The Michaelian
the michaelian

issue one: june 2009

“Drag(ging) at memory’s fetter”: Michael Field’s personal elegies, Victorian mourning, and the problem of Whym Chow

Jill R. Ehnenn

By the early spring of 1908, Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper’s beloved dog, Whym Chow had been dead for twenty-six months.  Their first book of poetry in fifteen years, Wild Honey from Various Thyme, had recently come out; and despite the widespread praise they were enjoying from Britain’s literati, they were annoyed at how the volume and “Michael Field” had been represented in the local press.  Catholic converts now for about a year, they also worried what their new friends and mentors in the Church would think about the diverse collection of poems in “the Honey-book.” These ranged from pagan nature poetry and Sapphic love lyrics dating as far back as 1893, to more recent devotional verse, to a considerable quantity of elegy: for Cooper’s father, who had tragically disappeared in a mountaineering accident in 1897; for their religious shift away from the Bacchic life that had sustained their intertwined identity as Poets and Lovers for so many years; and of course for Whym Chow, whose loss still had the ability to throw them into episodes of acute depression.  Yet despite their ongoing grief over the death of the chow, “Michael” and “Henry” were hard at work writing religious poetry, collaboratively composing historical verse dramas to be published “by the author of Borgia,” and taking trips to consult with clergy at various cathedrals and abbeys, in order to delve deeper into the intellectual and spiritual mysteries of Catholic theology.

This complex tapestry of events and emotions provide a backdrop that may help us interpret a curiously paradoxical and elegiac moment recorded in their joint diary during a trip they took that Lenten season; a journal entry that indicates, among other things, the extent to which Bradley and Cooper continued to be devastated by Chow’s death, and that has considerable implications for understanding the last decade of their work:

And on the couch and up and down the stairs and by the inn-door-always beside us is our bright Whym Chow: all the sun on the couch falls on him and when we are happy we are happy [sic] among us three. An inn was always the Light place for Whymmie—the stagnancy of the lodging house being as a disease to him and his beloved one. How good we can take him with us now into the very presence of the God to whom he has been allowed to lead us—our guardian angel of the little Torch, our Flame of Love—Whym Chow1

With its claim, in material detail, that the deceased dog has accompanied them to the inn, where he frolics in the sunbeams, jumps on the couch, and is happy they are not in a lodging house, this is admittedly a highly eccentric passage, although certainly not an isolated one. In fact, it is representative of the rhetoric Michael Field had always used and continued to use when writing about Whym Chow—in both poetry and prose—long after his death and indeed, until their own. The passage raises many questions, starting with whether or not we are to take it seriously. As the matter of Bradley and Cooper’s not infrequent penchant for sublime eccentricity is a topic unto itself, for now, let it suffice to say, yes, we will take as a starting point of this inquiry that we will take this journal entry seriously. Which invites more questions: are we to read it and other, similar effusions, literally or symbolically? What is the logic behind this seemingly illogical, paradoxical description of the deceased dog’s presence at the inn? How does this passage stand in relation to Michael Field’s other representations of themselves and those they have mourned? How do their elegiac texts, as a whole, fit into an elegiac tradition; and how do they compare to other Victorian representations of death, loss, and mourning?

Finally, none of these considerations are unrelated to those concerns of gender and sexuality which, to date, have been so central to and so fruitful for Michael Field studies. Although I use the term with some reservation, all of the texts I will examine are “personal elegies,” a phrase that begins to highlight how these poems differ from the poetics of public lamentation and succession to power that characterize much traditional elegy. As Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Peter Sacks, and Celeste Schenck, among others have noted, elegies that take the personal as subject have been characterized as deploying a feminine strategy that modifies the elegiac mode; in contrast to the public elegy’s masculine impulses and conventions, which traditionally, have been problematic and/or inaccessible for women poets. As we shall see, there are indeed aspects of Michael Field’s approach to mourning that run contrary to masculine tradition and patriarchal norms; nevertheless, the coauthors also make use of literary tropes favored by male contemporaries: homoerotically-inclined male Aesthetes. 2 Thus, as should not be surprising when considering the work of the “dear Greek women” 3 who preferred to be known as “Michael” and “Henry,” the representation of gender and desire in the elegies, as in the rest of their oeuvre, is sometimes playful, often contradictory, always complex. As we proceed then, to look for trends in Michael Field’s texts about mourning, we will also be focusing on the departures, the elements that we might consider, in context, to be odd, eccentric, indeed, queer.

The relatively small amount of scholarship that, to date focuses on Michael Field’s unique writing about Whym Chow and the trinity which they formed with him, has resulted in several related conclusions that are both important and compelling. Ruth Vanita argues that the dog functioned as an erotic proxy for Bradley and Cooper’s same-sex love. Similarly, Marion Thain observes that Whym’s role in their poetry “helped them overcome significant anxieties about their erotic relationship in context of their Catholic conversion” (188) and that “their identification with the Trinity can be read, in part, as a defensive gesture at a time when they were extremely concerned with accommodating all aspects of their life and their relationship within the Church” (192). And Frederick Roden coins the term “lesbian trinitarianism” to demonstrate how Whym Chow enabled Michael Field to “fully embody a female-centered Christianity,” a “canine catholicism” (198) in which intense homoeroticism, religiosity and dog-love could all be subsumed into art; and through which, after Chow’s death, ongoing and aestheticized sacrificial offering became central to their narratives of individual and joint theology (198). My aim in posing the aforementioned questions is to continue to develop an explanation for the striking Whym Chow writings that is in line, for the most part, with these previous arguments, while also contextualizing the Whym Chow texts specifically within and against Victorian elegiac convention and ongoing trends and shifts in Michael Field’s own work.

As their poetry, letters and journals indicate, over the years Michael Field maintained a complex and devoted relationship with “their dead”: from their youthful pagan celebrations of and otherworldly ‘communications’ with Cooper’s mother, Robert Browning, and Shakespeare, to the “Longer Allegiance” sonnet cycle of Wild Honey for Cooper’s father, to their sublimely prolonged and eroticized mourning of Whym Chow. In order to begin to answer the questions I have posed, it will be necessary to comb through some of these varied elegiac texts—to parse their dead, as it were—in order to gain a greater understanding of Michael Field’s overarching conception of the work of mourning in their life and writing. Ultimately, I would like to suggest that these texts, individually and in sequence, come together to create a kind of elegiac scaffold that functions, albeit in a fluid and shifting way throughout their lives, as a framework that makes possible not only Michael Field’s many representations of grief and mourning, but also their explorations of what it means to live and die in relation to others.  Additionally, as we shall see, Michael Field provides exceptional and important examples of Victorian elegy, examples that deserve study because, both within and against dominant discourses of death and mourning, they shed light on their era’s literary elegiac forms and other practices of grief.  Overall then, I wish to show that the life and work of Michael Field offers a unique opportunity to think about Victorian elegy from both margin and center, as well as to consider the telos of mourning (or more accurately, the potentially multiple teloi of mourning) both then and today.

‘The grave and memory shall not drag on’

No more shall wayward grief abuse
The genial hour with mask and mime;
For change of place, like growth of time,
Has broke the bond of dying use.
--Tennyson, In Memoriam, (CV. II 9-12)

Mourning has, or is supposed to have, very specific relationships to ideas of time and place. For Freud, as well as psychological theorists before and after him, normal experiences of grief, as expressed through mourning, follow a specific progress narrative over time: an emotional and behavioral chain of events unfolds whereby the grieving individual gradually can withdraw their attachments to the lost loved object and return to everyday life. In Mourning and Melancholia (1917) Freud writes, “the [absorbing] work of mourning is completed [and] the ego becomes free and uninhibited again” (154). Although the stages of grief may vary within different psychoanalytic traditions, most theories of bereavement agree: if the process of mourning does not reach its goal, it ceases to be mourning and becomes pathology, a problem.

The work of traditional elegy, as numerous scholars have shown, helps the bereaved move through this process of mourning and into readiness to form new attachments. Thus, the elegiac poem engages in a series of procedures and resolutions, in which previous attachments are substituted for new ones. Peter Sacks observes that in elegy, “at the core of each procedure is the renunciatory experience of loss and acceptance, not just of a substitute, but of the very means and practice of substitution” (8). Thus, among other strategies, the elegy may provide a series of symbols of consolation; or, the elegy itself can become what is substituted for the deceased.

In terms of place, the one who mourns is confronted with the fact that the loved one is gone: they once were here but now are there. There may be a specific graveyard, another town or country, or more abstractly, missing; there might be the afterlife, or perhaps there is a combination of these places, with the material body perceived to be below the earth, the spirit, above. Regardless of the details in all their cultural specificities (although not to dismiss them), the lost love object, now there, occupies a new place in space as well as in memory and mind; what is gone and mourned has made a passage, through space, from here to not here. In fact, “few elegies or acts of mourning succeed without seeming to place the dead, and death itself, at some cleared distance from the living” (Sacks, 19).

When we consider Victorian practices of mourning, we see both examples of and exceptions to these ideas about time and space. Regarding time, for instance, the Victorian widow commonly was expected to feel numbness first, then “episodes of severe anxiety and psychological pain, known as the pangs of grief,” then apathy and depression, and then ultimately, to “reorganize her life and establish a new social identity” (Jalland, 231). Similarly, Tennyson’s popular elegy for Arthur Hallam, In Memoriam (1849), moves through a three year mourning process, in which emotional growth, marked by three Christmases, is traced in some of the following ways: from numbness and anguish to being able to celebrate holidays and weddings; from repeated crises of faith to having hope for the future of humanity; and, from youthful homoeroticism, considered within dominant ideology to be a developmental stage, to a letting go of same-sex love that will make possible adult heteronormativity. The speaker proclaims: “No more shall wayward grief abuse / The genial hour with mask and mime; / For change of place, like growth of time, / Has broke the bond of dying use” (CV. ll. 9-12). Notably, there are numerous Victorian testimonies to the therapeutic value of recording memories of the loved one in detail; 4 thus, the act of writing, such as journaling or composing an elegy, was perceived then, as now, as a valuable part of the (teleological) work of mourning. Such literary acts, like the Victorian ritual of wearing, then leaving off, mourning dress, help to ensure, or perhaps even to quicken, the desired outcome—the cessation of mourning5 —the ability to attach to a new object—after an appropriate passage of time.

In terms of place, Victorian juxtapositions of there (heaven) and here (earth) in mourning are frequently firm binaries. However, while in classical elegy the space between dead and living and the necessity of keeping those two places separate is often figured through processional motifs; the Victorians often reinforced the logic of the here/there binary with the concept of reunion. For example, In Memoriam’s speaker portends he won’t see Arthur “Till all my widow’d race be run” (IX. I 18; XVII. I 20); nonetheless, the lines convey he believes he will see him again. Similarly, in Coventry Patmore’s “A Farewell,” the speaker looks forward to when he and the beloved departed will “Amazèd meet; / The bitter journey to the bourne so sweet” (ll.22–3). Victorian discourses of mourning therefore will sometimes depict the survivors traveling, after death, to join the departed in the hereafter, which may be figured as a place of worship and praise (such as the Tractarian unseen world) or as home, (often quite a material one) (Jalland, 271).

Yet, for the Victorians, these themes surrounding mourning’s logics of time and space exist in many variations and with complications, including paradoxes, that create tension in time’s relationship to space, in the context of mourning. Spiritualist beliefs and practices, for instance, muddy the boundary between the here and there of life and death, producing a sense that the departed is simultaneously no longer here yet still here, and in turn, perhaps facilitating the temporal process of mourning in some cases and forever stalling it in others. Michael Wheeler observes how verb tenses in Victorian literary and religious representations of death and mourning often complicate linear time (xiii). In addition to the horizontal dimension of the temporal process of everyday existence, Wheeler demonstrates how much of Victorian literature and culture reflects a notion of “the eternal present” which:

collapses earthly time …. Thus the mourner’s or elegist’s experience of separation—I/you, life/death, earth/heaven, is subsumed in a larger scheme of Christian faith, the ‘double consciousness’ of which holds the this-worldly and other-worldly in creative tension, and which speaks of a kingdom that is here and elsewhere, of a paradise that is now and not yet. (xiv)

Thus, as an ironic counterpart to Spiritualism’s belief in a departed one who is no longer here yet still here, Victorian Christians could and did believe that the mourner, through faith, is both still here and already there. And so did those Victorians whose ideas of religion were less orthodox, and/or especially those whose elegiac writing combined elements of the sacred with those of the profane. Recall, for example, D.G. Rossetti’s still-bereaved lover, who sees his Blessed Damozel lean across the divide of heaven and earth, and whose sense of time since her death is both collapsed and telescoped. Thus, those Victorians who found themselves engaged in the work of mourning—that is, struggling to let go of the lost love object—experienced this engagement within and against a frame of time and space that was simultaneously linear and fluid, concrete and permeable.

Michael Field’s elegiac writing reflects many of the Victorian ideas about mourning vis-à-vis time and space that I have just outlined; in particular, they demonstrate intense investment in and diverse depictions of both temporal and spatial paradox. The reason for this, as Marion Thain has recently argued, is in part stylistic, in part related to the coauthors’ self-fashioning as Aesthetes:

Paradox is the hallmark of [the Aesthetic] moment [...] Michael Field’s work can best be read through Bradley and Cooper’s manipulation and apparent reconciliation of conflicting concepts [...] The impossible desire to combine the diachronic with the synchronic are at the heart of Michael Field’s aesthetic; and achieving that combination, or the illusion of that achievement, is Bradley and Cooper’s greatest aesthetic triumph. (16)

Yet there are also philosophical and spiritual underpinnings for the elegiac employment of paradox that strives to relate to the absent beloved, and to the past, such that “the grave / And memory shall not drag on my desire” (WH, “The Heavenly Love,” ll. 11–12). As the next two sections will demonstrate, when Michael Field’s beliefs, interests, and personal problems change over time, so do the kinds of paradoxes that drive their representations of grief and mourning and their elegies—with varying degrees of ‘success’ regarding the consolation for loss.

Longer allegiances, Aesthetic paradoxes

I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living: in that world I shall abide for ever.
--Sophocles, Antigone, (129)

Michael Field’s elegiac texts can be described in two distinct stages. The earlier set includes verse and diary references to those they termed “their dead”: Cooper’s mother and their friend and mentor Robert Browning (both died in 1889); Cooper’s father (killed in a tragic mountain accident in 1897); and on occasion, Shakespeare. 6 The latter set of elegiac texts was written in response to the 1906 death of their beloved dog, Whym Chow.

The coauthors’ earlier elegies largely represent death and mourning, especially in relation to time and space, in the typically Victorian ways described above, although with an added pagan flavor characteristic of much of their other work. They trace a movement whereby, over time, grief and feelings of loss fade and are superceded by renewed joy in life and looking toward the future. Meanwhile, in these elegies, the dead have of course moved to another place; but in a variation on paradoxical Victorian thinking about death and “the eternal present,” the dead also are still very much with them, often because the dead now reside in Nature—a heaven on earth—which is also home to the speaker.

Those elegies written after the death of Cooper’s mother, Emma, who was Bradley’s elder sister, are representative. The 1889 lyric, “Bury her at even,” published in their 1893 collection Underneath the Bough reads:

Bury her at even,
That the stars may shine
Soon above her
And the dews of twilight cover:
Bury her at even,
Ye that love her.

Bury her at even,
As the shut of flowers
Softly take her;
They will lie beside nor wake her:
Bury her at even
At the shut of flowers.

Bury her at even
In the wind’s decline;
Night receive her
Where no noise may grieve her!
Bury her at even,
And then leave her! (UTB, 41-42)

Here, the steadily falling rhythms of the trochaic lines are gentle; rather than stalking or pounding, they rock the deceased subject of the poem, easing her passage through time and space. They also ease the passage of the speaker through the mourning process, as the poem’s repetitions do, which is characteristic of the elegy as a form. The only irregular line, line 3’s “soon above her” suggests a certain urgency: the speaker wishes “her” to be buried at twilight, knowing the stars will soon appear, which implicitly conveys the need to complete the internment before darkness completely falls; perhaps the speaker even wishes her to be buried this “even,” instead of waiting for tomorrow. Yet, “soon’s” sibilant connection with “star” and “shine” in the previous line and “above her’s” rhyme with “cover” and “love her” in the lines that follow renders this urgency both beautiful (in the first case) and lovingly gentle (in the second), like the falling of dew and the shutting of flowers. In stanzas two and three we see that the flowers, perhaps like the stars, become guardians that “take” or escort the deceased into the literal and euphemistic “Night;” and curiously, here Night (a time) also becomes an abstract place. Yet, it is a hospitable and considerate one: the beloved’s place of final rest is not in darkness, but is partially lit by starshine and twilight; 7 and the everlasting silence that “receive[s] her” is not eerie, merely free of the trouble of wind and noise. The speaker may leave the beloved deceased in Nature and proceed with life, as indicated by the classical elegiac reference to flowers growing on the grave.

A similar poem, “I laid her to sleep,” also written in 1889 and published in Underneath the Bough, narrates how mourning at the gravesite of Emma Cooper [EC's mother] is cut short by the cheerful sight of a squirrel playing in the sun, which is described with bouncy play between iambs and anapests.

I laid her to sleep,
And I came to weep
By her forest-grave; but I found
That a squirrel gay
At its noiseless play
Was springing across the mound.

The sun made a mote
Of gold on its coat,
On its pretty hind-legs it stood;
Then without a sound
Leapt over the mound
To its home again in the wood. (UTB, 53)

Here, the lively rhythm makes it impossible to dwell for long in the sadness that motivates the opening of the poem. Using alliteration and assonance, the speaker “finds” in the “forest” that, at this “grave,” one cannot, in fact, be grave, as the speaker’s attention shifts from the deceased to the “gay” squirrel at “play.” As is fitting for the coauthors, as Aesthetes, the brief narrative is driven by aesthetic observation of movement and light. Yet, from the opening euphemism of “sleep” to the common woodland creature’s antics to the poem’s close association of the squirrel’s “home” with “her” eternal one, the short poem remains firmly in the realm of the familiar, simple aspects of Nature, rather than in the realm of its mysteries. The “noiseless” squirrel links this poem with the previous one, with silence again as comforting fact, rather than oppressive absence. Thus, in these poems, the place of death and sadness quickly becomes a place of life, beauty and simple joy. As is typical of Michael Field’s pagan-inspired writing of the period, in both lyrics the dead can be eternally present because Nature becomes their home.

Bradley and Cooper’s collaborative diary also clarifies their attitude toward the practice of mourning, frequently documenting how they keep an altar for their dead, dressing it with pictures, bits of nature, and books and objects loved by the departed. They ritualistically observe birth and death days, recalling memories, reading poetry and the Bible, and creating their own Bacchic rituals—from garlanded dances to libations to shared kisses over outdoor altars. For instance, on Easter of 1890, Cooper spends the day in remembrance of her mother:

I read with her in the Blue Room—she was certainly with me … for as I sat in the old place and read her chapter out of Corinthians I to her, all my tears were wiped away and a firm joy given to my being. I could no more cry than I did after she kissed me at the moment when she lived and was dead. I felt no glory like that-but a close understanding blessedness, a familiar thrill of union and intercourse. … I fell into a small, soft sleep, with my mouth open! It was the gentle close of ‘an hour’s communion with the dead.’ more vivid and immanent than usual.8

These rituals of mourning, although eccentric, are not qualitatively different from other quotidian practices recorded in Michael Field’s diary or verse; and they assert that, in almost Spiritualistic fashion, the dead are with them: no longer here and still here.

Notably, although Cooper generally is considered the more mystical of the two coauthors, Bradley documents a similar experience celebrating Shakespeare on April 23, 1891:

And for his sake P 9 and I went up the hill to the savage country where the juniper grows. We almost touched the beech trees on the verge; we saw the steadying horizon hills of the plain; the wind walked free, not enslaved as among coverts. This morning I planted in the earth, I had communion with her. And tonight P has read the sonnets to me. How accessible he is, how close. And like us. Yet how much greater by suffering! Loving and being loved—it is only with God that this brings peace. I recall the old anniversaries of his birthday in Warwickshire. What has he not been to me! What may he not become? We forsake his methods to achieve his results. We thank heaven for him: we ask for his gentleness of nature. 10

One of many remarkable elements in this passage is the easy sliding between God, Shakespeare and savage (elsewhere Dionysian) Nature, all to create the effect of the material presence of the Bard, over various times and places. The rhetoric of connection—to the trees, to the earth, to Cooper, and to the deceased Shakespeare—is prevalent, which as Schenck and Stone among others observe, is a feature of feminine elegy. Notably, connection and communion in this passage, as in Cooper’s passage about her mother, is associated with freedom, happiness, peace and limitless potential, as opposed to enslavement or being stifled; it also is in keeping with Bradley’s fascination, at the time, with Spinoza, who “with his fine grasp of unity says, ‘If two individuals of exactly the same nature are joined together, they make up a single individual, doubly stronger than each alone,’ i.e., Edith and I make a veritable Michael” (Field, WD, 16). In addition to the rhetoric of merging, with the declaration, “How accessible he is, how close. And like us,” we see what critics have called Michael Field’s “tropes of likeness,” which Ruth Vanita has shown follows Shakespearean models of love that feature a homoerotic economy of likeness in opposition to heterosexuality (102). Thus, these early rituals honoring the dead share impulses with Bradley’s musing on New Year’s Eve, 1891, “[we] are knit up into one living soul;” 11 and with the language of much of the poetry that celebrates their love, life, and literary collaboration, like the closing lines of Underneath the Bough’s famous poem “A Girl,” “Such: and our souls so knit / I leave a page half writ-/The work begun / Will be to heaven’s conception done / If she come to it” (68, ll. 10-14).12

The following poem from Underneath the Bough, written after the deaths of Robert Browning and Cooper’s mother, further explains their elegiac rituals, literally outlining, as a philosophy, the practices of grief and mourning that Michael Field adopts during this period:

Others may drag at memory’s fetter,
May turn for comfort to the vow
Of mortal breath; I hold it better
To learn if verily and how
Love knits me with the loved one now.

Others for solace, sleep-forsaken,
May muse upon the days of old;
To me it is delight to waken,
To find my Dead, to feel them fold
My heart, and for its dross give gold. (UTB, 32-33)

From a Freudian perspective, one sees how the work of mourning is accomplished in this poem, but with a twist. Rather than substituting a new object-attachment all together for the lost loved one, the speaker substitutes a new kind of relationship with the departed, which is made possible by focusing on “how / Love knits me with the loved one now” (my emphasis). Absence, paradoxically, and unconventionally for the elegiac form, becomes presence. It is clear that the speaker believes this is a superior way of dealing with grief than dwelling on thoughts of the past with the beloved; memory can only be enslavement, a “drag,” a “fetter” that, at best, might yield some “comfort” or “solace” during sleepless, grief-obsessed nights. Instead of such poor treasure, this speaker’s loss is compensated with “delight” in an ongoing, transformed relationship in the present with “my Dead,” which is clearly figured, as in the two previous diary entries, as a physical interaction that is as real as (or perhaps superior to) communing with the living: the speaker “feel[s] them fold / My heart, and for its dross give gold.”

Chris Snodgrass assesses such impulses in Michael Field’s writing in the following way:

This valuing of a basic Otherness carried over readily into the Field’s religious sensibilities, not least in their allegiance to a cult of the dead. When Browning offered his sympathy to Katharine at the loss of her sister Lissie, she replied, “Ah, how good to have one’s dear ones not outside one any more,” suggesting that for the Fields the dead could be in more intimate relation with the living—inside their hearts—than people who were still alive. (174)

And indeed if the diaries are any indication, after an initial period of grief, in many ways Bradley and Cooper were happier with their relationships with “their dead” than they were when they were living, a point I will return to in a moment. In her extended discussion of Underneath the Bough, Marion Thain describes this transformed and ongoing relationship with the absent Other as “elegy without a corpse,” which she further explains as Bradley and Cooper’s “certainty of presence. This presence is paradoxical in the context of the elegy; but, as usual with Michael Field, this is not an indication of confusion or doubt: it is a paradoxical certainty” (Thain, 111).

The coauthors’ representations of paradoxical presence, and related tropes of merging and likeness have, of course, been topics of interest since the inception of Michael Field studies; they are foundational to discussions of the diaries, the lyrics describing Bradley and Cooper as writers and lovers, and indeed, their collaborative persona, including the very name of “Michael Field.” Early readings of Michael Field’s work, along with their proclamations, “the work is a perfect mosaic. We cross and interlace …” (letter to Havelock Ellis, quoted in Sturgeon, 47) and “I am away from my own identity,”13 initially prompted critics to make claims literalizing and romanticizing their oneness, such as Mary Sturgeon’s “they are a union so complete” (62), and Lillian Faderrman’s 1981 assessment that they achieved “absolute, perfect equality” (213). However, more recent analyses have convincingly reinterpreted the coauthors’ claims to oneness, not as literal, but as literary conceits that function as interpersonal and textual strategies. Yopie Prins, for instance, envisions Michael Field’s lyric voice as a chorus: “the intertextuality of their relationship, the very possibility of crossing and interlacing, depends on difference between the two, and it is this asymmmetical doubleness produced by writing together that allows their work to be “joined” and them to be “closer married” (180); while Virginia Blain finds in their texts an oscillation of voices that only creates the appearance of unity, an illusion of singleness. Meanwhile, Marion Thain observes that because elegy underpins the Victorian lyric, even in Michael Field’s writings that are not strictly elegies, absence paradoxically becomes presence: “Bradley and Cooper are interested in how the lyric poem necessarily exists within space and time, in the same way drama does […] Michael Field’s poetry is “staged,” just as Bradley and Cooper’s [joint] persona is contrived” (115). Each critic concludes that, in “Michael” and “Henry’s” celebrations of their erotic and creative life partnership, representations of tension and difference operate in tandem with those of likeness and merging; furthermore, the importance of difference to the ongoing negotiations of desire that fueled the Michaels’ long-term relationship cannot be understated. “Difference was crucial to their articulation of their relationship, even if they shared those roles equally,” reports Thain (106); and Blain asserts:

They lived together, worked together, wrote together, holidayed together, slept together, were converted together, and almost died together, in what seems a perfect orgy of togetherness; yet they were never simply one person. In fact, they were two quite different people, with quite different poetic talents and impulses. (242)

The consequence for their writing, as many studies of Michael Field to date have shown, is a curiously complicated and often paradoxical articulation of authorship and (inter)subjectivity.

I would like to further expand upon Thain’s argument that elegy underpins the Victorian lyric, 14 and that it takes particular form, in the Michaelian lyric, in a dialectic between presence and absence. I agree that, in their writing about one another, we see crucial traces of difference operating alongside insistence on unity and sameness; and that this results in rich and paradoxical tensions within the texts. This observation is important for analyzing their writing about ‘their’ dead because I think what occurs there, vis-à-vis unity and sameness, presence and absence, differs from what occurs in their lyrics about each other. It seems to be in that in their early elegies, the kind of interpersonal difference and interlacing that is so important in their other work becomes erased; it is as if, in these elegies of transformed relationship and eternal presence, the larger difference between the living and the dead (the fact of death) subsumes all other tensions that may have existed between ‘the Michaels’ and Cooper’s parents, or Browning, in life. Thus, Cooper speaks of the “familiar thrill of union and intercourse” with her mother without the accompanying feelings of being stifled that she often experienced when her mother was alive. Both “Michaels” could have a much more intimate and carefree connection with Browning during their Bacchic communion with him than they did before his death, when they certainly treasured his mentorship, but also expended much energy correcting his misunderstandings of them as collaborative authors, and often worried he would reveal their identity. And as we shall see, after his death, they could enjoy a positive emotional connection with Cooper’s father, James, free of the caustic arguments they had had in life about topics ranging from socialism to their devotion to one another.

It is interesting to note that, in these poems and diary entries, the sense of connection with the dead is articulated as ‘real,’ not metaphorical, as evidenced by Bradley’s jealous diary entry after Easter 1897 when she complains how lonely and miserable she felt the previous day, which Cooper spent with her dead. Bradley grumbles: “I am treated no better than an old Pagan cow on this day. It is unjust”; she then painfully adds that Cooper, uncharacteristically, did not apologize for making her feel slighted and abandoned. 15 Bradley’s peevishness however, is the exception rather than the rule, since, importantly, the outcome of Michael Field’s mourning process, both in ritual and in writing, is to reinforce their love for one another through and after communion with their dead. As in Romantic elegy, for Michael Field eventually “the mourner” (or in this case the mourners) “displaces the mourned as principle subject” (Wheeler, 225).

We see this displacement particularly at work in The Longer Allegiance sonnet cycle, which was inspired, at least in part, by the process of mourning Cooper’s father James, who died during a 1897 hiking accident. The Longer Allegiance appears as a distinct section of Wild Honey from Various Thyme (1908), bringing together under one umbrella the varied themes of the previous elegiac writing we have studied thus far. What I would like to focus on here (since I will address Wild Honey’s Chow poems in the next section) is how The Longer Allegiance crafts a verse narrative whereby the poets work through their libidinal attachment to the events surrounding James’s death. While the diaries document his disappearance during a summer walking holiday in Switzerland, Bradley and Cooper’s understandable frantic and obsessive reaction, and their relief and grief when the body was discovered the following October, the sonnet cycle stages a series of visits to and meditations upon the woodland site of James’s fall and death.16 In so doing, it praises the untamed yet enduring powers of Nature, God, love, death and memory, asserts the paradoxical presence of the deceased, and ultimately substitutes a celebration of their poets’ own love and life together for their grief.

The opening poem, “The Torrent,” contains classic elegiac questions and protestations of anger, indignation and sorrow: “And here the footsteps stopped? / …. / Is it on these round eddies I must spend my passionate conjecture?” (ll. 1, 8–9). Similarly, “Possession” opens with complaint and indignation “Thou hast no grave. What is it that bereaves / That has bereft us of thee? Thou are gone!” (ll. 1–2). In both poems the speaker acknowledges that James now belongs to Nature—figured as wild in the first poem: “this writhing swell / Thus surging, mad voluminous, white stream, / Burst starving from the hill” (ll. 1–3); but gentle in the second:

The forest with its infinite soft leaves
May have received thee, or thou wandered’st on
The tender, wild, exhilarating flowers
Crowning thy broken pathway;… (ll. 3–6)

In both of these lyrics the natural world reflects the emotion of the speaker, which is also signaled in the title: “The Torrent,” and connects the speaker’s torrential pain to the “writhing,” “surging” mountain waters that, later in the poem, create “clanging music” (l. 11); while “Possession” implies that the grief that now possesses the speaker is analogous to the relationship between James and Nature. This latter is complicated; on the one hand, Nature now possesses James: “The forest with its infinite soft leaves / May have received thee” (ll. 3-4). On other hand, James, even though he did not desire or ask for it, through his death now has a “hold” on the Alpine hills and valleys, an event that is articulated in abundantly rich imagery with positive economic and aesthetic implications:

…Thou has made no plea
For rest or possession; and thy hold
Is on the land forever: thine the gold
Brimming the crystal crests, the gold that fills
The vales, the valley’s fountain purity
And thine the inmost meadows of the hills. (ll. 9–14)

Line 10’s use of “and” instead of “yet” is curious; softening the tension between the past and the future. Similarly, Bradley and Cooper did not ask “to be bereft of thee;” but in keeping with their philosophy of grief and death as expressed in poems like “Others may drag at memory’s fetter,” they imply that eventually the outcome of their anguish will be golden and pure.

As The Longer Allegiance sonnet cycle unfolds, the coauthors employ many additional elegiac conventions. For instance, in “The Torrent” and the third poem, “Falling Leaves,” the space between the living and the dead is accentuated through references to England as a place that is contrasted to the Alps. In the first poem, the speaker recounts how she received word of James’s death, abroad, while she was “in the grey, azure iris-bed” he had left her to tend; in “Falling Leaves” the speaker crosses “an English street” (l. 2) to a garden where, among the autumn trees, she meditates on her sorrow and her deceased loved one, now laying far away “among thy hills” (ll. 2, 14). Repetition, another way elegists conventionally move toward acceptance of death and consolation, is also a key feature of the poems honoring James. The speaker of “Falling Leaves” gazes upon the linden trees in the English garden:

The leaves are falling—ah, how free to die!
The leaves are falling, life is passing by,
The leaves are falling slowly at my feet,
And soon with dead summer, soon—how sweet!—
They will be garnered safe from every eye. (ll. 4–8)

The choice of the word “garner” in line 8 reminds the reader that autumn brings harvest even as it brings decay; and from this point on, the energies of the sonnet cycle become increasingly focused upon the resolution of mourning and ultimately, how the poets grow closer to each other through the experience. The next poem, “The Forest,” employs many of the features of Underneath the Bough’s “Bury her at even” and “I laid her to sleep”; the sonnet provides consolation by emphasizing Nature’s beauty, calling attention to the eternal cycles of the seasons (which mirror the cycle of both human and woodland life and death) and by repeating the idea that when James fell to his death, “He lay asleep” (ll. 1, 5) in the forest setting. The sixth sonnet, “Turning Homeward,” the last of a cluster written in 1897, features classic elegiac images of closure as the poets recall leaving the Alps: “cover[ing]” up thy grave” (l. 6), the road they take “descends,” the doors of the huts in the valley are “shut / All closes as we saw thy coffin close/ And we are turning homeward” (ll. 8–9). The sonnet then concludes with images of rebirth: we find that the torrential waters that opened the sonnet cycle in “Torrent” are now “shrunk;” and the speakers see “Two lusty lambs, pressing their mother’s teat, / Drink and are glad: we feel another year” (ll. 13–14).

The Longer Allegiance continues with poems referencing Bradley and Cooper’s 1898 return to Zermatt, interspersed with a few poems written the previous year. At this point, the cycle’s overarching narrative begins to incorporate “Michael” and “Henry’s” personal mythology about grief, mourning, and what happens to them as a couple as the result of their newly transformed relationship with the dead. “The Heavenly Love,” for instance, asks that “the grave / And memory shall not drag on my desire!” (l. 10); and “April” again meditates on the cycles of nature as “I invoke / And fall on the profoundness of the dead” (ll. 13-14). Meanwhile “A Bacchic Theatre” mirrors a ritual Cooper documents in the joint diary:

Michael and I climb to our Bacchic temple by the Matterhorn Ridge, where we exchanged rings last year, where we read the funeral service to our undiscovered Dead, flinging clods of thyme into the torrent….[in reading Alastor aloud we feel] the high wild sacredness, the sense of motion that is beyond our directing, that we can follow into regions of life larger than we can of ourselves conceive.…in that mood we grow and increase in happiness. Little moths dance about in religious eddies and the air twinkles itself.…one is able by moments to feel how it is with the blessed. We kiss over solemn altar stone in this midst of our peculiar little Bacchic theatre and re-dedicate ourselves to life and love….We feel that all we have suffered and enjoyed in our suffering yet enjoying lives can be expressed by our god…and we will be as free as the forests and streams in our verse.17

The fifty-two poems of The Longer Allegiance are simply too numerous and complex to even begin to treat in full here; but as a brief gloss, about halfway through, the focus shifts away from the specifics of James’s death and the poets continue exploring their connection to the dead, more generally, as a foundation for their love for one another. Continuing to employ a paradoxical dialectic of absence and presence, the remaining poems celebrate the unity of all things, living and dead, in God and/or in Nature; articulate the point of view of the dead toward God and toward the living; sing the praises of beauty and wisdom in present experience as opposed to dwelling in the past; express the poets’ deepening love for one another after several bouts of severe illness, and in the last poems, as we will see in the next section, begin to respond to the death of Whym Chow. Some of these in the second half also frankly express homoerotic desire, bringing together the pagan and Christian, and references to physical, spiritual and post-mortem union in literally productive ways, as in “Unity.”

Here, the poets locate themselves at Ostia, an ancient Roman site, and together, “Perceive[d] the rule of the great peace.” They entreat one another:

Love, were it possible that thou and I,
Being one day together soul to soul,
At shore of some wide waters, in the flush
Of roses tinging them, might so draw nigh
That we might feel of our accord the hush,
Binding all creatures, of God’s pure control! (ll. 9–14)

This is a Paterian quest for experience—for ecstasy and its aftermath. Michael Field desires the active pursuit (“of our accord”) of an utterly complete union with one another—perhaps through physical consummation or perhaps through death—which they believe will beget an experience of the quiet awareness of a God’s unifying presence. Similarly, the final poem of The Longer Allegiance, the second in the cycle with the title “Good Friday,” 18 invokes both the pagan, “the flood of Styx” (l. 2) and the Christian, “the deep-blooded crucifix” (l. 7) and then concludes:

A Power is with me that can love, can die,
That loves, and is deserted, and abides;
A loneliness that craves me and enthralls:
And I am one with that extremity,
One with that strength. I hear the alien tides
No more, no more the universe appals. (ll. 9–14)

Both “Unity” and “Good Friday” are, on the surface, about union with the Divine, here depicted as a lonely Power that both craves and enthralls the speaker. Yet, we must not forget that the speaker, Michael Field, is not one, but two who become “one with [and perhaps in] that extremity, / One with that strength,” thereby making this poem, like so many of their others, about queer intersubjectivity and coauthorship. To apply terms that Walter Pater used in his conclusion to The Renaissance, this elegiac sequence culminates in what could just as easily be viewed as an aesthetic, as opposed to a religious, manifesto: The Longer Allegiance, in helping the Michael Fields mourn, also moves them from the “impression of the individual in his isolation” to the “fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness” (Pater, 218, 220).

Thus, in each of these examples, Michael Field’s process of writing and the temporal repetition of ritual facilitate the “normal” trajectory of mourning. Pagan, Christian and sometimes ghostly tropes are appropriated and melded to create temporal and spatial environs in which the poets continue to co-exist with “their dead;” and these experiences are documented within a recognizably domestic and generally outdoor setting. Mourning—letting go—is accomplished by detaching from the deceased as they were and substituting a transformed relationship with the dead, now. The dead are represented as gone but not really gone, since Bradley and Cooper’s life and love involves rituals for/with the dead and, talking and importantly, writing about them.

With Antigone, whose words provide the title for the sonnet cycle, Michael Field proclaims: “I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living: in that world I shall abide for ever." Indeed, through their elegies for James, as for Emma Cooper and Robert Browning, the dead and the living do share the same world. For “Michael” and “Henry,” this belief is a phenomenological and spiritual philosophy of life: an elegiac Aesthetic style and a Foucauldian practice of the self that makes possible, and becomes inscribed within, their writing in both drama and verse. Their “longer allegiance to the dead” informs their sense of themselves as coauthors and the rhetoric they use to represent their relationship; it provides them with a spiritual practice; ameliorates their griefs; creates pleasurable community with their dead and with one another; and celebrates their homoerotic bonds and desires. Michael Field’s enduring allegiance to their dead thereby provides scaffolding for their ongoing allegiance to one another, through the exercise of paradox that makes possible the productive management of sameness and difference, absence and presence, self and other—as in the important lyric from Underneath the Bough, “It was deep April,” where, “My Love and I took hands and swore / Against the world to be / Poets and lovers evermore” (ll.4-6) only to then head into the Underworld, scoffing at those “who spent no hour among the dead” (l.13).

The “Asian Bacchant”

I suppose our new love of animals is a desire to get into another kingdom.
--Michael Field, "Works and Days", January 28, 1898.

So far, these Michael Field texts comprise a relatively sanguine approach to the process of mourning. When we read the diaries beside the poetry, we see that in a fairly straightforward and Freudian sense, as per Mourning and Melancholia, Bradley and Cooper’s mourning is “successful” and their elegies have helped to make it so. Their practices of mourning may appear colorful, but grief over Emma, Browning and James subsides; and their attachment for one another is augmented as a substitute for the deceased.

However, when Bradley and Cooper’s dog, Whym Chow, unexpectedly took ill in 1906 and had to be put down, it catapulted them into a veritable orgy of mourning so prolonged and extreme that it alienated most of their friends. Mourning Whym Chow appears to contribute to their subsequent conversion to Catholicism, 19 which, in turn, resulted in topical, if not stylistic, changes in their writing. The tragic event also resulted in nearly one hundred tear-stained diary pages reliving the dog’s last days and a substantial quantity of poetry (mostly by Cooper). A few of the poems, as I noted earlier, were included in Wild Honey; with some revision, they and most of the others were published in Whym Chow: Flame of Love (1914) by Bradley after Cooper’s death in a gesture to mourn and honor both the dog and her Fellow. I will now turn to a sampling of these poems, since their representations of bereavement and the lost love object differ from Michael Field’s other elegiac texts. Ultimately, I hope to demonstrate that because the (queer) function of the Michaels’ relationship with the chow renders it different than their relationship with other loved ones, mourning him creates problems that the coauthors attempt to negotiate with literary tropes that diverge from those in their earlier elegies. Since their mourning of Chow ‘fails’ in Freudian terms, I will also suggest a model of mourning that may be more apt for understanding the Whym Chow elegies and related journal passages than the Freudian/Victorian model we have usefully applied thus far.

Michael Field’s earlier elegiac writing, as we have seen, moves toward the resolution of grief. In texts that stand on their own, like the ones for Emma and Browning, the mourning narrative is completed by the end of the poem; and in elegies that occur in a sequence, such as those for James, the resolution of mourning is achieved by the end of the series. In contrast, Whym Chow: Flame of Love articulates inconsolable loss, along with pleas for Chow’s return, throughout the collection’s thirty poems. To start, the first lyric’s title, “I. Requiescat,” or “rest in peace,” ironically contrasts the desperate tone and actions of the speaker. There is no peace here. Instead, the poem melodramatically begins, “I call along the Halls of Suffering” (l. 1); and as it unfolds, the grief-stricken survivor releases “reverberated cries / out of deep wounds, out of each fiery spring / Of nerve, or piteous anguish of surprise” (ll. 2–4). The speaker frantically paces the house, whose hallways becomes “grand vaults” in Chow’s absence; but the “patter of thy feet” is not forthcoming and thus the empty home becomes hell on earth: “Loud Halls, O Hades of the living” (ll. 5, 6, 9). As the opening text of an elegiac sequence, such bathetic proclamations of misery are perhaps not out of place; yet bathos persists even in many of the later poems. For example, “XXI. Adveni, Creator Spiritus,” opens with loss, “My arms, my arms are void” (l. 1); and each stanza develops a variation, such as “My ears, my ears are still” (l. 7) and “Mine eyes, mine eyes are blank” (l. 13). However, the speaker’s heart is not empty: “My heart, my heart—ah no! / Core of my love there art thou ever hard—/ There clasped, there heard, there seen in constant glow” (ll. 19–21); and here we see how the mourning process has failed because the speaker has not detached from the lost love object. In fact, the bereaved implores God to bring Whym Chow back, as proof of the Holy Spirit’s power. The well-known hymn to which the title of the poem refers, begins:

Veni, Creator Spiritus,   Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
mentes tuorum visita,    and in our souls take up Thy rest;
imple superna gratia     come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
quae tu creasti pectora.    to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

In their version, Michael Field asks to be filled as well; and Chow, elsewhere associated with Christ, here becomes Christ and the Holy Spirit, simultaneously:

O God, O God, O might
Of Life Creative, let me hold again
The ruddy form my arms would lose on tight
Their cynosure my eyes attain;
Tingle my ears with every sound they love;
Oh, re-embody! Be thy Spirit proved. (ll. 25–30)

Although, as I discussed in the previous section, Michael Field did experience communion with their dead as a ‘real’ event, the commanding, incantatory character of the speaker’s plea that the dead return—and, in particular, the sensory focus that he return as he had been—render these poems quite different from the ones from Underneath the Bough or The Longer Allegiance. In the previous elegies, learning “how love knits me with the loved one now” seems to happen of its own accord; whereas with Whym Chow, the process is far from smooth or automatic. In fact, “XXVI” addresses its eponymous subject with anger: “When others are about me and the lips / Of any other bid me to forget” (l. 1), “[I] curse these comforters who bring me death” (l. 31).

Within the Victorian and Freudian models we have considered thus far, including Michael Field’s inventive variations on these models in their earlier elegies, the productive relationship between memory and mourning can be described as hyperremembering, a term coined by Tammy Clewell in her prizewinning “Mourning Beyond Melancholia: Freud’s Psychoanalysis of Loss.” 20 Through hyperremembering, “the survivor resuscitates the lost other in the space of the psyche, replacing an actual absence with an imaginary presence” (Clewell, 44). This permits the mourner to assess the loss; but eventually, memories of the deceased fall short of the real deceased and the mourner “comes to an objective determination that the lost object no longer exists […] The Freudian grief work seeks, then, to convert loving remembrances into futureless memory” (44). However, unlike Michael Field’s other experiences of mourning, with regard to the dog, “Henry” and “Michael” cannot take the high road and claim “Others may drag at memory’s fetter.” Instead, as if pulling on his leash, Whym Chow literally drags them deeper into their memories, thwarting detachment.

Some of the memories cited in Whym Chow relive moments related to his death, such as his still, broken body (“III. Crowned with wine-steeped”; “X. Semper Jam”) and his funeral (“IV. O Dionysus”). Other elegies attempt to bring him back through the kind of hyperremembering described above, especially by invoking strong sense memories of daily activities. To this end, “XXIV. Loved Confessionals there are” develops a rich, charmingly childlike image of sharing secrets with Chow: “down my face was pressed / In thy wondrous fur, enwrought / Of the gilded motes of sun/…./There I hid my joys and woes” (51–52, 58). Likewise, “XXV. I want you, little Love, not from the skies,” expresses desire for little remembered moments including Chow’s scowl, his soft quick feet and his “resolute, fine jaw” (l. 11). The poem also reads:

I want you, when, to guard our door you rushed
In whirlwind loyalty; or when you brushed
Against the knee your little chine with soft
Claim for caress, .....................................
Or when reverberant as echoed shout
Your face proclaimed the “Yes” of going out. (ll.21–30)

Ultimately, the speaker admits that living with Chow is different from remembering him; but still, she does not stop desiring her dog “Not far away, as visions may appear / O apple of our eyes, but with us here!” (ll. 59–60). It seems that when this of course is not possible, the Michaels, rather than detaching, begin to represent their “visions” as real, resulting in numerous eccentric diary passages like the one about inn that began my analysis of this topic.

Hyperremembering of this ilk—that does not become Clewell’s “futureless memory”—is, in part, enabled by the kind of thinking that we see in “VI. What is the other name of Love,” which recalls with great detail, memories of Chow’s behavior in the past that mirrors the speakers’ in the present, such as Chow’s Bacchic frenzy and “rage of welcome” (l.7) every time they returned home: “The state that surged around a daily chance, / If thy Beloved should enter: in they Dance / A worship, in thy light, a universe” (ll.45–47). Here, it is implied that the Michaels would celebrate with the same frenzied joy, if only Whym Chow could come home to them, now. Thus in this and many of the poems, the texts create a “crossing and interlacing” of subjectivities and of past and present. For instance, in “IX. My loved one is away from me,” Bradley is elsewhere and Cooper muses about how she and Chow used to wait together in such moments in the past, when, “For her we loved in absence and together” (l.11). Now, however, both Bradley and Whym Chow are “loved one[s who are] away.” Quite similarly, “XII. Absence,” memorializes Chow’s woeful face behind the windowpane whenever Bradley and Cooper left the house, again taking a precious memory from the past and projecting it upon a parallel meaning in the present. Since they can’t let go of these powerful memories, these elegies will not move them toward consolation.

The often-analyzed “V. Trinity” is germane here, as is “XXII. Sleeping Together, Sleep;” both texts employ Aesthetic paradox in order to merge past and present and to further Bradley and Cooper’s eroticized narrative of their beloved dog as conduit for queer desire and interwoven subjectivity. As a new puppy in 1898, Bradley prophetically rhapsodized: “Oh I love him! Hennie loves him. He is Michael’s own little brimstone soul. Hennie loves him! Amen.” 21 Here we see origins both of Bradley’s ongoing identification with the dog and the deployment of a transitive logic that establishes a dynamic connection between the three. After the dog’s death, Bradley publicly confesses “Nay, thou art my eternal attribute / …/ The very essence of the thing I am” (WH, “Whym Chow” ll. 1–3) and Cooper makes clear the dog’s function in expressing her love for Bradley when she proclaims:

I did not love him for myself alone
I loved him that he loved my dearest love
O God, no blasphemy
It is to feel we loved in trinity (WC “Trinity” ll. 1–4)

Cooper goes on (some critics would say defensively) to compare their trinity of love to the divine love that comforted Christ on the cross; and thus it is clear that for the Michaels, the gravity of this relationship cannot be underestimated; this is no silly love game. As the lyric concludes, the chow is “O symbol of our perfect union, strange / Unconscious Bearer of Love’s interchange” (ll. 17–18). Yet the chow is not merely a metaphorical symbol of their union, as the earlier thyrsus and bramblebough were; instead, in “XXII. Sleeping together: Sleep” Michael Field develops “Trinity”’s themes by creating a picture of domestic life that is insistently physical, intimate, and erotic. The aspects of this long poem that most interest me here are repeated references to Whym Chow as witness to physical manifestations of Bradley and Cooper’s love and repeated descriptions of how he completes, invigorates and blesses them; his presence makes their already existing union more palpable. For instance, the first stanza refigures their bedroom as the site of Genesis, “that former deep / of night that was before the world” (4–5); and the speaker describes them sleeping “The lull of thy breath on the air / That held the lull of our breath there” (ll. 2–3). Whym Chow is both the child and Creator of what “issues thence,/ Motion, sigh of heart, caress / Came through sable void to bless” (ll.13–14). As the poem unfolds, the speakers’ joined bodies remain the focus: they are together and he greets them in the second stanza; they possess “deeds and dreams” and he “re-illumes” them and “fills” then with “newness.” In the third stanza, Whym Chow’s presence reinforces a pleasurable awareness of Bradley and Cooper’s bodies in relation to one another: in their shared bed, eyes mingled in the sunlight, breath shared on the breeze, they “knew” and “relished well” the “spell of our bodies.” The next stanza, on loving, uses euphemisms of eating, flame and breathing that culminate in “sacred passion blent;” but all euphemism disappears in the penultimate verse, where Chow, associated with ivy and life’s dance” leads them to consider what can only be a Bacchanal, and they are “taught the bliss that must express / Unity of blessedness” (69–70). Thus, as Roden and others have noted, recalling memories with the dog becomes a space where Trinitarian rhetoric can bless (or camouflage) Michael Field’s lesbian love. In the only gesture toward healing in the entire collection, the elegy closes, much like “Unity,” by invoking the power of erotic union, should the couple let go their grief over Whym long enough to take solace in one another:

Now that thou are dead we meet
Still together in the sweet
Company of close-drawn breath,
If we banish grief from death (ll. 85–88)

Finally, although many of the Whym Chow lyrics I have addressed thus far, like Michael Field’s earlier texts on mourning, refer to quotidian activities and familiar, domestic settings, it must be noted that many more of the Whym Chow poems starkly veer away from the familiar by figuring the dog through extreme Othering, especially using the language of Orientalism. In life as well as death, Michael Field’s verse and journals refer to the chow as Dionysus, Bacchus, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit and a wild Orient Prince bedecked with gemlike, flamelike fur. Upon the puppy’s arrival, they write he is:

a wolf with civilization, softness, an oriental with husky passion-white-rolling eyeballs, the power of inward frenzy-velvet manners and the savagery of eastern armies behind. I suppose our new love of animals is a desire to get into another kingdom. We cannot reach the kingdom of the dead-we can penetrate into the kingdom of animals. Mortals all! 22

Such Orientalist rhetoric becomes common for much of their subsequent writing about Whym Chow. “VIII. Out of the East,” for instance, opens with the chow’s fur as a treasure-chest of exotic gems set in gold:

Jasper and jacinth, amber and fine gold
The topaz, ruby, the fire-opal, grey
And lucent agate covered thee with glory,
O Eastern Prince from fuming China hoary
That on thy orient rug celestial lay,
Thy coat a web of treasure manifold! (ll. 1–6)

The poem then unfolds with stereotypical depictions of the East. The chow, represented as a capricious and somewhat slothful sultan is dubbed, “O Orient Prince, thou Asian Bacchant;” he has a lustful eye, is slave to passion, indulges in “ancient cruelty,” and practices strange rituals of hospitality, which are mentioned, with race and nation, in the context of empire’s expansion:

Thou would’st not break thy trance save at the house
Of welcome: then the glories of thy race,
Then dance and sovereign courtesy, elation
As though would’st heap the substance of a nation
At feet that had the ritual of thy face,
And all thy gems in flash, thy gold in shower. (ll. 37–42)

Repeatedly, Whym Chow’s appearance and personality invite exotic description, as in “XIV. Fur for Mandarins” which similarly references rare gems, cruel behavior, and bright tropical colors. Elsewhere, he is “Alert, like strange Anubis, toward the sky” (IX l. 44).

Studies of nineteenth-century mourning often note the Victorians’ difficulty talking about the unknowable in an increasingly scientific and material age (Wheeler, xii). It makes sense, therefore, that Michael Field employ Orientalized imagery when representing, in both death and life, the beloved pet who, as Vanita, Roden and others have argued, by the turn of the century, functioned as a defensive strategy, a necessary conduit or proxy for their queer desire. We can then read these sublimely over-the-top elegies for Whym as casting the unknown and alienating aspects of death among other things considered unknowable: female and same-sex desire during the rise of sexology; the far reaches of the colonies in an age of increasing anxiety about the stability of British empire; and even the problem of continuing their literary careers (not to mention their Sapphic relationship), given their recent conversion to Catholicism. In fact, Michael Field’s journal entries and published work from these years include increasing references to imperialism that tellingly project their personal investment in controversial or difficult subjects onto certain kinds of Others. For instance, they marvel, like their fellow Aesthetes, at the strange, compelling beauty of Japanese art; and they worry, with much patriotism, about the Boer war’s losses, projecting their hope and fears as authors onto England: “Like our Country we shall face the difficulties of Empire building when circumstances are stubborn. I believe both England and Michael Field shall win.” 23 When they learn of England’s victory, Bradley and Cooper mark empire’s mastery by employing parallel mastery over the animal kingdom (which as noted above, they think more penetrable than the kingdom of the dead): they joyfully make their other dog Musico (their English basset, not the untamable Orient Prince) drum out “God Save the Queen” with his paws. 24 In this context, we can better contextualize the Orientalized, inconsolable mourning of Whym Chow that differs so strikingly from the elegiac conventions Michael Field had developed thus far.

I would like to suggest that the function of Bradley and Cooper’s irresolvable grief for Whym Chow (and the related, eccentric elegies) is that it strategically preserves the erotic proxy they have, by this point, created to stand in for “Michael Field”—not only Michael Field as lovers but Michael Field as identity—as joint authors and queerly partnered selves. Further, due to increasing societal disapprobation of same-sex love, the fragility of this proxy—imbued with anxieties about mortal fragility and the would-be marginal status of the secret Michael Field self—is here figured through the rhetoric of imperialism with its anxious tensions of fear and mastery. In other words, mother, father, and Browning can successfully be mourned in the Freudian sense because Michael Field appropriates Victorian notions of the eternal present, reunion, etc. such that the dead pass on while bolstering Bradley and Cooper’s complex, often contested experience of selfhood. However, mourning Whym Chow, given the dog’s complex, queer relationship to Bradley and Cooper, and their complex, queer relationship to one another, cannot cease—it must continue—not as an unconscious impulse, but as a conscious act on their part, if ‘they’ (given their current equation with the dog) are to survive as queer and dual subjects.

At this juncture one might be tempted to state that Whym Chow’s death presents, in Freudian terms, a classic instance of mourning become melancholia, in which the mourner refuses object cathexis; that the poems establish an identification of the ego with the abandoned object, to whom a strong fixation already existed. Most likely, Michael Field’s exasperated friends would agree with such a ‘diagnosis,’ along with its narcissistic implications. Their neighbor and close friend, fellow Aesthete Charles Ricketts puts it bluntly in this letter dated April 16, 1906:

My dear Michael. It is now two months that you have bored and distressed me by references to the death of your dog. Not only do I dislike this degradation of the majesty of grief, but in the event of this so preying on your mind it should be your duty to try and put order and a little silence in the place of this angry din of regret; this is your duty to yourself and others […] All this is journalism; it is not charming but pompous journalism […] I trust your common sense will prove to you that you jar and are out of tune. 25

However, other characteristics of melancholia do not apply, such as lack of motivation to engage in the symbolic realm by speaking or writing. Nor do they display the aggression typically associated with melancholy, where anger or ambivalence toward the deceased is turned inward on the self, as in the “melancholic mourning of modernist elegy” that begins to characterize many twentieth-century poems (Clewell, 54). A bit more promising but still not quite apt is Freud’s revised theory of mourning, as expressed in The Ego and the Id (1923), in which an elegiac ego is formed during an endless and inherently melancholic mourning process. However, Freud’s stance toward the necessity of melancholic violence in this model remains contradictory and unresolved; which again, is not applicable to Michael Field’s representations of Chow.

Using these ideas and their shortcomings as a jumping off point, I would like to propose as a useful model for understanding the elegiac writing about Whym Chow, what Michael Moon terms active mourning: a kind of fetishism rescued from Freud’s definition of fetishism as an unconscious act of identification with the maternal phallus, castration, Oedipalization and homosexual panic. Active mourning, which refuses discretion, renunciation of the lost loved one and mourning’s cessation, according to Moon, is a “conscious means of extending our homoerotic relations, even with the dead” (235). And, as Moon demonstrates in examples ranging from Walt Whitman to contemporary AIDS activism, active mourning can give rise to new and different elegiac forms that are particularly useful for queer elegy. This kind of active mourning is useful because those outside society’s norms of sexuality may find traditional prescriptions for mourning “fundamentally normalizing and consequently….may seem to diminish the process and to foreclose its possible meanings instead of making it more accessible to understanding” (Moon, 235). Thus, I think Moon’s concept is a useful frame from which to interpret Bradley and Cooper’s prolonged and dramatic mourning of Whym Chow. Despite the criticism of even their closest friends, the Michael Fields refuse to contain and repress urgent needs and feelings of bereavement. Instead, their active mourning results, among others things, in fetishizing, by Orientalizing and eroticizing, the body of Whym Chow, which, by 1906, has also become their collective (both dual and Trinitarian) body and identity. Thus, as Michael Moon urges AIDS mourners to do almost a hundred years later, Michael Field “actively cultivates the erotic component of grief and sorrow,” and focuses on “bodily abundance and supplementarity” despite the fact that others, then and now, consider such acts, in their excess and eroticism, to be inappropriate and scandalous (Moon 235). In the case of Michael Field and Whym Chow, such active mourning manifests in elegies that, as we have seen, unabashedly plead for the departed’s return and cultivate, through erotic, sensory language, their trinity—an elegiac (triple) ego formed by “taking the lost other into the structure of one’s own identity, a form of preserving the lost object in and as the self” (Clewell, 61). Entries from the joint diary can be read as active mourning as well: both those passages that express endless grief and those that insist that Chow still accompanies them, in body as well as spirit.

In this study, I have focused on Michael Field’s elegies for their personal dead, texts that depart from the elegiac tradition whereby the (male) poet sings in honor of his predecessor’s passing and thereby becomes his successor. Future work would do well to examine Michael Field’s numerous elegies for public figures with whom they were less personally involved—Christina Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, Oscar Wilde, among others—and to assess whether these participate in or depart from classic, Victorian and women’s elegiac traditions, as well as how they compare to the personal elegies I have considered in this project. As for the texts we have examined here, steeped, as they are, in the languages of Nature, myth, religion, and Orientalism, and pressing the limits of time and space, Michael Field’s varied expressions of mourning share discursive characteristics, if not material practices, with the many Victorians who, through Christian mourning, Spiritualism and/or Imperialism, found themselves contemplating the boundaries of their immediate world and everyday experience. Michael Field’s later, queer erotics of mourning Whym Chow, like their earlier elegiac texts and rituals, reside within this tradition; but also move beyond it through active mourning strategies that attempt to negotiate the unknowable (death), the unspeakable (queer desire) and the unthinkable (separation from one another). Whatever criticism we may now have for aesthetic appropriations of the rhetoric of empire, certainly Katharine Bradley’s decision to honor the other two aspects of her Trinity through the limited publication of the eccentric, and queer, Whym Chow Flame of Love, deserves to be remembered, with an eye to Michael Field’s similarities to, and departures from, other queer mourners and the unique elegiac forms they create, both then and today.

Jill Ehnenn
Appalachian State University

1 Quotations from passages in the unpublished journal of Michael Field at the British Library, London (Add. MSS. 46776-46804) will be cited by manuscript number, date and folio. This excerpt is from Add. MS. 46798 (1908), fol. 54.
2 See, in particular, Martha Vicinus’s provocative work on Michael Field’s identification with the figure of the boy; and Frederick Roden’s equally groundbreaking study of their appropriation of both male and female homoerotic imagery to convey devotional pleasure and desire for union with God.
3 One of Robert Browning’s pet phrases for Bradley and Cooper. See Works and Days, 20.
4 Jalland, 288. Among others, also see Sacks.
5 Sacks and Clewell both address the theoretical underpinning of prescriptions for the mourner to “move on.”  Tucker and Joseph, as well as Jalland and Wheeler provide examples of specifically Victorian injunctions about the end of mourning; and Magnum’s article extends this even to pets, as will become relevant to our discussion, later.  It is relevant to note, however, that recent work on modernist elegy identifies a shift away from the conventions of nineteenth-century elegy and Victorian insistence on mourning’s end.  Such a modernist shift is, of course, congruent with how, after the war, in The Ego and the Id, Freud refigured his previously strict binary between mourning and melancholia and changed his mind about the necessary end of normal mourning.  This might lead us to think about Marion Thain’s important assertions that Michael Field be considered in context of early modernism, not just as late Victorians.  However, although I agree that, in general, we might expand our periodization of Michael Field, it is important to note that, as much as Michael Field’s later elegiac texts about Whym Chow can be seen to take a detour, that particular detour does not bear significant resemblance to modernist elegy.  To this end, I will address The Ego and the Id again toward the conclusion of this paper.
6 Michael Field wrote other elegies as well, for noted figures such as Swinburne and Christina Rossetti, but they did not consider them to be “their dead.”
7 Peter Sacks notes, in classical elegy, “a heritage of powerful contradictions associated with the original positing of any imagery of light on the far side of darkness, or of the presence in the space of an absence” (34).
8 Field, Add. MS. 46778 (April 6, 1890) fol. 26.
9 P = Puss = Cooper
10 Field, Add. MS. 46779 (1891) fol. 36.
11 Field, Add. MS. 46779 (1891), fol. 160.
12 For extended readings of “A Girl” see, among others: Ehnenn, 30–31; Laird, 23–24; White, 50–51.
13 Cooper, writing of Bradley’s absence. Add. MS. 46780 (1892) fol. 46.
14 For more on the “funereal” tenor of Victorian life and literature, see Joseph and Tucker.
15 Field, Add. MS. 46786 (1897) fol. 44. Freud, no doubt, would have much to say about this comment; but that is beyond the scope of this paper.
16 Cooper and Bradley traveled to Zermatt during the summer of 1897, after James’s disappearance; but the body was not found and they left Switzerland, only to return after his body was finally recovered on October 25. They made a third trip back to Zermatt on the anniversary of his death the following year. See Donoghue, 94–102.
17 Field, Add. MS. 46787 (July 31, 1898) fol. 74.
18 According to Ivor Treby’s catalogue, the “Good Friday” lyric that roughly marks the end of the first third of The Longer Allegiance was written in 1899, while the final poem was written earlier, in 1897. (175, 179)
19 The conversion to Catholicism raises another complex set of issues. Although Michael Field’s Catholicism is not unrelated to the subject of this study, in the interest of time and focus, I will not address it here. For solid analyses of this topic, see Cauti, 181–88; Fraser, 139–40; Roden, 190–225; Snodgrass, 171–80; and Thain, 168–200.
20 Many thanks to David L. Orvis for bringing to my attention this article’s treatment of The Ego and the Id and its relevance to my discussion, later on, of Michael Moon’s concept of active mourning.
21 Field, Add. MS. 46787 (1898) fol. 13.
22 Field, Add. MS. 46787 (January 28, 1898) fol. 11.
23 Field, Add. MS. 46788 (1899) fol 145.
24 Field, Add. MS. 46789 (1900) fol. 10.
25 Field. Add. MS. 61723 (1906) fol 11.

Works Cited

Manuscript Sources
Field, Michael. “Works and Days.” Add. MSS. 46776–46867.  British Library.

Published Sources
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Donoghue, Emma.  We Are Michael Field.  Bath: Absolute P, 1998.
Ehnenn, Jill.  Women’s Literary Collaboration, Queerness and Late-Victorian Britain.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008.
Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present New York: Quill, 1981.
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---. Wild Honey from Various Thyme. London: T Fisher Unwin, 1908.
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Vicinus, Martha. “The Adolescent Boy: Fin de Siecle Femm Fatale?” in Victorian Sexual Dissidence. Ed. Richard Dellamora.  Chicago: U Chicago , 1999: 83-108.
Wheeler, Michael.  Death and the Future Life in Victorian Literature and Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.
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