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William Sharp Biography: Fiona Macleod

The Early Life of William Sharp

William Sharp
William Sharp

William Sharp was born on 12th September 1855 in paisley, Scotland and spent his childhood in the Scottish Highlands. He tried to run away from his own house three times, and one of the times away from home spent a whole summer in a gipsy encampment. His start of an academic career was from Glasgow academy.

In 1863, his aunt and uncle with their children came to visit London and to spend some time with their mates. William became much attached to his cousin Elizabeth who was a sweet pretty girl. They formed a bond of friendship and later fell in love and were engaged soon. Later he was sent to the University of Glasgow to become a writer and a learned man of letters.

But in 1872 his health started decreasing and he had to leave his education. He contracted typhoid which was due to ingesting contaminated foodstuffs or liquids. Due to no formal degree, he accepted the job of a clerk and became an attorney’s clerk.

His start William Sharp’s Literary Career

After his continuous heath decrease, he was sent to pacific cruise by his family. Later, in 1878, he settled in London and became a bank clerk. He started to establish himself as an artist of literature in front of his literary group that included Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Walter Pater.

Pater encouraged William for his literary worked and made him believe in his writing skills. His first literary work which appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette was much appreciated by Pater. Pater encouraged his literary work, which first appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette.

Soon in the 1880s he became a well-established writer and published three books of poetry and wrote several articles and reviews. For his better focus on literature and writing styles, he left London for a time and focused on producing quality work.


In 1884, he married his childhood best friend and his second cousin Elizabeth Amelia Sharp who not only became a companion but also a co-worker. There joint work on the anthology Lyra Celtica was published in 1896. In 1892 Sharp left the banking sector to work as an editor in The Pagan Review.

The birth of Fiona Macleod

After a holiday with Elizabeth to Germany and Italy during the winters of 1891, sharp met with Edith Wingate Rinder. She was accompanied by Aunt Mona Caird and was a good friend of Elizabeth. They both came to visit Rome for three weeks.

During this visit, William sharp fell in love with Rinder and changed the life of William sharp completely. This affair led to the creation of a secret identity the name – “Fiona Macleod”.

Sharp adopted the pseudonym Fiona Macleod to publish one of his greatest works ‘Sospiri Di Roma’. The collection of the poem was out of inspiration and arousal that came from Rinder’s presence.

After returning from Italy in 1891 he started writing under the influence of the relationship with Edith Rinder. He published his prose of romance inspired by his relationship with Rinder under the title Pharais, A romance of the Isles under the name of Fiona Macleod.

He chose a female pseudonym to mark the importance of Rinder in his life. Pharais changed Sharp’s life. Another work under the pseudonym Fiona Macleod the Mountain Lovers in 1895, another set of Scotland romance, attracted anxious readers and critical notices.

After his works under the name Fiona Macleod became famous and had struck a sympathetic composition in the readers’ mind, sharp decided to personify the identity of Macleod. Through letters in her name and appreciation of her work in her writings, he promoted her personality.

At times he even predicted to be her assistant, sometimes her cousin and sometimes even her lover. Informing Fiona, sharp even painted upon Elizabeth as well as Edith Rinder to make Fiona alive.

Sharp inducted her sister, Mary Sharp who lived in Edinburg to write for Fiona’s Handwriting. Drafts which William used to write used to go to her sister for copying and mailing to people. In 1905, for a decade before his death, he lived the double life of his and Fiona Macleod.

He wanted to enhance his literary skills to sell his works and earn income to live. He did all possible tricks to keep the identity of Fiona Macleod safe and private. He asked reporters to keep her location private and deflected all the requests to interview Fiona Macleod.

He refused to burst the fiction of his double life even to the prime minister of England in fear of not getting pension on Fiona’s name. He thought that she might qualify for the civil list for pension and by telling the truth he did not want to ruin his creativity and his source of income.

Some of William Sharp’s Famous Works

From the Hills of Dream, Threnodies Songs and Later Poems

Published in 1901, this poem is one of the famous works of Fiona and included the poem The Lonely Hunter. The poem talks about the beauty that lies in isolation.

The happiness of a loner to feel the pain alone and the importance of music to them. The poem beautifully presented the feelings and emotions of an alone person who searches for a hill, who might itself is alone.

Famous works as Fiona Macleod

William Sharp: The Mountain Lovers
The Mountain Lovers

Pharais (1894), Mountain Lovers (1895), The Laughter of Peterkin (1895), The Sin-Eater and Other Tales (1895), Green Fire: A Romance (1896), The Washer of the Ford (1896), By Sundown Shores (1900), The Divine Adventure (1900) and others.

Famous works as William Sharp

Life of Joseph Severn (1892), A Fellow and his Wife (1892), Flower o’ the Vine (1892), Pagan Review (1892), Vistas (1894), Ecce puella and Other Prose Imaginings (1896), Fair Women in Painting and Poetry (1896), Lyra Celtica: An Anthology of Representative Celtic Poetry (1896).

His Later Life and Death

Sharp had been ill time and again since his early teens, a fact concealed through his charmed good looks and enthusiastic manner. Scarlatina in his youth and acute rheumatic fever at his young age damaged his heart, and later diabetes fated his death.

He died on December 12, 1905, due to cold. With his weak heart, the cold was enough to make him dead during his visit to his 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.

The identical nature of the two identities created by William was guarded closely by his wife, sister and two-three of his close friends. After his death, the Fiona letters were examined to be in his sister’s handwriting but their style and personality were of the various individuals.

William Sharp (Fiona Macleod)
William Sharp (Fiona Macleod)

Fiona’s letters poems, stories were of feminine quality and was quite unlike the style of William Sharp. Elizabeth published a biographical memoir to explain the world the creative necessity for the betrayal to the society for so many years.

A few years after his death, Elizabeth died leaving two large packets of material with a note “to be destroyed unexamined”. It is believed that the documents had the golden works of the unknown truth.