We Are Michael Field

We Are Michael Field

by Emma Donoghue
     
 

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One of the most bizarre partnerships of all time, Michael Field was two women, Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper, aunt and niece, poets and playwrights and lovers, who wrote under their adopted pseudonym to considerable success toward the end of the 19th century. When their identity was inadvertently revealed in a review, a shocked Victorian society shunned them and

Overview

One of the most bizarre partnerships of all time, Michael Field was two women, Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper, aunt and niece, poets and playwrights and lovers, who wrote under their adopted pseudonym to considerable success toward the end of the 19th century. When their identity was inadvertently revealed in a review, a shocked Victorian society shunned them and they withdrew into seclusion. Drawing from their extensive diaries, Emma Donoghue chronicles a remarkable love affair between two extraordinary women who wrote dramas of war, madness, and erotic obsession, as well as lyrics declaring their love for each other.

Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Millard
Rich in wit, honesty and passion.... Although Michael Field's books may be almost forgotten, The Michaels live on in this impressive work.
ForeWord Magazine
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Author of some 30 plays and 11 books of poetry, Michael Field was a prolific if relatively minor late-Victorian literary figure. Field's first verse play, Callirrhoe and Fair Rosamund, was published to wide acclaim in 1884; what early reviewers didn't know was that "Michael Field" was actually two women, Katherine Bradley and her sister's daughter, Edith Cooper, who were not only literary collaborators but also lovers. Donoghue's (Kissing the Witch) brief but absorbing biography is based on the detailed journals in which Bradley and Cooper recorded their life together for nearly half a century. Describing her subjects as "hardworking, witty, generous in love and friendship" but also "bitchy, snobbish and monstrously egotistical," Donoghue finds Bradley and Cooper "superbly contradictory" in the way that so many late-Victorian literary figures are. Indeed, as lesbians who wrote blatantly erotic love poetry and celebrated "art for art's sake" but who also clung to many of the pieties of their haute-bourgeois upbringing, they emerge here as embodiments of the complex fin de siecle literary zeitgeist. Donoghue suggests that their work deserves more attention than it has received. That's a debatable point, but given their literary friendships with such notables as Robert Browning, John Ruskin and Oscar Wilde; their struggles to maintain their literary reputation as Michael Field's true identity gradually became known; and their constant straddling of the lines between respectability and transgression, Bradley and Cooper were undeniably a remarkable pair. (Feb.)
Library Journal
These short biographies belong to the "Outlines" series, which serves to introduce the lives and works of significant gay and lesbian writers, artists, singers, dancers, composers, and actors. Although compact, they are quite dense, and each includes a bibliography and a list of recommended readings. Donoghue (Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture, 1668-1801, HarperCollins, 1996) uses nearly 30 volumes of letters and journals to tell the story of the two Englishwomen who shared the pseudonym Michael Field: Katherine Bradley (1846-1914) and Edith Cooper (1862-1913). Donoghue sheds light on the obscure careers of these women, who collaborated to write 30 plays and 11 volumes of poetry. More than co-writers, the two women were aunt and niece as well as lovers. Donoghue provides an engaging, informal overview of their history, including family origins, their decision to use a male pseudonym, their rise to fame, their intimate relationship, and their colorful circle of friends. French scholar Ivry (he translated Todd Olivier's Albert Camus, LJ 11/15/97) has the Herculean task of condensing the life story of the poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91) into a handful of chapters, which he does admirably well. Rimbaud, considered one of France's greatest modern poets, created complex poems that used language in ways that had never been attempted in poetry. Ivry covers the evidence of Rimbaud's early genius as a schoolboy, his fateful meeting with the poet Paul Verlaine and their tempestuous love affair, the aftermath of their breakup, Rimbaud's phenomenal prowess as a poet (he reached the zenith of his career at 20), his travels, and his continuing influence on artists today. For more in-depth biographical information on Michael Field and Arthur Rimbaud, consult Mary C. Sturgeon's Michael Field (1922; Ayer, 1975. reprint) and Enid Starkie's Arthur Rimbaud (Norton, 1968. reprint). Recommended for larger collections of gay and lesbian materials.--Kimberly L. Clarke, Univ. of Minnesota Lib. Minneapolis

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781899791668
Publisher:
Absolute Press
Publication date:
10/28/1998
Series:
Outlines Series
Pages:
152
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 7.23(h) x 0.44(d)

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