What was Marga like as a person?
Little survives of her personal papers but we have two telling sources: things written about her by her nearest siblings, and her self-portraits in glass and in watercolour.
After her death, her fascinatingly eccentric elder brother Father Harry wrote that she was “reserved . . . [but] . . . extraordinarily strong”, that she had a “silent, quiet hidden-away life, content always with the worst for herself”.
Her youngest sister Irene wrote that she was “tremendously daring, impatient, adventurous, intolerant even and she disciplined it all into the finest steel of selflessness”.
A complex, private person no doubt, who demanded the utmost from herself.
What of Marga’s image of herself, at least as she showed it to her family?
We have the evidence of three self-caricatures in artwork she made for the family in the early 1920s.
The “Lumen Christi” panel commemorating the Holy Saturday procession, now at Kesgrave RC Church, is a piece made for the family and featuring portraits of Marga, her siblings and other family friends. She shows herself in a less than flattering light, although the portrait in the window is slightly less of a caricature than in the preliminary cartoon.
She also made a panel of Our Lady (the Mater Divina window) for her mother, some time soon after entering Carmel as a nun, in which she included a small self-portrait (in the lower right) – another caricature. Here her caricature of herself is more self-satirising, portraying herself as a humble dishevelled figure in her cell in her basic tweed overgarment.
However, significantly, when the panel was later repurposed after her death as her memorial (again at Kesgrave Church), her cousin Tor (M.E.Aldrich Rope), replaced the self-abasing portrait with a bland image of a serene nun in her full habit – see picture, right.
(Tor’s replacement image is strongly similar to one in her Walsingham panel, again at Kesgrave).
We can be sure that the figure shown in the cartoon did appear in the original window – as a studio photo of it resides in the Margaret Rope archive.
The same caricature appears in a watercolour found recently in Marga’s archive, in which she depicts herself as a humble figure being welcomed into Carmel by St Thérèse of Lisieux.
We can only speculate why Marga chose to represent herself in such a self-demeaning way.
She was, by all accounts, a complicated personality subject to internal struggles between conflicting aspects of her character. These telling portraits are just one manifestation of that inner turmoil.
(Cousin to Margaret Agnes Rope (Marga), and nephew to her cousin & his aunt, Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope)
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