Beatrice Groves – Ink-Bottles, Anodos and Anomie

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a Hogwarts Professor Guest Post: Ink-Bottles, Anodos and Anomie: Mary Elizabeth Coleridge and the epigraphs of Ink Black Heart. Join me after the jump for Prof. Groves’ introduction to how this all but forgotten poet could, very neatly, fit into The Ink Black Heart. This is the first of three posts by Beatrice in the run up to publication day.

Ink-Bottles, Anodos and Anomie: Mary Elizabeth Coleridge and the epigraphs of Ink Black Heart

On August 12th Rowling gave us the epigraph to the first chapter of Ink Black Heart in response to a question from @rowlingmore:

John has discussed that poem here and give us his reading of what it seems likely to be mean: ‘My guess, though, is that Rowling includes it here as a pointer to a heart to heart transformative moment in Strike’s conversation with Robin at the Ritz, in which they share their feelings of mutual admiration — and fears about what will happen if they act on those feelings. A seminal conversation, after which it can never be pretended that they do not know about the other’s feelings and fears.’ I think John is absolutely on the money here, so this post is not about the poem which Rowling has shared but about the rest of Mary Elizabeth Coleridge’s poetry, and what it might mean for Ink Black Heart if she is the author of the rest of the epigraphs.

Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861-1907) published under the pseudonym Anodos and the style and subject of her poetry – as well as her use of an alias – make her a fitting choice for the epigraph-author of Ink Black Heart. It might seem unlikely for Rowling to reveal her hand like this – last time she provided us with a poetic Twitter clue, it turned out to be a reference to a fairly small red herring in Lethal White, not evidence that Catullus would be providing the novel’s epigraphs. On the other hand, Rowling did reveal the authorship of all the Troubled Blood epigraphs in a twitter heading so might she be happy to reveal the author of all Ink Black Heart’s epigraphs? Other, perhaps more likely, possibilities exist. Her choice of Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (a relatively unknown poet who was the great-great niece of the more famous Samuel Taylor Coleridge) is suggestive. My first guesses would be that all the epigraphs will be taken from female writers who wrote under pseudonyms; or maybe female writers who are related to more famous men. Both would fit with what we know of Ink Black Heart so far, and with the Strike series’ interest in both fame and violence against women (in this case a cultural rather than a physical suppression). So far there has been no pattern to the authorship of the epigraphs: Strike 1 & 2 had multiple authors, 3 had lyrics from the same band (different lyricists), 4 & 5 from not only the same author, but even the same text. We might expect Ink Black Heart to echo Silkworm in having multiple examples from a similar genre of text (all Victorian women poets, for example), but it could equally follow the example of Career of Evil and take all its epigraphs from one author’s poetry, as that novel did from one band’s lyrics.

Since Rowling revealed the opening epigraph, I have read Mary Elizabeth Coleridge’s entire poetic oeuvre and it strikes me as perfectly possible that Rowling will indeed take all her epigraphs from these poems. They are not only sufficiently numerous (nearly 250 in all) and temptingly short (ready-formed for epigraphs) – they also have a wistful mood of Victorian Gothic which perfectly fits what we know of Ink Black Heart so far. These delicately turned poems are full of suppressed, unreciprocated emotion, death, romantic longing, religiosity and the uncanny. They open with lines such as ‘One night, as dreaming on my bed I lay,/ I saw the whole world die and pass away’ (‘There was no Place Found’). They are Highgate Cemetery made poetic flesh. So what follows is a whistle-stop tour of Coleridge’s poetry and why I think we might be seeing more of her in Ink Black Heart.

Katharine McGowran’s entry on Coleridge (in the Dictionary of National Biography) tells us that she grew up in 12 Cromwell Place, a place rendered pleasingly different from 12 Grimmauld Place by the visits of many illustrious and artistic friends – such as Robert Browning, John Ruskin, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and (a Strike favourite) Tennyson.  Coleridge was an impressive linguist: at the age of twelve ‘intrigued by the strange shapes of Hebrew letters, asked her father to teach her the language. By nineteen she had also mastered German, French, and Italian, and had begun to teach herself Greek.’ She was interested in the Elizabethan period (there are lots of echoes of Shakespeare in her poetry) and ‘once declared that she found the Elizabethan idea of friendship “much stronger and more sensitive, and closer to the Victorian, than anything in between” (Gathered Leaves, 255).’ (McGowran) Coleridge’s passionate friendships are echoed in her verse – and, of course, make another reason her poetry seems a perfect fit for Strike.

Coleridge was also a novelist, and while her first novel (a fantastical romance called The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus) met with little success, her second (with the pleasingly ‘Quirrelmort’ title of The King with Two Faces) was highly praised. Her poetry, meanwhile, found an illustrious supporter in the future Poet Laureate Robert Bridges who – rather more famously – was likewise responsible for the posthumous reputation of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Bridges acted the midwife to Coleridge’s poems after he ‘came across the manuscript of Mary’s poems, which had been purposely left lying on a hall table at his home by Mary’s friend (and his wife’s cousin) Violet Hodgkin:’

Ever aware of the long shadow cast by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, her ‘fairy great-great-uncle’ (Gathered Leaves, 11), she refused to publish the poems in her own name, and took her pseudonym, Anodos (‘on no road’), from George MacDonald’s fairy romance Phantastes. Throughout her life she was to feel the mixed blessings of such a famous ancestor, and some of her best poems, such as ‘The Witch’ and ‘Wilderspin’, are haunted by his presence. (McGowran)

Coleridge was a teacher as well as a writer (a twin vocation she shares with Rowling) and Christine Pullen tells a touching story of her success as a teacher: ‘Coleridge had a gift for teaching, and had been taking needy female pupils into her home for some years. In 1895 she began to take English Literature classes at the Working Women’s College, and immediately established a rapport with the students. She was so greatly loved that after her sudden death from appendicitis in 1907, the class was forced to close as her pupils would accept no other teacher.’[1]

Coleridge takes the name of the protagonist in a fairy romance and calls S.T. Coleridge her ‘fairy great-great-uncle’ – and while there is less whimsy in her poetry than this might make us expect, they are poems which display a fascination with the eerier edges of the Victorian imagination. Simon Avery describes as her poetry as having:

a perennial fascination with the uncanny and the other-worldly, with haunted spaces and supernatural figures, with the blurring and crossing of boundaries (literal, psychological, moral), and with the uncovering of the fears and taboos which lie just below the surface.[2]

Rowling’s recent discussion of the Ink Black Heart likewise revels in the gothic (taking place, as it does, in Highgate Cemetery) – but it also reveals one small similarity with Coleridge’s authorship (other than the parallel taking of a male pseudonym). This is in her noting of the way in which the real world sometimes echoes the author’s imagination rather than (as one might expect) the other way around. Rowling implies that the on-line death-threats suffered by the victim in Ink Black Heart (and perhaps other events to which we aren’t yet privy) are a pre-echo of what has happened to her:

With this book – I had been planning this book for so long and then a couple of the things that happen in this book have since happened to me. And so, I would like to be very clear that I haven’t written this book as an answer to anything that happened to me. Although I have to say when it did happen to me, those who had already read the book in manuscript form were – are you clairvoyant? I wasn’t clairvoyant, I just – yeah, it was just one of those weird twists. Sometimes life imitates art more than one would like.

A rather more colourful instance of authorial clairvoyance was also attributed by others to Coleridge:

Like her illustrious forebear, Mary Coleridge was attracted by the fantastic and the supernatural. Her first novel The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (1893) was described by Sichel as ‘a reckless fantasia’. It was not widely acclaimed, but her second novel The King with Two Faces (1897) was an immediate success. Coleridge had relied upon her own intuition in the construction of the narrative. As Whistler records, she had a gift for ‘bringing back the past’. This ‘gift’ was highlighted in a curious incident which followed the publication of the novel. The Swedish Minister in London asked to meet Mary and enquired by whom she had been informed of an important fact in the story. This most improbable but perfectly true incident had hitherto been kept hidden in the darkest cupboard of the informer’s family, and his great-nephew was now asking how the secret had at last been discovered. [Mary] admitted that the incident was improbable but she had written it so because it came into her mind as a piece of positive knowledge. The Swedish minister accepted this as plainly a feat of second sight, but it was characteristic of Mary that she made no such claim herself … psychic powers in herself were hardly worth discussing. (Christine Pullen, ProQuest biography)

Coleridge, like Rowling perhaps, was enjoys the suggestion that there is something slightly uncanny about the authorial imagination.

Rowling has thanked her friends in the dedication as ‘bulwarks against anomie’ – and the alias of the (presumed) killer ‘Anomie’ has suggested this ailment of alienation the central theme of the book (for more on anomie see our earlier discussions at Hogwarts Professor: [Uncovering the Synopsis Clues] and [Anomie – the Social Science Guide]). Coleridge’s verse often expresses the speaker as alienated from their environment and though full, likewise, of a passionate desire for connection, this is often directed at those who lie on the other side of the veil. Coleridge’s friend Edith Sichel described how ‘the world which was really her home [was] the imagination’[3] and there is a sense (present in Rowling’s dedication too, perhaps) that authorship is a solitary pursuit which runs to risk of disconnection from others. It seems possible that Rowling will use Coleridge’s deeply romantic imaginative spaces as a foil to the different – rather less lush – escapist worlds created by the protagonists of her novel.

Rowling has recently named anomie as the central theme of Ink Black Heart:

I see this as a novel about disconnection. And people feeling disconnected in real life… the central theme of the book is anomie, which is a state of lacking normal social or moral norms. And – so, yeah, it’s really an exploration of that. It is a very sort of modern malaise. Although the term anomie has been around for a long, long time and it really – the term arose through industrialisation. People losing meaning in their daily lives and – and feeling that they themselves were not really part of society. Not really part of a whole.

Coleridge’s poetry is highly religious, and pays full dues to social and moral norms, but her alias is not simply a decorous nod to her great-great uncle. It also speaks to the way her society would not be at ease with the passionate intensity of her poetry. Poems such as ‘Mortal Combat,’ for example, are not the kind of reflections on friendship that we are trained to expect from Victorian womanhood. It sounds, however, just like the kind of friendship Anomie might understand:

1  It is because you were my friend,
2     I fought you as the devil fights.
3  Whatever fortune God may send,
4     For once I set the world to rights.

5  And that was when I thrust you down,
6     And stabbed you twice and twice again,
7  Because you dared take off your crown,
8     And be a man like other men.

Another startlingly powerful example – with the suitably gothic-inspired title of ‘The Other Side of a Mirror’ – is about the ‘hard unsanctified distress’ of which a woman cannot speak:


1  I sat before my glass one day,
2     And conjured up a vision bare,
3  Unlike the aspects glad and gay,
4     That erst were found reflected there—
5  The vision of a woman, wild
6     With more than womanly despair.

7  Her hair stood back on either side
8     A face bereft of loveliness.
9  It had no envy now to hide
10     What once no man on earth could guess.
11  It formed the thorny aureole
12     Of hard unsanctified distress.

13  Her lips were open—not a sound
14     Came through the parted lines of red.
15  Whate’er it was, the hideous wound
16     In silence and in secret bled.
17  No sigh relieved her speechless woe,
18     She had no voice to speak her dread.

19  And in her lurid eyes there shone
20     The dying flame of life’s desire,
21  Made mad because its hope was gone,
22     And kindled at the leaping fire
23  Of jealousy, and fierce revenge,
24     And strength that could not change nor tire.

25  Shade of a shadow in the glass,
26     O set the crystal surface free!
27  Pass—as the fairer visions pass—
28     Nor ever more return, to be
29  The ghost of a distracted hour,
30     That heard me whisper, “I am she!”

One of the aspects that gives Coleridge’s poems their particular flavour is her choice of very short – often only four line – poems. This would, of course, make them perfect for epigraphs, but it also gives them a kind of opacity which would tie into the novel’s themes of disguised identity. The form and content of poem ‘XI,’ for example, synchronise perfectly as the speaker tells us that we do not know her, and the writer uses a gnomically short form which gives little away:

XI [I have forged me in sevenfold heats]

1  I have forged me in sevenfold heats
2     A shield from foes and lovers,
3  And no one knows the heart that beats
4     Beneath the shield that covers.

Poems such as these luxuriate in their withholding, their power lies in what is unsaid. They would work very well with the teasing reveal/concealment of the epigraph-as-clue.

A large number of Coleridge’s four-line poems are about death – the form of the truncated poem imitating that of the life cut short. Both the brevity and the topic of these poems make them tempting epigraphs for a murder investigation:

CXXIV [O mighty Spirit, whither art thou fled?]

1  O mighty Spirit, whither art thou fled?
2     No mate was found in all the world for thee,
3     Whom hast thou chosen for thy company,
4  In all the shadowy regions of the dead?

Coleridge’s quatrains about death are more gothic than humorous, but there is a touch of Strike’s more hardened attitude, perhaps, in the following:


1  “Who is he?” asked the seekers of the dead,
2     When they had come where cold and stiff he lay.
3  “He was a man,” the old retainer said,
4        “Yesterday.”

The title of The Ink Black Heart – the title of both Rowling’s novel and the cartoon within it – as well as its setting in Highgate Cemetery have prepared us for the most gothic of the Strike novels to date. Rowling has trailed Highgate Cemetery in her Twitter headers for over a year  and it is pictured of the cover of the novel as well as the author-interview being filmed there. Coleridge’s poetry of cemeteries, dead lovers and epitaphs would be at home in this setting – she refers to ‘the touch of churchyard mould’ (‘CXVI [On a day, and on a day]’), for example, as well the remembrances enacted at tombs:


1  Some hang above the tombs,
2  Some weep in empty rooms,
3  I, when the iris blooms,
4     Remember.

One of her poems – influenced by the Greek myth of Alcestis (the myth that lies behind the dying-and-reviving women of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale and Much Ado about Nothing) – rejects such outward signs of woe:


1  Build over me no marble monument,
2  To stand for ever high above the throng;
3  Weave not my name in any wreath of song,
4  Hang up no picture of my life’s event.
5  The lasting stone would mock thy brief lament
6  Witness thy short affection over long,
7  The steadfast words thy changing passion wrong,
8  The painted features cry “Repent! repent!”

The mood of darkness that suffuses Coleridge’s poetry also has a few touches that are reminiscent of Rowling’s other work – there is a poem called ‘Mandrogora’, for example, and another (her poem ‘Shadow’) that speaks of shadow selves – a recurrent theme in both Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts:

1  Child of my love! though thou be bright as day,
2     Though all the sons of joy laugh and adore thee,
3  Thou canst not throw thy shadow self away.
4     Where thou dost come, the earth is darker for thee.

It is likely that Ink Black Heart will be set, or at least open, in the autumn (following on from Robin’s October 9th birthday) – and it is a season which has been emphasised by the yellowing leaves of the cover design. Autumn is a season much beloved of poets, as Austen writes in Persuasion (the consummate autumnal novel):

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves, and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which had drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.

Coleridge is one such poet who has caught this “apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness” and there are plenty of autumnal fruits for Rowling to pick (such as: ‘Over the dull earth are thrown/ Topaz, and the ruby stone’ [‘Street Lanterns’]). Austen uses autumn as an objective correlative for young passion gone to waste, and Coleridge likewise has a pertinent poem about young grief (given what we know of the young demographic of the characters in this novel):

1  The grief of age is not the grief of youth;
2  A child is still a child, even in his grieving.
3  Yet his first sorrow is, in very truth,
4     Dark, past believing.  (‘At First’)

Strike’s epigraphs (as I have written before with reference to the  epigraphs of Lethal White and Troubled Blood) simultaneously relate to the murder-investigation to the lives and love of our detective duo. Coleridge is poet of gothic fantasies and enmeshed females, but she is also a passionate poet of friendship. For what is worth, I expect we’ll see Robin and Strike’s relationship progress in Ink Black Heart but I’m not expecting a happily-ever-after togetherness until Strike 7. Coleridge’s poetry certainly provides opportunities to hint of the passion behind Robin and Strike’s friendship, even if they don’t (yet) give much hope of a perfect mutual understanding. So here, for the shippers, are some of Coleridge’s poems of love and friendship:


1  O, one I need to love me,
2     And one to understand,
3  And one to soar above me,
4     And one to clasp my hand,

5  And one to make me slumber,
6     And one to bid me strive,
7  But seven’s the sacred number
8     That keeps the soul alive.

9  And first and last of seven,
10     And all the world and more,
11  Is she I need in Heaven,
12     And may not need before.

(Isn’t seven the most powerfully magical number?)


1  Give me no gift! Less than thyself were nought.
2  It was thyself, alas! not thine I sought.
3  Once reigned I as a monarch in this heart,
4  Now from the doors a stranger I depart.


1  No nearer to thy presence let me stand!
2  Fate set me in a strange and distant land!
3  There let my life run out its tranquil course,
4  Unchecked, as now, with every painful breath,
5  To feel between us a dividing force
6  More strong than Death!

7  And say not thou, “This is Love’s waning hour.”
8  By Love’s own God, I never felt his power,
9  The all-commanding terror of his bliss,
10  Never in passion’s noontide loved thee more.
11  When I compare my former state with this,
12  I never loved before.


1  You thought I had the strength of men,
2     Because with men I dared to speak,
3  And courted Science now and then,
4     And studied Latin for a week;
5  But woman’s woman, even when
6     She reads her Ethics in the Greek.

7  You thought me wiser than my kind;
8     You thought me “more than common tall;”
9  You thought because I had a mind,
10     That I could have no heart at all;
11  But woman’s woman you will find,
12     Whether she be great or small.

13  And then you needs must die—ah, well!
14     I knew you not, you loved not me.
15  ‘Twas not because that darkness fell,
16     You saw not what there was to see.
17  But I that saw and could not tell—
18     O evil Angel, set me free!

And finally, there is Coleridge poem about the relationship between writing and friends that links to the title of Rowling’s novel and her text-within-the-text.

This is a poem addressed to ‘The Contents of an Ink-Bottle’ and it feels like it could be used to mark the way in which the darkness at the heart of the ‘Ink Black Heart’ cartoon – an on-line cartoon set in Highgate Cemetery – seems to have seeped into the relationship of its collaborators:


1  Well of blackness, all defiling,
2  Full of flattery and reviling,
3  Ah, what mischief hast thou wrought
4  Out of what was airy thought,
5  What beginnings and what ends,
6  Making and dividing friends!

[1] Quoted by Christine Pullen (ProQuest biography)

[2] Selected Poems of Mary Coleridge, ed. Simon Avery (Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2010), pp.15-16.

[3] Christine Pullen, ‘Mary Elizabeth Coleridge’ (ProQuest biography)


  1. A wonderful read and such evocative passages of poetry. I found your statement, “They are Highgate Cemetery made poetic flesh” particularly helpful to understanding Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, whose work I am not familiar with.

    As you know, I share your view of the arc of S&R’s relationship and this post gives me further assurance of that.

    The connection with Tennyson is very intriguing. As you’ve noted before regarding his “Ulysses”, so too with ME Coleridge the theme of untimely death is well-suited for the Strike series and especially IBH (I assume; I have not read any of the released sample chapters).

  2. Thank you very much for this Kurt – really glad you enjoyed it!

    And me neither re: the released chapters. I wish they didn’t do this, and am pretending that they haven’t… my prediction posts only use what Rowling releases in interviews & tweets; that is starting the clue gathering before we reach the book, which is part of the fun!

  3. I think Mary Coleridge’s choice of ‘Anodos’ is very interesting. ‘Hodos’ is a very rich word in the Gospels and in the early writings of the Christian church, indicating not only ‘a way’ but ‘the Way’. I wonder if she was hinting at her own heterodoxy perhaps, as well as herself as a pioneer?

  4. Interesting! She would certainly have know the Gospels well in Greek.

Speak Your Mind