From London with Love: The Pettie & Gettie Love Story
Nowadays whenever Filipinos hear that Jose Rizal stayed in London for ten months, they often immediately associate him with ‘Jack the Ripper.’ I wonder why. However, far more interesting things actually happened in London. He practised his English, he got registered as a reader at the British Museum, he copied and annotated Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, and he fell in love with a Londoner. I want to talk about the last.It seems that wherever dear Jose went women fall in love with him. He was a natural love target I suppose. London was not spared. It began at 37 Chalcot Crescent, Primrose Hill, North West London. Charles Beckett, the landlord of the house who played organ at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden in London had three (other sources say four) daughters. His eldest daughter Gertrude fell in love with Jose.
Concerning this love affair, author Maria Stella Valdez cited the historian Zaide,
Rizal had a romantic interlude with the oldest of the three Beckett sisters – Gertrude. Gettie, as she was called by her family, was a buxom English girl with ‘brown hair, blue eyes, and pink cheeks.’ She was attracted to the brown-skinned physician-boarder, and there was no doubt that she was in love with him. On cold winter mornings, she had a sunny smile for him, chattering gaily like a humming bird. (Zaide 1957:131)
The Filipino chap called her Gettie and the English lass called him Pettie, interesting terms of endearment. Pettie, as in pet or petite? You guess.
It was said that Gettie would often help Pettie prepare his clay for sculpturing. And with her help, Pettie was able to finish his three sculptural works, Prometheus Bound, The Triumph of Death over Life, and The Triumph of Science over Death. It was also said that whenever Pettie joined the family picnic, Gettie would always give him special attention and affection.
There was also this story from Leon Ma. Guerrero that Pettie went back to London from Paris for the Christmas holidays because he can’t get her out of his mind.
“… unable to forget her, he returned to London for the Christmas holidays on the excuse of checking the proofs of the Morga against the original in the Museum. Then he was off again, this time once and for all.”
On 19 March 1889, Pettie decided to leave London for good. Weeks after that, while in Paris, Pettie sent her a pair of brooches. Gettie wrote him back expressing her misery of not hearing from him. That was the last time Gettie wrote a letter to Pettie. A love story just ended.
Some say that they really fell in love with each other but Rizal had to make a retreat for reasons not stated. Some even strongly suggest that the affection was one-way, that is, Rizal never loved Gertrude. Historians are divided. They will probably be for a long time.
We can only speculate why Rizal did what he had to do. Probably he was gentleman enough not to betray the Becketts. Or perhaps he had a mission to fulfil for his beloved country. Or maybe, Rizal knew that with the kind of life he was living, marriage will not be workable. After all, whatever his real reason was, heroes had to make certain sacrifices.
- Valdez, Maria Stella S., Dr. Jose Rizal and the Writing of His Story. Rex Bookstore, Inc., 2007, p. 98.
- Guerrero, Leon Ma., The First Filipino: A Biography of Jose Rizal. 1974, p. 234
- Roda, Ramon M., Monuments and memorials to Jose Rizal around the world. Rizal and the Nation. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 02 January 2017.