Wednesday, October 31, 2012

E.F.A. Geach

E. F. A. Geach (b. Essen, Germany, 24 May 1896; d. Cardiff, 10 August 1951)

Eleonora Frederika Adolphina Sgonina (her forenames were sometimes spelled as Eleonore, Frederyka, or Adolfina) was the oldest of four children of Adolf (sometimes Adolph) Sgonina (1870-1954) and his wife Eleonore (1874-1949), who were German-Polish and who were married in 1895.  Eleanora had three younger brothers.  Her father was a civil engineer, and just before the turn of the century the family settled in Cardiff, where Adolf became Managing Director of an Iron Works. At least two of his son would follow him in his profession.

Eleanora was educated at the City of Cardiff High School for Girls, and she apparently attended Cambridge University in 1914-15, before she registered as a Home Student at Oxford for the Hilary Term 1917. She kept terms at Oxford for three years, concluding with the Michaelmas Term 1919.  Her tutors included Miss C.A.E. Moberly (one of the two pseudonymous authors of the famous slim 1911 book An Adventure, recounting their apparently ghostly encounter during a summer 1901 visit at the Petit Trianon in Versailles) and Miss Dorothy Sayers. 

In between her time at Cambridge and Oxford, she married George Hender Geach (1884-1941), who (though he was born and died in Cardiff) worked in the Indian Education Service as a professor of philosophy at Lahore (later, he was principal of a teacher’s training college in Peshwar). After a short period of time in India, Eleanora returned to England for the birth of their one child, Peter (born in Lower Chelsea in London in March 1916), who became a distinguished philosopher. The marriage was unhappy and was quickly broken up. Up until around the age of eight, Peter lived with his maternal grandparents in Cardiff, after which time he was sent off to school by his father and raised by a guardian. Peter Geach never saw his mother again after childhood.

As E.F.A. Geach, Eleonora began publishing poetry while at Oxford. She collaborated on a small book of poems with a fellow student, D.E.A Wallace, better known as Doreen Wallace (1897-1989), who became a prolific novelist in the 1930s.  The book was entitled –Esques, and was published by B. H. Blackwell in May 1918.  It includes eight poems by Geach, nine by Wallace, and one collaboration. The poems are divided into six sections headed Arabesques, Burlesques, Fresques, Grotesques, Humoresques, and A Picturesque, thus explaining the book’s odd title.  One poem, “Episode”, in the Humoresques section seems to refer to Geach’s marriage:  “I loved you for a year, / perhaps a little more . . ./ And now it’s all over / And I feel as though I had never known you – / I feel no gaps, no longing. / Your passage through my life / was like the flight of a bird through the sky.”  T.S. Eliot reviewed –Esques (very briefly) in The Egoist, noting wryly:

“The authors of –Esques trickle down a fine broad page in a pantoum, a roundel, a villanelle, occasionally pagan, mode of thirty years ago:
Why then, O foolish Christ
Didst thou keep tryst
With maudlin harlots wan
With glad things gone?
 To which the obvious answer is. Why did you?  Young poets ought to be made to be cheaply printed; such sumptuous pages deceive many innocent critics.”  (August 1918,  p. 99)
from Fifty New Poems for Children (1922)

Geach, along with Dorothy Sayers and T.W. Earp edited Oxford Poetry 1918, also published by Blackwell. Earp co-edited the annual volume for the years 1915 through 1919; Sayers joined him for three years, 1917-1919. Geach was involved only for the one year. In the 1918 volume there are two poems by Geach and a third in collaboration with D.E.A. Wallace.  One of these poems, consisting of eight lines and titled “Romance”, seems to have been an inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem “The Road Goes Ever On”, the first expression of which appears in the final chapter of The Hobbit, though its better-known versions appear in The Lord of the Rings.  That Tolkien would have known the poem comes from the fact (first noticed, I believe, by John D. Rateliff) that it was reprinted immediately after Tolkien’s own poem “Goblin Feet” in Fifty New Poems for Children, a slim volume published by Blackwell in 1922 (p. 28). The poem reads:


Round the next corner and in the next street
Adventure lies in wait for  you.
Oh, who can tell what you may meet
Round the next corner and in the next street!
Could life be anything but sweet
When all is hazardous and new
Round the next corner and in the next street?
Adventure lies in wait for you.

Geach published one further booklet, Twenty Poems, which Blackwell released in March 1931. The poems were all new to the booklet save for one, which was reprinted from The Poetry Review.  These small volumes contain all of Geach’s known writings.  After her time in Oxford, she returned to her family in Cardiff, where she died in 1951. 

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