"Madly, Blindly, Entirely, Utterly"
"I love you with the passion of love that most women give once and once only to a man."
The most passionate letters by far in Isabel Sieveking's collected correspondence were sent by the nanny of her children between 1900 and 1903. Gwendoline Edwards signed her letters to "Bill darling" to "read in private" with her full name, and sometimes with a pet name, "Cherry." The class power dynamic that existed between the two women was unusual. Far from communicating with Sieveking as an employee would with her employer, Cherry chastises Sieveking for her failure to write, her interest in other girls, occasionally threatens to sleep with other maids such as "Rosie," and conspires with Sieveking to leave the children in another's care so the two could have their private trysts together.
In a note written on July 11, 1900, Edwards, distraught at the thought that Sieveking's silence derives from her "love of another girl...[that she] has no time to think of me or want me," temporarily breaks up with Sieveking, after Sieveking had asked her to hide their relationship from this other woman. Full of "a whole passion of misery," jealousy, and hurt from "hear[ing] the post bell ring" without any letters from Sieveking, Edwards ultimately offers forgiveness and begs Sieveking to reply and deny these accusations: tell me that you don't love her as much as you do me and if I may sleep with you as of old...Darling tell me you and she don't have all the happy times you and I did- tell me you don't kiss her often, hold her hand- tell me you don't give her all the signs of love you gave me." In the absence of a reply, we can only assume that Sieveking succeeds in soothing these feelings of jealousy, as Edwards continues to write her such declarations for several more years.
Reading Victorian letters between women, the modern reader often finds it difficult to tell if rhetorical excess expresses friendship or masks physical passion. Edwards' letters, however, are often explicit and unabashed about the romantic and sexual nature of their love. On December 11, 1901, Edwards writes to her "Heart's Dearest" on no uncertain terms that "Since I have known you I am more than ever sure of myself- you are what I have been looking for- longing for. You have satisfied me- I have given to you what no one else can ever have- shall never have- and I have given myself unconditionally to you- no man, no woman in this world can ever be to me what you are. Darling-- I love you madly, blindly, (if you will) entirely, utterly."
Far from a purely emotional affection, Edwards goes on to describe, in detail, her physical desire for Sieveking, writing: "Tonight I have to spend with you in public- do you know how nearly distracted it makes me? The tension is almost more than I can bear at times...However late we come home you must come to me for a few minutes- Yet do not come because I want you- but because you want to come to me." Many months later, on July 22, 1902, such feelings remain strong as Edwards impatiently scribbles that "I must possess patience until I can feel your warms tight round me tomorrow night-- and then it will be such a rest after days of passionate restlessness."
Such an enduring emotional and physical passion was clearly seen as a replacement for traditional heterosexual marriage by Edwards, who frequently cites the pressure her family has placed on her to marry, her own consideration of that possibility, and her ultimate decision that such a concession would be impossible: "I cannot- I will not- The idea of spending a life with anyone whom one could only feel friendship is impossible...I should hate anyone to touch what is yours- to kiss me as you kiss me- to hold me as you do- I cannot do it Isabel- I would rather die." The unfortunate marriages of mutual female friends are also a recurrent topic of discussion in these letters. These situations, in which the woman inevitably yearns for the more emotionally and intellectually equal relationships she has given up for a marriage that proves unsatisfying and anti-climactic, serve as further justification for Edwards' refusal to enter into "a lifetime of regret."