (uncatalogued).

[27] Over 100 years after Owen’s meeting with Albertina Dauthieu, the author of this paper worked with Dr Alan Walker MBE to trace her family. This has led to new insights into her life and relationship with Wilfred Owen.  Following McLennan’s 2017 find of the venue where Owen, Graves and Sassoon met together, Alan Walker supported the search for Siegfried Sassoon’s golfing partner that day, which led to the poetic meeting. Two years later, Walker again supported McLennan’s research, this time tracing some possible living Dauthieu family members.  Contact from McLennan in the past year has now led to new light being shed on Owen’s life and love.

[28]McLennan, 2018a

[29]McLennan, N 2018, “Six o’ Clock in Princes Street: An analysis of Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh ‘re-education”, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 148, no. 2018, pp. 333-351. [ONLINE] DOI: HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.9750/PSAS.148.1256

This article updates on the Wilfred Owen Association website states that Owen had published four poems in his lifetime and the British Library website suggests five published works before his death in 1918. His biographer Dominic Hibberd also said that five were published in his lifetime.   However, further analysis of his poems written in and after his time in Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart War Hospital shows that a total of six poems were published in Owen’s short lifetime: “Song of Songs” (The Hydra, Craiglockhart War Hospital Magazine, 1 September 1917); a fragment of a poem in Owen’s editorial, which possibly later made up the poem “The Dead-Beat” (part of editorial of The Hydra, 1 September 1917); ‘The Next War’ (The Hydra, 29 September 1917); “Miners” (The Nation, 26 January 1918); “Futility” (The Nation, 15 June 1918) and “Hospital Barge” (The Nation, 15 June 1918) of his poems being published during his time in Edinburgh.   

[30]“Grasp the nettle” is a British saying which means to tackle a difficulty boldly.

Neil McLennan is Senior Lecturer and Director of Leadership Programmes at King’s College, University of Aberdeen.  He is a former President of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History and was Head of History at Tynecastle High School in Edinburgh – the school Wilfred Owen taught at in late 1917 as part of his recovery from ‘shell-shock’.  Neil has researched Wilfred Owen’s time in Edinburgh over the past two decades and was Chairman of “Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh 1917:2017” – a significant series of public engagement events commemorating the war poets being in Edinburgh.  Neil also lectured in Ors as part of the 100th anniversary commemorations of Wilfred Owen’s death.  Neil was appointed an honorary member of the Wilfred Owen Association in 2017. 

Une réflexion sur « La fleur et le chardon: Wilfred Owen’s Franco-Scottish influences. »

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