The Michaelian
the michaelian

issue two: december 2010

Moving beyond ‘Michael Field’: Identity through anonymity in Borgia

Jennifer Krisuk

Works on Michael Field often discuss Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper’s pseudonym in accordance with issues of identity, and rightly so. But Bradley and Cooper’s identity issues are far different from any that may be attributed to other female authors of the time who assumed a male pseudonym. Not only were Bradley and Cooper women attempting to enter into a male-dominated sphere, but they were also pagans, closely related to each other, distant in age (nearly sixteen years to be exact), and lovers. Growing up in Victorian England, these two women defied most social conventions of their world through their mere existence. Since Michael Field’s works have begun to enter more fully into the canon, significant analyses regarding the pseudonym have been developed, and scholars have begun attending to Bradley’s and Cooper’s sexuality as well as their familial relation. 1 However, these works focus primarily on the journals and letters of Bradley and Cooper or on those works published under the name of Michael Field. But while Bradley and Cooper continued publishing poetry under their pseudonym after the discovery of their identity, they were also publishing closet dramas anonymously. Yet the plays receive little attention, and even that is rather dismissive. David Moriarty, in his essay “‘Michael Field’ (Edith Cooper and Katherine Bradley) and Their Male Critics,” only discusses the plays of the 1890’s because he sees them as “among their most significant” (125), while Marion Thain’s ‘Michael Field’: Poetry, Aestheticism and the Fin de Siècle justifies this lack of scholarly attention to the anonymous works by explaining that “later in life ‘Michael Field’ would disown many of the plays” (8).2

These views of the plays are retrospective. In 1905, Bradley and Cooper felt it necessary to publish the historical drama Borgia: A Period Play anonymously and to allow this anonymity to carry over into the later plays.3 These anonymous publications did not go unnoticed by contemporary critics, but brought a renewed critical interest for Field. As an isolated work, Borgia  is an intricately crafted piece of historical drama that, according to Mary Sturgeon, creates “an extraordinary combination of subtlety with passion” (222) and that addresses all the nineteenth-century influences Thain indicates as residing within the poetry:

the ekphrastic relationship between poetry and painting; the fin-de-siècle poem’s negotiation with lyric history; the definitive fin-de-siècle dynamic between the economic and the aesthetic; the connection between pagan and Catholic faiths at the end of the century; Victorian ideas of history; the relationship between Victorianism and modernism over the turn of the century; as well as, of course, sexology and sexual definition. (12)

In this article, I will be focusing primarily on identity as Bradley and Cooper present it within Borgia, freed from the association of an author’s name or pseudonym, yet possibly hinting at the issues Michael Field did face as poets, relatives, and lovers specifically through the characters of Cesare and Lucrezia.

A closet drama, Borgia depicts Bradley and Cooper’s adaptation of the true story of the members of the House of Borgia, a noble and corrupt family in Renaissance Italy. While other characters move in and out of the story, at the centre of the play is the relationship between Alfonso de Borja (the Pope), his daughter Lucrezia Borgia, and his illegitimate son, Cesare Borgia. Alfonso controls both his children, choosing husbands for his daughter and appointing Cesare as a Cardinal. Much of the play follows Cesare’s attempts to renounce this appointment in order to reclaim the role of military leader, a role which he believes he rightfully deserves and which has been withheld due to his illegitimate birth. Over the course of the play, he kills his brother and Lucrezia’s husband, creates an alliance with France, leads several successful military campaigns, and ultimately dies in an ambush. While beautifully portrayed, often through decadent descriptions, Cesare’s journey is not the play’s only tale. Borgia also hints at the possibly incestuous relationship between these three characters, depicting several ambiguously intimate moments between Cesare and Lucrezia, and Lucrezia and Alfonso, and also enlightens the reader on the struggle fought by Lucrezia during her lifetime to please herself as well as the men whom she loves.

Throughout the play, conventional identities are forced upon these characters by a multitude of outside forces. Not only have the identities of Cesare and Lucrezia been determined by others, but any attempts made by the two to escape from these constructions prove futile. By allowing these conflicts to affect both the male and the female character, by emphasizing the near-inseparability of Cesare and Lucrezia, and by endowing them with creative and artistic characteristics, Borgia also reflects the authorial situation of Bradley and Cooper. For Cesare especially there is the additional difficulty of his illegitimacy, and he often feels trapped within his socially-prescribed roles by circumstances and forces greater than himself, yet manipulates these forces in every way he can. As Marion Thain points out, “John Ruskin’s strict instructions [in a letter dated 28 December 1877] as to what Bradley and Cooper should and shouldn’t read and write no doubt laid the foundations for a particularly conservative idea of the proper sphere of women’s work” (44). Bradley’s relationship with Ruskin is often cited as an example of the patriarchal influences surrounding Michael Field. In his already mentioned essay, Moriarty indicates how “[Ruskin’s] intimacy betrays a patriarchal stance and a refusal to treat Katherine as an adult and an equal” (122). Not only was Field working within and against perceived conceptions of female writing, but also strict ideals about authorship. Borgia’s portrayal of the conflict between social expectations of individuals and individual identity appears strikingly similar to the pressures felt by Bradley and Cooper as female writers and co-authors.

Borgia’s opening scene depicts Pope Alexander and the envoy of the King of Naples agreeing on a predetermined identity for Lucrezia. The Envoy presents a letter that Lucrezia’s ex-husband, Giovanni Sforza “has written/ In affirmation of her virgin state” (1). Shortly after this, Alexander discovers Lucrezia and his mistress, Giulia Farnese, selecting jewels with which to adorn themselves. Alexander then insists Giulia wear the diamond, although she had been about to choose the ruby. This opening lays the foundation for the rest of the play, particularly with regard to the characters of Cesare and Lucrezia. As the quintessential model of patriarchy, the Pope’s role in constructing an identity for Lucrezia suggests exactly that: the female identity as determined by the conventions of a patriarchal society. Alexander explains that she is “Our daughter bent obedient to our will” (I.i, p.5); and when she is in the company of men, Lucrezia does seem to occupy a conventional feminine role, nurturing her father, brother, and husbands, caring for her son, and acquiescing to their desires in all things. However, despite Sturgeon’s description of Lucrezia’s “fatal suppleness and passivity” (214), Lucrezia does not so readily accept this prescribed identity.

In “The Tragic Mary: A Case Study in Michael Field’s Understanding of Sexual Politics,” Vickie L. Taft argues that the female relationships of The Tragic Mary allow the Queen some happiness by creating a freeing homosocial space within, but simultaneously outside of, the oppressive patriarchal space. A similar argument could be made for Lucrezia in Borgia. When with women, Lucrezia shows an awareness of self she does not exhibit around men, an awareness that allows her some agency. In Act IV, Scene I, Lucrezia instructs her maid, Clarice, to “spread [her hair] like a halo” (100), so that she may present a particular image when Cardinal Michele and Cardinal Segovia visit her. Clearly Lucrezia is aware of the role she is expected to occupy, but her awareness, rather than indicating submission, suggests that she is attempting to mold her identity, even if that bit of control means pretending to be what she ‘should’ be. Shortly after the Cardinals’ visit, Lucrezia laments to Clarice that

I feel as I should never grow a woman
Save at Ferrara, miles away from Rome.
Alfonso does not love me—every day
Humiliates my humbler race, is fearful
I shall be found in nature sinister
And fatal… . But I am not so, and therefore
He cannot find that I am anything
But just his young Lucrece, he soon will love… (104)

For Alfonso, Lucrezia must be either “sinister/ And fatal” or young and lovable. She does not believe she fulfills the patriarchal role—“But I am not so”—but her husband cannot see beyond these conventional constructions. As this statement shows, she is conscious of her limited options, and such limitations only further indicate how, ultimately, Lucrezia is stripped of any identity. If she can only occupy one of these two roles, what must she do, who must she be if she is neither? The portrayal of Lucrezia, then, indicates a continual struggle between the identities constructed and expected by society and the identity of the individual.

Possibly it is too easy to compare Lucrezia’s situation to that of Field, but such a palpable similarity cannot be ignored. As mentioned earlier, Bradley’s epistolary relationship with Ruskin indicates both the expectations of female writers and their awareness of such expectations. Field did not readily accept such limitations, and as with Lucrezia’s arrangement of her hair, the use of the pseudonym allowed Bradley and Cooper to achieve their own desires and assert their own identity within the patriarchal system. But that is not to say that Field was entirely consumed by masculine ideas and behaviors. According to Katherine (JJ) Pionke in “Michael Field: Gender Knot”: “Katharine and Edith enjoyed walking the edge of gender rebellion, but they never really crossed the line … [They] preferred to dress in women’s clothes and to act in a feminine manner” (26). Noting the retention of the pseudonym after its discovery and exposure by the critics, Thain observes that “retaining the name could be interpreted as an audacious declaration of the women’s ability to occupy both masculine and feminine spheres” (45). As with Lucrezia, Field’s identity existed in the grey area between the conventionally defined masculine and feminine. Through the pseudonym, they could be men and women simultaneously; they could be drawing-room ladies thinking and writing like men. In a letter to Robert Browning, Bradley explains the necessity of secrecy regarding the pseudonym: “we have many things to say that the world will not tolerate from a woman’s lips. We must be free as dramatists to work out in the open air of nature…we cannot be stifled by drawing-room conventionalities” (WD 6). As Pionke explains, “[t]o work in a man’s world, Katharine and Edith had, in part, to act or be like men. Their Michael Field identity became a part of who they were and also had to be, so that they could survive in the very male literary world” (25).

The name, however, failed them. Once the public and reviewers learned of Field’s identity, works published under the pseudonym met with resistance. As scholars have noted, the freedom of expression within the masculine and single-author oriented pseudonym disappeared and critics began to focus on the gender of the authors and, more discouragingly, what they deemed the inappropriate nature of their material given that gender. And the characters of Borgia encounter similar obstacles and defeats in their attempts to control and manipulate their identities; yet Borgia does not view issues of identity solely through the lens of the feminine. In fact, it is the struggle, and ultimate failure, of Cesare to overcome his socially-appointed identity and assert his own that is the central tragedy of the drama. The connection to Field’s authorial situation is reinforced by Cesare’s conflicted identities. By extending these issues to the male character as well, Field does not isolate social pressures as feminine, thus shifting emphasis from themselves as individuals to their role as writers.

For Cesare Borgia, the pressures to conform to a pre-established identity are equal to, if not greater than those of his sister. As the second son of Alexander, Cesare can neither hope for a Dukedom nor for military power, both being provided for the elder son, Giovanni. Instead, Cesare’s father places him within the church as a Cardinal4 . Not only is Cesare assigned the role of Cardinal, but he is also marked by his illegitimate birth. When Cesare travels to the French Court to gain the hand of Charlotte, King Louis XII and Lord Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere (Giuliano) display their disgust with the Pope’s ‘bastard’ son. Louis laments all that he has promised Cesare since he is an “unfrocked bastard of a priest” whose “birth/ Is sacrilege,” comments with which Giuliano readily agrees (51-52).  But Cesare cannot passively accept his appointed role either as a Cardinal or an illegitimate child, and so seeks ambitiously to define himself on his own terms, to be what he believes he is meant to be—a great and powerful ruler. As he explains to Messer Bernardino Betti and Messer Ercole when they deliver the ceremonial sword into his hands,

The Lord Cardinal’s Sword,
The Legate’s Sword! I laugh… it is at others,
The names they call me, when I have one name
Hot at the core of fixedness, my heart.
O antique Cesar… (8)

Part of Cesare’s refusal of his appointed identity stems from his belief in an identity he feels himself “born” for. During his plea to his fellow Cardinals to release him from service, Cesare explains that he cannot serve because “I was born a soldier,/ Beckoned to war, and pointed to redemption” (42). Later when Giuliano snidely refers to Cesare’s lack of military experience, Cesare retorts with the following: “Did Mercury have lessons for the lyre,/ Or Hercules in wrestling? Were they not born/ Each to his art’s perfection?” (53). Cesare believes that his role as a military leader is his destiny, an identity he was born into and thus something natural as opposed to the superficial identities being constructed for him by others. Even his illegitimacy becomes another mistake of fortune or circumstance, something that he can remove at will rather than an irrevocable mark upon him forever. As he tells his father:

As for my brother’s death, that is but Fortune—
The spokes of her wheel turned bright on me. I was
Your second son, enslaved to your vocation;
Profane, I touched your sacred things and trembled
You dared to put me to such use… (27)

Cesare not only rebels against the identity imposed by society based on his parentage, but also the paternal nature of that society. It is “your vocation,” (his father’s) that he rejects. Here, however, accepting his destiny does not appear a passive state, but an active one. In the play, it is clear that Cesare murders his brother in order to acquire his Dukedom and role as Captain General of the Church. But he is forced to these drastic measures as a result of his belief in his intrinsic nature which “rocks my very dreams” and forces him to “rouse myself/ To majesty you put on me, or let it/ Drop downward to the void” (27).

At such times, Cesare’s struggle appears more aggressive than that of Lucrezia in his desperation to achieve his destined identity, as if he did not wish merely to manipulate both identities but to entirely vanquish his oppressive social identity. But at the French Court, Louis admits that something in Cesare’s presence seems to suppress his illegitimacy: “by all saints, he loads the air with sway/ Of such duplicity and blandishment,/ He puts such grace about magnificence,/ Such a cold and heat about his speech—I, Louis/ Of France, have promised/ Soldiers to win him land, my niece to marry” (51). At such moments, Cesare seems equally capable of manipulating others by assuming whatever identity will most please them. Yet, as his later lament reveals, this is not the identity Louis deems appropriate for Cesare, and as the tragedy of the play ultimately reveals, Cesare’s manipulations generally are not effective. Cesare is a bastard in society, regardless of his airs and rhetoric, just as Lucrezia is lamblike or sinister regardless of any behavior to the contrary. Thus, despite their manipulations, neither can achieve an existence beyond that designated by their societies.

Yet the momentary success of Cesare’s manipulations allows Field to reveal the frivolities and inconsistencies of these socially prescribed roles. Louis’ adherence to his promises to Cesare despite his proclaimed awareness of Cesare’s unworthiness is nearly comic. Louis admits that he was momentarily blinded by Cesare’s display of jewels, finery, and confidence, making any of his beliefs regarding identity highly suspect. Such fickle behavior becomes most clear for both characters during the scene in the marketplace: Cesare appears “in the caftan and turban of a Turk” and is so perfectly disguised that his own mother does not immediately recognize him (29). While Cesare gaily performs his role for Prince Djem and Princess Sancia, peasants gathered in the market speculate upon his identity. To them he is “one who rode a white horse … an Infidel … the Devil” until a boy addresses him as “Lord Cesare” (33-34). After this revelation, the peasants’ views change. “[H]e has the face of a king,” claims one, while other voices suggest that “[h]e has a face full of pardon” and that “[h]e is shameless as a child” (34). The designation of “VOICES” as the speaker of these lines and the quickly shifting opinions of the crowd suggests the indistinguishable voices that comprise public opinion and its easily influenced nature. As with Louis, the marketplace crowd’s feelings toward Cesare, whether accepting or condemning, become meaningless because they have no solid foundation. And it is here that Field’s experience as an author, particularly an anonymous5 one, begins to emerge from within the text.

Edith Cooper once wrote regarding their reviews that “[w]e are hated, as Shelley was hated, by our countrymen, blindly, ravenously” (Works & Days 182). As mentioned, Field’s use of the pseudonym stemmed partly from a fear that the ideas presented in their works would not be accepted if the originator of such ideas was known to be female. Marion Thain suggests that equally problematic aspects of being a female author are the ease with which certain works found publication and “the meaningless flattery given to female authors” (44).6 Using a pseudonym, however, was a common practice in the nineteenth century among both male and female writers, and such usage arose from a multitude of reasons, including the author’s concerns regarding sex, popularity, and copyright, among others. Bad reviews were also commonplace for writers of all sexes; as Charles Ricketts observes, “I do not think ‘the Nineties’ was a gracious or fruitful decade” (3). In fact, much of the criticism Field received in the 1890s was due to an insistence by reviewers on linking them with and reading them through the characteristics of the Decadent Movement. Moriarty explains how reviewers such as Arthur Symons “persisted in [an] attempt to make the women conform to the decadent mythology” regardless of the fact that “[u]pon close examination they can hardly be termed decadent” (125). Most likely, this critical insistence originated with Field’s friendships and associations with writers and artists of this movement such as Oscar Wilde, Charles Shannon, and Ricketts. Their earlier successes could just as easily, and more probably correctly, be attributed to their authorial associations; Robert Browning, fully aware of Field’s identity, had always been impressed by and supportive of their work. It was at his recommendation that Symons first began to look into this new author’s work, and “he almost immediately wrote a favorable review of their work, pronouncing Callirrhoe a play that proved them genuine poets” (Moriarty 124). Yet Bradley and Cooper were known for their reclusiveness, a behaviour that only grew in the 90s, leading Sturgeon to suggest that it may not have been their friends that hurt their critical reception, but those they did not befriend: “Perhaps the poets neglected to attach themselves to a useful little log-rolling coterie, and to pay the proper attentions to the Press” (29). This point may sufficiently explain why well-deserving works were ignored by critics, but it does not indicate why positive reviews would suddenly turn negative.

Recently, scholars have begun to argue that Field’s main concern, and the concern of critics, was not their sex, but their dual authorship. According to Thain, “[t]he true identity of Michael Field was known long before 1889. The feminine aspect … was revealed almost immediately. In 1884, Bradley … wrote to Robert Browning … begging him not to reveal their deeper secret—their duality” (43). Shifts in the contemporary critical reception of Field’s works suggest that their fears were well-founded. Early reviews—even those that address Field as a single, female author—are quite favorable in their evaluations, while later reviews that indicate knowledge of the co-authorship are less favorable. An 1884 review of Callirrhöe and Fair Rosamund claims that “here is a young writer with plenty of convictions and plenty of courage … a fresh gift of song, a picturesque vivid style, as yet without distinction or reserve,” a writer who has created “a work of promise” (Robinson 396). Similarly, a review of Long Ago claims that “the present book is by far the most perfect and thoroughly satisfying that its author has yet produced” (Gray 389), while another calls The Tragic Mary “as notable a play as has been written in England for many a year” (Johnson 124). Yet an 1898 review of The World at Auction belittles the work of Field, and does so based on the premise of their collaborative efforts:

When Captain Ladds was questioned at to the method of collaboration employed by the Dragoon and the Younger Son, he replied, if our recollections of “The Golden Butterfly” be correct, “that one fellow used gold pens and the other steel.” We have no exact information of the particular method adopted by the ingenious ladies who call themselves Michael Field; but if it at all resembles that of Sir Walter Besant’s heroes, we have to believe that the wielder of the golden pen had very little to do with the production of “The World at Auction.” (“Michael Field’s New Play” 149)

Another review of the same play claims that “Surely he did an ill service to letters who introduced Michael Field to the pages of Gibbon,” since for “the waste and chaos of words which Michael Field choose in these latter days to offer us for dramatic writing, we confess that we have but little patience” (“Gibbon and Water” 103).

The most conspicuous aspect of the shift in these reviews is the emphasis on authorial identity that the reviewers believe can be discovered within the text. The reviewer of Callirrhöe and Fair Rosamund believes that behind the faults of the plays “there remains an individual character, a realised design” (Robinson 395) and Sight and Song is praised for its “obvious enough traces of that view of nature and of human life which is characteristic of its author” (Gray 583). Such views of the idealistic concept of the single author— what Angela Leighton calls a “notional sanctity of authorship” (203)—originated well before the nineteenth century and continue even today. Holly Laird applies this issue of authorship to coauthors, explaining how:

[d]espite contemporary demystification, a particular authorial life behind a work has long been an almost necessary adjunct both to a sympathetic reception and to the work’s survival as an object of commentary. Not only has such an author been perceived as originator and authenticator, but she or he also has been perceived as validating a work, offering an individual human point of attachment for readers, enhancing even its aesthetic value. Coauthored works disrupt this scheme, and in their announcement of a preexisting relationship, they thwart such attachment. (Women Coauthors 2)

Similarly, Laird notes that women coauthors rarely achieve canonical status possibly because “[c]oauthorship stands in a vexed relation to our ideas about authorship, giving the lie both to the Romantic myth of solitary genius and to the postmodern myth of the author’s death” (“Coauthored Pseudonym” 193). Bette Lynn London, in Writing Double, focuses issues of coauthorship on sex and sexuality, arguing that women coauthors not only disturbed conventional ideas about authorship, but also disturbed conventional notions of female sexuality since “the authors’ writing relationship refuses ‘true sex’ (as it refuses ‘true author’) as an explanatory category,” and thus, “by a kind of sleight of hand, women’s collaborations have been haunted by what Terry Castle has called the ‘apparitional lesbian’—a phantom figure that both reveals and conceals lesbian possibilities” (64).

London also argues that one of the more unnerving aspects of collaborative texts by women is their seamlessness, the inability of critics and readers to distinguish and label the individual efforts of composition (72). Just as Field’s greatest fear was the exposure of their collaboration, one of their greatest attributes was their ability to hide the collaborative effort from the reader within the actual text. But while critics may have been uncomfortable with this seamlessness, it seems a necessary, almost inherent part of the collaborative effort, and one that Field took pride in: Cooper wrote to Browning of Callirrhoe that it was “a mosaic work—the mingled, various product of our two brains….if our contributions were disentangled and one subtracted from the other, the amount would be almost even” (Works & Days 3). According to Laird in “Contradictory Legacies: Michael Field and Feminist Restoration,” “Field wished to protect their access not simply to authorship, but to ‘single’ authorship. Even when their duality was known, they insisted on their essential oneness” (116). While I do not wish to pursue the question of how Bradley and Cooper collaborated, I would argue that Borgia’s depictions of duality illuminate aspects of collaboration that the authors saw as not only being part of the creative process, but as being an essential element of their works’ aesthetic value.

One prominent characteristic of Cesare and Lucrezia’s relationship is their inseparability. Marion Thain invokes the Holy Trinity in her examination of the relationship of Pope Alexander, Cesare, and Lucrezia, noting that “the three are so intertwined that the continued existence of both father and sister seems imperative to Cesare’s own life” (196). The connection between all three characters is generally significant as it may suggest that Cesare and Lucrezia can never entirely exist outside of the patriarchy’s shadow, regardless of how oppressive and draining that shadow may be. But it is even more telling that Cesare and Lucrezia’s existence within the patriarchy is itself so codependent. Cesare tells Lucrezia that “[w]e are [father’s] twin divinities” … “you and I/ We were sole to one another” (47–8) and later, that “[w]e cannot be divided” (105). When Lucrezia appears fatally ill, Cesare proclaims, “You are not dizzy: for I promise you,/ If you will pledge me to remain alive,/ That I will vanquish all my enemies./ But I must have the oath” (123). For Cesare, his accomplishments are meaningless if he cannot share them in some way with Lucrezia: “When I am king/ You are my counterpart, for evermore/ A place beside me vacant, or your throne” (48). Through this last statement, Cesare and Lucrezia seem to be condensed into a single entity. Thus, all Cesare’s accomplishments are Lucrezia’s as well. This oneness becomes increasingly significant when coupled with Cesare’s near obsession with written records of himself. According to Cesare, writing serves two purposes. First, it constructs one’s identity separately from that imposed by society. Written records often appear to be the faithful expression of one’s thoughts and feelings. Cesare often calls for his secretary, Agapito, to record his thoughts and feelings rather than his actions. Cesare also equates himself with Agapito, so that, in a way, he becomes the author of his own identity. Agapito is defined by Cesare as “Faithful, my pen, my representative/ As signature is of oneself” (157); “You are as I,” Cesare tells him (164). Secondly, an event, a thought, a person, is not fully realized until recorded. At one point Cesare tells Agapito that “[s]omething not said is in you—publish it!” (156). Writing not only sustains Cesare’s identity, but ultimately solidifies it into being. As he tells Machiavelli, “If we are comprehended, we are greater/ Than Fate or any chance. I am a prince./ Set down my kingdom …. set down/ The perfect scheming of the miracle” (167–8). Even when he fears his plans will not succeed, Cesare feels that they, and thus he, can be achieved if only written correctly: “[my kingdom] crumbles … Macchiavelli,/ Restore it, by the word embody it!;/ Let it not perish!” (168). If Cesare believes that he and Lucrezia are one and that his accomplishments belong equally to her, telling his story implies that Lucrezia’s story is also told, and furthermore, all that applies to Cesare— the creation and preservation of an identity within the patriarchy and yet somehow outside of it— also applies to Lucrezia. In writing, Lucrezia and Cesare exist simultaneously within his name.

But if Field is attempting, especially in later works such as Borgia, to construct their writing as a reflection of their personal artistic visions free from the constraints of a patriarchal society, why use a heterosexual relationship to do so? This question also holds true for Bradley and Cooper’s public and private construction of their Field pseudonym as well as their original pseudonym, Arran and Isla Leigh. Holly Laird argues that the masculine, heterosexual pseudonyms of female coauthors invoke a romance myth that highlights the nature of their collaborative efforts: “In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, coauthors represented their writing as romantic friendship, a love affair, and a companionate marriage, joining their names together in the romance of married authorship” (“Coauthored Pseudonym” 194). If we accept this depiction of collaboration, the many aspects of Cesare and Lucrezia’s relationship discussed here only further illuminate Field’s relationship as individuals and as authors.

Yet throughout all of this, it is easy to forget that Borgia is an anonymous publication, a text unified through the absence of a name whose authorial identity is a mystery to readers and critics rather than a pseudonym whose identity is founded upon social norms and whose authorial identity is known and problematic. Upon publication, the play’s critical reception was generally positive, and some reviewers seemed convinced that it was written by a single, male author. And while discussions of authorial identity with the later plays is complicated by the fact that they were previously unpublished works from the late nineteenth century that would eventually appear under the name ‘the Author of Borgia,’ Borgia was written shortly before its publication, at a time when Field both strongly felt the critical disapproval of their coauthored efforts and actively pursued other publication possibilities.

As much as scholars would like to view the pseudonym as a re-appropriation of the masculine and an affront to Victorian social norms, the name also reveals a dependence on a solitary, masculine authorial identity. As the productive yet oppressive characteristics of Field’s relationships with male authors and critics such as Ruskin, Browning, Ricketts, Moore, and Yeats, to name a very few, indicate, they found themselves dependent upon the patriarchal foundations of their society as well as their profession. And their dislike of behavior such as that of Vernon Lee and Kit Anstruther—“[t]hey detested [them] for their mannish clothes, mannish attitudes, and their monstrous brutes called dogs” (Pionke 26)—further suggests that Field did not feel entirely uncomfortable living and working within the patriarchal structure. As mentioned, the pseudonym allowed Field to pursue themes and techniques not necessarily available to, or approved for, other female authors. Field seems to have defied the conventional system through the retention of the pseudonym after their true identities were discovered. Yet this retention also points to the necessity of their writing to remain, in the public’s eye, under a single, male identity. Publishing the play anonymously allowed Field to avoid the complications inherent in female creativity performed under a masculine pseudonym. Bradley and Cooper were able to show the seamless, simultaneous writing—would be able to exhibit their artistic identities and authorial control—without the complications and contradictions of the pseudonym. In a way, anonymity allowed them to achieve a single, authorial identity in ways which ‘Michael Field’ could not.

While Field used the pseudonym in an attempt to achieve unbiased recognition and criticism of their work, they also felt a duty—situated outside of the patriarchal structure that demanded a masculine persona—to retain their artistic identity, the identity that would emerge through their writing. London argues that “[Field] refused to write for the masses … but in doing so, they maintained their own high standards of artistic integrity. And they maintained these standards, in part, because they had each other to sustain them in the absence of public approbation” (99). Field also took control of the content of their work by publishing “privately, [and] at their own expense,” something London sees as “above all else, a declaration of artistic autonomy: a means to retain control over their literary product” (99–100). In “Michael Field as ‘the Author of Borgia’,” Laird claims that through this new authorial control “Michael Field entered into their narrowed choices with renewed vigor, wit, and imagination,” becoming “active agents of a new form of their authorship” (31). “What further occurred,” she believes, “was a fresh, sometimes conflicted, sometimes marginal, but also sometimes exhilarating experience of their double authorship re-doubled” (31). While Laird shows this revitalized authorship through the plays published under ‘the Author of Borgia’ and especially through the Catholic poetry of Field’s late career, the concept can be aptly applied to Borgia and its anonymous publication. A 1905 reviewer, also anonymous, claimed that Borgia was “a profoundly human manifestation … an appeal from the intelligence to man’s whole nature” (Speaker 508). And the many aesthetic and artistic liberties taken within Borgia, for instance, any one of the Pope’s many emotionally charged laments or poetically described dreams, suggest Field at the height of playfulness and experimentation in their writing.

As mentioned, Cesare and Lucrezia never truly succeed in asserting separate identities through their manipulations of their socially prescribed ones. Cesare’s death is a clear indication of failure, and the sorrow explicit when Lucrezia learns of his death suggests that, as with so much else within their relationship, their entwined lives makes Cesare’s failure her own. But all hope is not lost for these two individuals because they have learned to live within and through one another. Being still alive, Lucrezia, in her last act of power and as a part of Cesare, vows to give him the glory he so desired and deserved: “I am but for thy use/ To pray thee into peace, to win a crown/ Even now for thee, where the vast Majesty/ Gives each his destined aim made bright by prayers” (185). The peace that Cesare’s wife appears unable to claim or provide, Lucrezia demands through her oneness with Cesare, and she seems to succeed as she is last seen quietly kneeling in “still ecstacy,” so quiet and peaceful that Suor Lucia kneels beside her in prayer (186).

Perhaps Field recognized the limitations of their sex, their pseudonym, and their dual authorship. The fears of discovery would suggest that they did. And even if the pseudonym allowed them to briefly acquire unbiased recognition, critics wrote on the assumption that this was a male writer, a fact which many reviews and the initial relationships with Browning and Ricketts attest. Even today, scholars seem unable to look beyond the queer nature of the collaborative process, particularly in relation to the heterosexual pseudonym. Thus the characters’ failure within the play echoes the failure experienced by Field, but their success—both Field’s and their characters’—within an anonymous construction shows that the product, not the author’s sexuality, collaboration, or even gender, is the most significant part of an artistic creation.

Jennifer Krisuk
University of Tulsa

1 Marion Thain deals at length with the pseudonym and issues of sexuality, gender, publication, and coauthorship in ‘Michael Field’: Poetry, Aestheticism and the Fin de Siècle. Also see Katharine (JJ) Pionke’s essay “Michael Field: Gender Knot,” in Michael Field and Their World and Holly Laird’s “The Coauthored Pseudonym: Two Women Named Michael Field,” in The Faces of Anonymity: Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publication from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century. For other recent discussions of Michael Field’s sexuality, see: Kate Thomas’s “ ‘What Time We Kiss’ Michael Field’s Queer Temporalities”; Vickie L. Taft’s “The Tragic Mary: A Case Study in Michael Field’s Understanding of Sexual Politics”; Chris White’s “Flesh and Roses: Michael Field’s Metaphors of Pleasure and Desire,” and “‘Poets and Lovers Evermore’: Interpreting Female Love in the Poetry and Journals of Michael Field”; Lillian Faderman’s Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present; Jill R. Ehnenn’s Women’s Literary Collaboration, Queerness, and Late-Victorian Culture; and Martha Vicinus’s “‘Sister Souls’: Bernard Berenson and Michael Field (Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper).”
2 Thain also indicates that she “will not be looking at the work of Arran and Isla Leigh” because “[i]t is only under the ‘Michael Field’ name that Bradley and Cooper began to write with authority and maturity, and, perhaps more importantly, the body of work composed under this name has an integrity granted by the self-conscious authorial construction that should not be ignored” (7).
3 Thain also believes that “[t]his decision was no doubt motivated by issues of quality as well as worries about how the women’s new Catholic acquaintances might view those plays” (9).
4 This act by the Pope may have been an attempted reparation for the wrong done to Cesare if, as has been speculated, Cesare was actually the first-born and Giovanni the second. This would alter a perception of Cesare’s belief in his right to the Dukedom and Captaincy, aligning it more with a belief in destiny rather than fate. The play, however, does not refer to any doubts on Cesare’s part about the order of his and Giovanni’s births, and so I have not considered such a motive in examining Cesare’s struggles with his identity.
5 Robert J. Griffin, in his introduction to The Faces of Anonymity, identifies the use of a pseudonym as “a subset of anonymity” so that here I am referencing both Field’s use of the pseudonym Michael Field and the complete anonymity of works such as Borgia (1).
6 Thain here refers to Catherine A. Judd’s argument set forth in Mary Ann Evans’s “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” that women who wrote prettily, and wrote subject matter deemed appropriate for women were more readily praised by critics than those women whom Evans felt possessed actual talent and ideas (253-54).

Works Cited

Ehnenn, Jill. Women’s Literary Collaboration, Queerness, and Late-Victorian Culture. Burlington: Ashgate, 2008.
Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: Harper Collins, 1998.
Field, Michael. Borgia: A Period Play. London: A.H. Bullen, 1905.
---. Works and Days: from the Journal of Michael Field. Eds. Thomas and D.C. Sturge Moore. London: J. Murray, 1933.
“Gibbon and Water.” The Academy (July 1898): 103.
Gray, J.M. “Review of Long Ago.” The Academy. 892 (June 1889): 388–89.
---. “Review of Sight and Song.” The Academy (June 1892): 583–84.
Griffin, Robert J. Introduction. The Faces of Anonymity: Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publication from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003: 1–18.
Johnson, Lionel. “Review of The Tragic Mary.” The Academy (August 1890): 123–24.
Judd, Catherine A. “Male Pseudonyms and Female Authority in Victorian England.” Literature in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century British Publishing and Reading Practices, ed. John O. Jordan and Robert L. Patten. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Laird, Holly. “The Coauthored Pseudonym: Two Women Named Michael Field.” The Faces of Anonymity: Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publication from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century. Ed, Robert J. Griffin. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 193–209.
---. “Contradictory Legacies: Michael Field and Feminist Restoration.” Victorian Poetry 33.1 (Spring 1995): 111–28.
---. “Michael Field as ‘the Author of Borgia’.” Michael Field and Their World. Eds. Margaret D. Stetz and Cheryl A. Wilson. High Wycombe: Rivendale Press, 2007: 29–38.
---. Women Coauthors. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Leighton, Angela. Victorian Women Poets: Writing Against the Heart. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1992.
London, Bette Lynn. Writing Double: Women’s Literary Partnerships. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1999.
“Michael Field’s New Play.” The Saturday Review (July 1898): 149.
Moriarty, David J. “ ‘Michael Field’ (Edith Cooper and Katherine Bradley) and Their Male Critics.” Nineteenth-Century Women Writers of the English-Speaking World. Ed. Rhoda B. Nathan. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986: 121–42.
“A Period Play.” The Speaker. (August 1905): 507–8.
Pionke, Katherine (JJ). “Michael Field: Gender Knot.” Michael Field and Their World. Eds. Margaret D. Stetz and Cheryl A. Wilson. High Wycombe: Rivendale Press, 2007: 23–8.
Ricketts, Charles. Michael Field. Ed. Paul Delaney. Edinburgh: Tragara Press, 1976.
Robinson, A. Mary F. “Review of Callirhöe; Fair Rosamund.” The Academy (June 1884): 395–6.
Sturgeon, Mary. Michael Field. London: Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1922.
Taft, Vickie L. “The Tragic Mary: A Case Study in Michael Field’s Understanding of Sexual Politics.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 23 (2001): 265–95.
Thain, Marion. ‘Michael Field’: Poetry, Aestheticism and the Fin de Siècle. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.
Thomas, Kate. “ ‘What Time We Kiss’ Michael Field’s Queer Temporalities.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13.2–3 (2007): 327–51.
White, Chris. “Flesh and Roses: Michael Field’s Metaphors of Pleasure and Desire,” Women’s Writing 3.1 (1996): 47–62. ---. “‘Poets and Lovers Evermore’: Interpreting Female Love in the Poetry and Journals of Michael Field.” Textual Practice 4.2 (1990): 197–212.
Vicinus, Martha. “‘Sister Souls’: Bernard Berenson and Michael Field (Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper).” Nineteenth-Century Literature 60.3 (2005): 326–54.