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Constance Naden (1858-1889)
In an article written shortly after her death, William Gladstone listed Constance Naden as one of the best poets of the nineteenth century; along with such other “remarkable additions ... to the train of Sappho” as Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Brontë (Gladstone 34-5). Naden was not only a poet, but a philosopher who also wrote articles on scientific subjects. In her poetry, most notably her “Evolutional Erotics” sequence, Naden uses her detailed scientific knowledge to subtly interrogate Victorian gender stereotypes and courtship rituals.
During her lifetime Naden produced two volumes of poetry: Songs and Sonnets of Springtime (1881) and A Modern Apostle; The Elixir of Life; The Story of Clarice; and Other Poems (1887), and contributed scientific and philosophical articles to journals including Knowledge, The Journal of Science and The Agnostic Annual as well as writing several pamphlets on scientific and philosophical subjects. After her death, her friend Robert Lewins arranged for the publication of her Complete Poetical Works (1894), her prize-winning essay Induction and Deduction (1890), and selections from her other prose writings in Further Reliques of Constance Naden (1891) and Selections from the Philosophical and Poetic Works of Constance C.W. Naden (1893).
Naden was born in Birmingham in 1858. Her mother having died less than two weeks after her birth, Naden was brought up by her grandparents: Josiah and Caroline Woodhill. From the age of eight she was sent to a small private day school, run by two Unitarian sisters (Hughes 9). The school did not hold examinations and discouraged competition so her intelligence went largely unnoticed and she distinguished herself only by her abilities in story-telling and flower-painting (Hughes 9-10). After leaving school at the age of seventeen Naden spent a few years at home, reading and working on her flower-painting. One of her paintings was accepted by the Birmingham Society of Artists, and these pictures were later to appear on the covers of her books (Hughes 10-11). It was during this period that she began composing the poems that would be published as Songs and Sonnets of Springtime (Hughes 16).
In 1876, while on holiday in Southport, Naden met the army surgeon and philosopher Robert Lewins, who was to affect the course of her intellectual and philosophical development (Pitha 212). Over the next few years, Lewins converted Naden to his theory of Hylozoism, which holds that energy is inherent in matter instead of being breathed into it by an external force or spirit (Lewins, Humanism 12). Once she had become fully convinced by Lewins’s theory, Naden added her own ideas to it. Naden’s theory, Hylo-Idealism, argues that the world can only be experienced subjectively, when sights or sounds are converted into impulses in the brain, and so effectively there is no objective reality and each individual is the creator of their own universe (Brewer 11; Lewins, “Hylozoism” 623). Naden wrote many articles on Hylo-Idealism for the Journal of Science and Knowledge.
In 1879, Naden returned to formal education; taking classes in Botany, Science, Art, German and French at the Birmingham and Midland Institute (Hughes 17). She received a First Class in both the elementary and advanced stage examinations in the Science and Art departments (“The Late Miss Naden”). She also studied Latin at Queen’s College, Birmingham.
In Autumn 1881, Naden became a student of the newly opened Mason Science College (Hughes 18). Although women were able to take degrees at the new civic universities, in contrast to older institutions like Oxford and Cambridge (Gilbert 405-6), Naden chose to pursue her own programme of study instead of working towards a qualification (Hughes 22). This intellectual independence enabled her to tailor her scientific education to her philosophical interests. Naden was highly successful academically, habitually achieving the top class and winning prizes for her essays without ever giving the impression that any effort was required for her to attain this success (Hughes 22-3; Lapworth xv).
Naden inherited a fortune following her grandparents’ deaths in 1881 and 1887 (Pitha 213-214). She left Mason College and embarked on a nine-month trip with her friend Madeline Daniell which covered parts of Europe, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt and India (Daniell xiv-xvi). Naden became particularly interested in Indian society, entering into conversations with “educated natives” about their opinions of colonial rule (Daniell xvi). On her return to England she joined the National Indian Association and raised money for the training of medical women in India (Daniell xvi; Hughes 50). While she was in India, Naden contracted a fever which left her incapacitated from March 1888 until they returned to England in May (Daniell xvi). As the author of her obituary in Mason College Magazine notes, the effects of this fever remained with Naden for the rest of her life: “From the effects of this illness Miss Naden never completely recovered ... She faced the problem of an enfeebled life with that calm resolution which was one of her chief characteristics” (“In Memoriam” 55).
On their return to England, Naden bought a house in London, 114 Park Street, Grosvenor Square, and she and Daniell moved into it in February 1889 (Daniell xvi-xvii). Naden became very involved in public life, lecturing for the Central National Committee for Women’s Suffrage and the Women’s Liberal Association, canvassing for the Liberal candidate for Marylebone, G. Leveson-Gower, and holding a benefit for the new Hospital for Women, attended by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (Daniell xvii). Daniell describes some of Naden’s London friends as “well known in the literary world” but does not elaborate (xvii). Naden is known to have been acquainted with Edith Cooper (half of the collaborative poet “Michael Field”), and a letter from Naden to Cooper survives in the Bodleian Library.
Symptoms of a severe illness began to appear in the summer of 1889. Naden was examined by Dr Thomas Spencer Wells and on December 5 an operation to remove ovarian cysts was carried out in her home (Hughes 56-7). For a while it appeared that she would recover but on December 22 she had a fainting fit, becoming extremely weak, and on the following day she died (Hughes 57). Naden’s death certificate gives the cause of death as “exhaustion” relating to the operation and notes that gangrene had set in by the time of the operation (Death Certificate). Her friend, William Hughes, blamed “conditions which had arisen long antecedent to the operation,” suggesting that weakness from her Indian fever prevented her recovery (Hughes 57). Other observers suggested that Naden’s intellectual activities were responsible. In a letter to Robert Lewins in 1890, acknowledging receipt of a copy of Induction and Deduction, Herbert Spencer commented that:
I cannot let pass the occasion for remarking that in her case, as in other cases, the mental powers so highly developed in a woman are in some measure abnormal, and involve a physiological cost which the feminine organization will not bear without injury more or less profound. (Hughes 89-90)
Hughes reprinted this letter and added his own comment that “in cases where the feminine intellect, under high pressure, is made to vie with the masculine in power, the physical tax tells primarily on the reproductive system” (Hughes 91). However, the rest of Naden’s friends refuted the claim, arguing, as Miss Maude Mitchell did, that “[s]tudy was never an effort for her, but was as easy and natural as novel reading is to most girls” (Hughes 61).
Shortly after Naden’s death there was a great deal of interest in her life and work, stimulated by the publication of her Complete Poetical Works and the collections of her essays, as well as Hughes’s memoir. Some commentators described this as a “Constance Naden cult” (McCrie xvii). However, despite the best efforts of her friends, her work was soon forgotten, only being rediscovered in the late-twentieth century. In recent years there has been renewed interest in Naden’s work, with articles and book chapters by critics including Patricia Murphy, Marion Thain, Andrea Kaston Tange and John Holmes exploring Naden’s feminism and her depiction of evolutionary science. Naden’s political concerns mean that she tends to be classified as a New Woman, despite having died before the phrase was coined. This is evident from R. K. R. Thornton and Marion Thain’s inclusion of four of Naden’s poems in the New Woman section of their anthology, Poetry of the 1890s (Thornton and Thain 27; 36-8; 40-1; 43-5). Despite Naden’s own preference for her philosophical work, her most lasting legacy has been her poetry’s reinterpretation of evolutionary theory from a female perspective.
By Katy Birch, Aberystwyth University
Katy Birch recently completed a PhD at the University of Birmingham and now teaches at Aberystwyth University.
Brewer, E. Cobham. Constance Naden and Hylo-Idealism: A Critical Study. London: Bickers & Son, 1891.
Daniell, Madeline M. “Memoir.” Naden, Induction and Deduction vii-xviii.
Death Certificate, Constance Caroline Woodhill Naden. Copy supplied by General Register Office, 10 January 2008.
Gilbert, Julie S. “Women Students and Student Life at England’s Civic Universities Before the First World War.” History of Education 23.4 (1994): 405-422.
Gladstone, William Ewart. “British Poetry of the Nineteenth Century.” The Speaker 1 (1890): 34-5.
Hughes, William R. Constance Naden: A Memoir. London: Bickers & Son, 1890.
“In Memoriam: Constance C.W. Naden.” Mason College Magazine 8 (1890): 49-55.
Lapworth, Charles. “Introduction.” William R. Hughes xi-xxi.
“The Late Miss Naden.” The Institute Magazine 63 (1890): 240.
Lewins, Robert. Humanism Versus Theism; or Solipsism [Egoism] = Atheism. London: Freethought Publishing Company, 1887.
---. “Hylozoism and Hylo-Idealism.” The Journal of Science 3rd ser. 6 (1884): 622-3
McCrie, George M., “Introduction.” Selections from the Works of Constance C.W. Naden. Ed. Emily and Edith Hughes. Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1893. xv-xxxii.
Naden, Constance. Letter to Edith Cooper, July 14th 1889. Bodleian, Oxford. MS. Eng. Let. e. 33, fol. 57-60.
Pitha, J. Jakub. “Constance Naden.” Dictionary of Literary Biography 199: Victorian Women Poets. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1999. 211-215.
Thornton, R.K.R., and Marion Thain (eds), Poetry of the 1890s. London: Penguin, 1997.
Mathilde Blind (1841-1896)
Mathilde Blind wrote seven volumes of poetry: Poems (using the pseudonym Claude Lake) (1867), The Prophecy of St Oran and Other Poems (1881), The Heather on Fire (1886), The Ascent of Man (1889), Dramas in Miniature (1891), Songs and Sonnets (1893), and Birds of Passage: Songs of the Orient and Occident (1895). Although she is chiefly remembered as a poet, Blind was also a prolific prose writer. As well as one novel, Tarantella (1885), she produced biographies of George Eliot and Madame Roland, contributed numerous articles, reviews and short stories to periodicals, translated D. F. Strauss’s The Old Faith and the New and the journal of Russian artist, Marie Bashkirtseff, and published selections of Byron and Shelley’s poetry. Her writing is notable for its frequent engagement with evolutionary science and the promotion of radical ideas on topics like religion, gender and social justice.
Blind was born in 1841 in Mannheim, Germany, the elder of two children of a Jewish businessman named Jacob Cohen and his second wife, Friederike Ettlinger (Thirlwell 170). Mathilde’s father died while she and her brother Ferdinand were still very young, and Friederike subsequently married the writer and revolutionary Karl Blind. Mathilde had an unsettled childhood as a consequence of her mother and stepfather’s revolutionary activities. In 1847, Karl and Friederike were both imprisoned for distributing treasonable pamphlets while on holiday with the children in Bavaria (K. Blind 5: 342). Karl was imprisoned again in 1848 for his part in the Baden uprising. Upon the establishment of a German republic, he was released and sent to Paris as a representative of Baden and Rhenish Bavaria. However, the revolution in Germany failed, and after armed uprisings against the president, Louis Bonaparte, a state of siege was declared in Paris which led to Karl Blind and his family being exiled to Belgium (K. Blind 8: 813). While living in Belgium, Karl and Friederike had two children, Rudolph and Ottilie. In 1852 the family was forced to leave Belgium because of pressure put on the Belgian government by France, and so claimed asylum in Britain (Avery 174). They settled in St John’s Wood in London, where their household became a meeting place for exiled European revolutionaries, including Karl Marx, Louis Blanc, and Giuseppe Mazzini (Diedrick, “Mathilde Blind” 30). A friend of the family, Moncure Conway, later referred to the Blind household as “a sort of salon. If any interesting man came, especially from Germany, we were sure to meet him at one of those Sunday evenings in Winchester Road” (Conway 2: 62). Blind shared the socialist and republican sentiments of these revolutionaries and remained committed to these ideals throughout her life.
Blind’s mother and stepfather supported her intellectual pursuits, but her education was disrupted by the upheaval of moving from place to place when she was a child, resulting in her attending ‘”a good many more or less bad schools” (Correspondence and Papers 4: 96). While she was studying at “an educational establishment for young ladies” in London (96), Blind became deeply interested in Christianity, having been brought up in an atheist household. As she put it, “the Christ ideal seized hold of my imagination” (Blind, Autobiography 10). However, she soon began to question her newly discovered faith and to explore the challenges presented to the biblical account of the creation by recent geological discoveries. She discussed her reading on this subject with her classmates and was consequently expelled for atheism (ibid. 14-22). A few months after this incident, she was sent to live with an uncle in Zurich where she was able to study Latin and Old German (Autobiography 33). On her return to England the following year, she took charge of her own education, spending much of her time studying in the British Museum reading room. As her friend Richard Garnett put it in his memoir of Blind: “Among the numerous companions of her girlhood, she was the only one who could be considered well educated, and she had educated herself” (18).
Although Blind’s family had a significant effect on her intellectual and ideological development in her youth, events that occurred when she was an adult meant that her family played less of a role later in her life and she began to rely more heavily on her friends for emotional and financial support. In 1866, Blind’s younger brother Ferdinand, who was studying in Germany, attempted to assassinate the Prussian Minister-President, Otto von Bismarck, to prevent him from leading Germany into war. Bismarck, although alone and unarmed, managed to overpower Ferdinand and had him arrested. Ferdinand killed himself in his cell the following day (Avery 176). Angela Thirlwell suggests that Ferdinand’s actions may have been at least partly prompted by a desire to please his politically radical stepfather, and that Mathilde blamed Karl for her brother’s death, contributing to the tensions that already existed between the two of them (184). Whatever the reason, by 1871 Blind’s relationship with her stepfather had broken down to such an extent that she could no longer bear to live at home. Despite her limited finances, she moved out of the family home and spent the rest of her life living alone or with friends.
Blind’s commitment to women’s rights is evident from her writing, particularly her desire to memorialise great women in her biographies and translations, and her challenging of sexual double standards in her poetry. In “The Message” from Dramas in Miniature in which a prostitute protests that “She was not worse than all those men/ Who looked so shocked in public, when/ They made and shared her sin” (68-70). Richard Garnett remembers:
She was in favour of women following all callings, except the military and naval, and when invited by the present writer to consider the consequence of throwing a mass of cheap labour into occupations much overstocked, she rejoined, with decision, that the men might emigrate, as they probably may whenever the women shall have preceded them. (18)
Blind was a signatory of the petition in support of women’s suffrage published in the Fortnightly Review in 1889, along with other writers including Augusta Webster, Olive Schreiner and Edith Simcox (“Women’s Suffrage: A Reply” 138). Blind was also outspoken on the subject of religion. In 1881, not long after its publication, her book The Prophecy of Saint Oran and Other Poems was withdrawn by the publisher over concerns about its “atheistic character” (Peattie 400).
Blind was friends with several writers and artists. Her literary friendships included many important women writers, such as Graham R. Tomson, Violet Hunt, Vernon Lee, Amy Levy and Mona Caird, and several poets who were interested in science, such as A. Mary F. Robinson, L.S. Bevington and James Thompson (Avery 181; Diedrick, “Hectic Beauty” 638; Vadillo 27-29). She was a member of the “Literary Ladies”: a dining club for women writers and editors that was founded in 1889 as a female equivalent to men-only literary clubs like the Savile (Hughes 233-4). Blind was also on the periphery of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, establishing friendships based on a shared admiration of Shelley’s poetry with William Michael Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne.
Many assertions are made about Blind having been infatuated or involved with the famous men of her acquaintance, and with almost no surviving evidence from Blind herself it is difficult to disentangle reality from baseless gossip. Several of Swinburne’s acquaintances appear to have hoped that his friendship with Blind would lead to a marriage that would save him from his sexual non-conformity (Thomas 150), and Edmund Gosse suggests that Blind entertained the same hope. He claims that from about 1867 she openly “threw herself at [Swinburne’s] head, and gave him every opportunity to propose marriage to her,” but that Swinburne only “cultivated her company for the sake of her regicide principles and her love of verse” (Gosse 243). He raises the possibility of a relationship between them but concludes by saying that when Swinburne’s letters to Blind were later sold, “it was found that they contained no word of love” (243).
Of all the men whose names have been linked with Blind, the most convincing argument is for Ford Madox Brown. During the 1870s and 1880s, Blind took holidays with Madox Brown and his wife Emma, she spent periods of time living in their house, and she nursed Madox Brown when he was ill. Angela Thirlwell suggests that Blind and Madox Brown did have a relationship, but it is unlikely to have been physical. She describes Blind as Madox Brown’s “mistress in the head if not in the bed” (217). Whatever the reality of the nature of their relationship, Blind’s connection with Madox Brown was one of the most significant relationships of her life.
Blind’s health was poor for much of her life. There are frequent references in her correspondence to bronchial attacks and periods of weakness and depression. She found that travel to warmer climates was beneficial, and this became much easier to afford in 1892 when her half-brother Max died, leaving her the chief beneficiary of his will. During the few years between her brother’s death and her own, Blind travelled extensively in Europe and was able to make two trips to Egypt, which were the inspiration for her last volume of poetry, Birds of Passage. This final decade of Blind’s life was a particularly prolific one, perhaps because she wanted to achieve fame for her writing before she died.
Garnett’s memoir is coy about the cause of Blind’s death, telling us only that her health was declining and she was “[c]onscious of the inevitable termination of her illness” (41). Garnett implies that her death may have been a result of her bronchitis, without giving any explicit information, and most of Blind’s later biographers have taken a similar approach. Angela Thirlwell’s book, Into the Frame (2010), is the first published biography to give Blind’s actual cause of death which, according to Blind’s death certificate, was “uterine cancer” that had been diagnosed ten months previously (Death Certificate). She became increasingly ill during 1896, and after completing her will on October 23rd, she moved into an invalids’ home where she died a few weeks later (Blind, Last Will and Testament 4; Garnett 41). Amongst other bequests, Blind’s will gave money to Newnham College, Cambridge to fund scholarships for female students of limited means who wished to study “English or Foreign or Ancient Literature” (Blind, Last Will and Testament 3).
By Katy Birch, Aberystwyth University.
Katy Birch has recently completed a PhD at the University of Birmingham and now teaches at Aberystwyth University.
Avery, Simon. “’Tantalising Glimpses’: The Intersecting Lives of Eleanor Marx and Mathilde Blind.” Eleanor Marx (1855-1898): Life, Work, Contacts. Ed. John Stokes. Aldershot, Hampshire & Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2000. 173-187.
Blind, Karl. “In Years of Storm and Stress.” Cornhill Magazine ns 5 (1898): 337-352; 6 (1899): 780-793; 7 (1899): 334-347, 648-664; 8 (1900): 788-813.
Blind, Mathilde. Autobiography. Correspondence and Papers. British Library, Manuscript Collections. Add MSS 61930. 1-49.
---. Correspondence and Papers, 1860-96. 4 vols. British Library, Manuscript Collections. Add MSS 61927-61930.
---. Dramas in Miniature. 1891. [Whitefish, MT]: Kessinger Publishing, .
---. Last Will and Testament. Copy supplied by Her Majesty’s Courts Service, York Probate Sub Registry, 29th January 2008.
Conway, Moncure Daniel. Autobiography, Memories and Experiences of Moncure Daniel Conway. 2 vols. London, Paris, New York & Melbourne: Cassell and Company,Limited, 1904.
Death Certificate, Mathilde Blind. Copy supplied by General Register Office, 4 February 2008.
Diedrick, James. “’The Hectic Beauty of Decay’: Positivist Decadence in Mathilde Blind’s Late Poetry.” Victorian Literature and Culture 34 (2006) 631-648.
---. “Mathilde Blind.” Dictionary of Literary Biography 199: Victorian Women Poets. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1999. 28-39.
Garnett, Richard. “Memoir.” The Poetical Works of Mathilde Blind. Ed. Arthur Symons. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1900. 1-43.
Gosse, Sir Edmund. “An Essay (With Two Notes) on Swinburne.” Appendix to The Swinburne Letters. Ed. Cecil Y Lang. 6 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press,1959-1962. 6: 233-248.
Hughes, Linda K. “A Club of Their Own: The ‘Literary Ladies,’ New Women Writers, and Fin-de-Siècle Authorship.” Victorian Literature and Culture 35 (2007): 233-60.
Peattie, Roger W, ed. Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti. University Park & London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990.
Thirlwell, Angela. Into the Frame: The Four Loves of Ford Madox Brown. London:Chatto & Windus, 2010.
Thomas, Donald. Swinburne: The Poet in his World. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979.
Vadillo, Ana I. Parejo. “New Woman Poets and the Culture of the Salon at the Fin de Siècle.” Women: A Cultural Review 10:1 (Spring 1999): 22-34.
“Women’s Suffrage: A Reply.” Fortnightly Review 46 (July 1889): 123-139.
Rachilde, Marguerite Eymery Vallette (1860-1953)
Dubbed “Mademoiselle Baudelaire” by Maurice Barres and called a distinguished pornographer by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, Rachilde is one of the most complex literary figures to emerge at the tipping point between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her most famous work includes the fictional novels Monsieur Vénus/Monsieur Venus (1884) and La Jongleuse/The Juggler (1900, rev. 1925), and a nonfictional work called “Pourquoi je ne suis pas féministe”/“Why I am not a feminist” (1928), in which she famously claims, “I always regretted not being a man, not so much because I value more the other half of mankind but because, since I was forced by duty or by taste to live like a man… it would have been preferable to have had at least the privileges if not the appearances of [masculinity]” (qtd. in Lukacher 110). Scandalous in her youth, reviled by moralists as well as early feminists, her work ignored or forgotten in the years after her death, Rachilde remains a sign of her times. Balancing precariously between decadence and literary modernism, between virulent misogyny and a deeply-held belief in her own feminine worth, she challenges readers to codify her work or reduce it to manageable sound-bites.
Marguerite Eymery was born in February 1860, the only child of her parents’ largely unhappy marriage. A voracious reader from a young age, a lack of parental supervision gave her the run of her grandfather’s library, much of which would have been considered unfit for a young girl’s consumption at the time. Available juvenilia show her to be an avid writer since age twelve, keeping a cahier de style and publishing her first short stories in a local paper. These display a preoccupation with sexual identity and question extant gender scripts, themes that surface time and again in her mature works. She was not yet sixteen when she began writing commissioned pieces of fiction and non-fiction for local presses using the pseudonym, Rachilde.
In 1878, she left for Paris against her father’s will, but accompanied by her mother as chaperone. The 1880s were a literary golden age in Paris as climbing levels of general literacy, advances in printing press technology, and the Haussmannisation of the city combined to create an atmosphere in which more than fifty daily papers and many small literary journals were published. Rachilde and her husband, Alfred Vallette, founded and worked at one of these, the Mercure de France, where her earliest reviews and essays also appeared. Moving to Paris also allowed Rachilde, for the first time, to become part of a group of artists whose sensibilities matched her own. Her first novel Monsieur de la Nouveauté was published in 1880 with an introduction by Arsène Houssaye, followed shortly afterwards by the formation of a literary circle of decadents. From inside this circle, Rachilde saw herself as a werewolf: iconoclastic, impatient of petty bourgeois concerns, and disdainful of the crowd which to her was always against the individual, as she explains in her memoir, Face à la peur (1942; no English trans.). In 1884, faced with penury, Rachilde wrote and published Monsieur Venus, the story of a cross-dressing noblewoman who takes an impecunious flower-maker for her lover but slowly and surely turns his masculine characteristics into feminine ones. The conclusion of the story, where both the gender divide and distinctions between human and nonhuman become blurred, remains extremely disturbing to this day.
Rachilde was not unaware of the inflammatory nature of Monsieur Venus, and the subsequent court orders (two years imprisonment for the author in absentia in Brussels; a seizure of all copies in Paris) bestowed her with a notoriety that allowed her to publish further and also cross-dress and live the bohemian life. The next year she met Alfred Vallette, a director of a small print works, and after an on-off courtship they married in 1889. Their only child was born in the next year, and together the couple also established the Mercure de France, whose first issue appeared on January 1, 1890. Central to Rachilde’s critical output for over thirty years, the journal published the work of fellow decadents as well as experimental writers, among them the young André Gide, Alfred Jarry, and Collette. During this time, despite her conventional roles as wife and mother, an air of scandal hovered around Rachilde: although Oscar Wilde found her a little dowdy in a black woolen dress, others describe her salon attire as “‘a fiery red blouse with amber necklaces and bracelets,’ her hair cut like a boy’s and ‘her eyelashes like long pen strokes in black ink,’ usually ‘saying little and listening a lot’ but merciless if the visitor, thus encouraged, performed badly” (qtd. in Holmes 52).
The closing decades of the nineteenth century were the heyday of the decadents and also the period in which Rachilde enjoyed her greatest literary and social successes. After her smash hit Monsieur Vénus in 1884, The Juggler was first published in 1900, and proved popular enough to be revised and reprinted in 1925 with a set of woodcut illustrations by Gustave Alaux. But although she continued writing prolifically between the two Wars, producing twenty-three more novels, three short plays, her first volume of poetry and sundry writings, Rachilde was no longer part of the literary avant-garde, as the decadent movement was displaced by even more radical, modernist literary and artistic experiments, notably Dada and Surrealism. Rachilde died at the age of ninety-three, still writing to feed herself: the death of Vallette in 1935 once again left her impecunious. Retired from the literary scene and having lost her fierceness by degrees, her death drew little attention and commanded only a brief item in the Mercure de France.
Surprisingly perhaps, Rachilde’s personal daring had never translated into political liberalism. In A Mort (1886) she refers to negatively to the Blue Stockings, and her scathing attitude to the New Woman is perhaps most obvious in The Juggler, where the liberated young Missie is erected in stark contrast to the tormented heroine, Eliante Donalger, and serves as a mere pawn for the final vengeful liberation scenario enacted by the latter. Critics have pointed to Rachilde’s problematic and largely unhappy relationship to her mother—whom she described as a frosty dragon—as one possible reason for her paradoxical attitude toward gender politics. Whatever her motivations, Rachilde espoused the decadents’ sense of themselves as a cultural elite, seeing democracy as the first steps towards barbarism and regarding social action as delusory. The collective nature of the feminist movement didn’t interest a writer who prided herself on her own individualism and who put up a concerted struggle to differentiate herself from others like her, in social as well as literary circles (and, indeed, the two were often one and the same). In practice, this meant writing an essay like “Pourquoi je ne suis pas féministe,” which was followed by several rather hollow apologies, even while she was friendly with contemporaneous feminists and important lesbian figures like Sévérine, Natalie Barney, and Aurel, and consistently approved of the work of Collette.
Similarly, Rachilde’s critical writings do not display any specific theory of literature, only showing a disregard for the distinction between highbrow and popular writing in favor of literary sincerity (Holmes 55). In this she may have been influenced by her husband, who was well known for his passion for moderation and chose to adopt no explicit political position as editor-in-chief of the Mercure de France. The lack of clear political motivation and the rejection of any explicit theory in favor of idealized, lyrical conceptions of poetry and freedom did not stand Rachilde in good stead. Like other Decadents, she was laid open to charges of irrelevance and found herself distanced from the literary avant-garde. Melanie Hawthorne points out that it was not until the 1970s, during the so-called second wave of the women’s movement, that a renewed interest in Rachilde encouraged the republication of several of her works and jogged critical interest. Even at this time, much work on this fascinating, crucial, and radical author still remains to be done.
By Ria Banerjee, The Graduate Center, CUNY.
Ria Banerjee is a doctoral candidate at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research interests include the fin-de-siècle and early 20th Century British and European literature, modernist film, Italian Neorealism, and film noir. .
Works Cited and Further Reading
Hawthorne, Melanie. Rachilde and French Women’s Authorship. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2001. Print.
Holmes, Diana. Rachilde: Decadence, Gender and the Woman Writer. Oxford: Berg, 2001. Print.
Lukacher, Maryline. Maternal Fictions: Stendhal, Sand, Rachilde, and Bataille. Durham: Duke UP, 1994. Print.
Rachilde. A mort. Paris: Monnier, 1885. Print.
---. La Jongleuse/The Juggler. Trans. Melanie Hawthorne. London: Rutgers UP, 1990. Print.
---. Monsieur Vénus/Monsieur Venus. Trans. Melanie Hawthorne. New York: MLA, 2004. Print.
---. Pourquoi je ne suis pas féministe. Paris: Les Editions de France, 1928. Print.
Stovall, Tyler. “Creolite: Rachilde’s La Jongleuse” in French Civilisation and its Discontents. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2003. Print.
“Michael Field,” pseudonym of Katharine Bradley (1846–1914) and Edith Cooper (1862-1913)
When Michael Field’s first volume of plays, Callirrhoë/Fair Rosamund, was published in 1884, it was an immediate critical success. The emergence of “A New Poet” was lauded by the literary journals of the period, the Spectator, the Academy and the Athenaeum, and his writing compared to Swinburne, to George Eliot, and to Shakespeare. A new volume of Field plays, The Father’s Tragedy/ William Rufus/ Loyalty or Love? followed in 1885, but gossip about the identity of Michael Field was rife. The literary journals tantalized readers, throwing out hints about the poet’s gender and plurality. From the sober perspective of 1886, the Liverpool Mercury publicly lamented that this “lady” had at first “laboured under the grievous disadvantage of rather indiscreet adulation” (“The Year 1886”).
The “lady” was not a single female writer at all, but the collaborative partnership of Katharine Bradley and her niece, Edith Cooper; nor were they of aristocratic heritage.
Bradley was the second daughter of Charles Bradley, a tobacco manufacturer from Derbyshire and his wife, Emma. Bradley's older sister, also Emma, married James Robert Cooper, a merchant, and in 1861 or 1862 they formed a blended household with Katharine and her widowed mother. Edith Cooper was the eldest of two daughters born to Emma and James Cooper.
With the death of Bradley’s mother, and the adoption of the invalid couch by Cooper’s mother, it is often said that Bradley took over the upbringing and education of her favored niece (Sturgeon 45). If so, it was an unconventional maternity: a mere six months after the death of her mother in 1868, Bradley packed her bags and left to study in Paris at the Collège de France (Sturgeon 17). There were also courses at the Birmingham and Midland Institute (Field, F&P 3) and Newnham College, Cambridge where, after publishing a small volume of verse under the pseudonym Arran Leigh, Bradley was christened “the Newnham poet” (Keynes 273). Bradley corresponded with John Ruskin, the art critic and social reformer, becoming a Companion of his Guild of St George, until her support of women’s rights and anti-vivisection campaigner, Frances Power Cobbe, and a joke about atheism provoked Ruskin into calling her a “goose” and expelling her from the Guild in 1877 (Field, W&D 156). The family moved to Stoke Bishop, near Bristol, in 1879, and Bradley and her nieces attended courses at University College. They joined the debating society, arguing for causes like women's suffrage and anti-vivisection (Field, F&P 15). Bradley became secretary of the Clifton Anti-Vivisection Society (Sturgeon 21).
Her aunt’s life must have seemed very glamorous to young Edith Cooper. Brought up in what Charles Ricketts would later describe as a dark and dour religious household (2), Cooper entered into her aunt’s literary world, and by ten years of age, had completed two (unpublished) plays, The Iwl-Dû and Atys and Adrastos. Viewed within this context, it seems likely Michael Field may have provided an escape from a sometimes tempestuous family environment, an elaborate attempt to fashion their own reality. By 1881, the Leigh signature was expanded to accommodate Cooper, as Isla Leigh, for the first collaborative volume, Bellerophôn, a verse drama with additional lyrics.
After the revelations of female and joint authorship, critical appreciation of Michael Field’s work declined. Nevertheless, they retained a coterie of admirers which included Robert Browning, Oscar Wilde, George Meredith, and William Butler Yeats. While their verse dramas clearly suffered—they published twenty-seven—eight volumes of lyrics remained popular with the first edition of Long Ago (1889) selling out within a week of publication. A prose play, A Question of Memory—the only published drama written for the stage—was produced by J. T. Grein for the Independent Theatre Society in 1893; and was considered a failure. In 1905, they found renewed success with the anonymous publication of the verse drama Borgia, and six other plays followed: Queen Mariamne, The Tragedy of Pardon, Dian, The Accuser, Tristan de Léonois and A Messiah.
Their intimate letters indicate that from about 1885, their partnership developed into an amatory love relationship, and they became—among the plethora of nicknames and pet names—husband and wife. After the death of Cooper’s mother in 1889, Bradley and Cooper achieved a measure of personal freedom, and travelled extensively in Europe, including Dresden (1891), where Cooper contracted scarlet fever. In the Dresden fever hospital, Cooper gained the nickname Henry (for her boyish cropped hair), and the partnership gained its “married” identity, Michael and Henry Field (W&D 62). After the death of James Cooper in 1897, a “married” home followed: 1 The Paragon, Petersham Road, Richmond.
In 1907, Cooper converted to Roman Catholicism, renouncing the neo-paganism that inflects much of their early work. This conversion, in which Bradley soon joined her, is usually read as a response to the death of their favorite dog in 1906 (Sturgeon 53). Loss, however, was a familiar sensation for Bradley and Cooper: all their immediate family were dead, with the exception of little sister Amy, who had moved to Ireland with her new husband. It seems likely the grief they expressed in a memorial volume, Whym Chow: Flame of Love (1914), bespeaks not only a lament for a beloved soul-mate, but for an entire family. Bradley and Cooper struggled with the restrictions of the Church, and with a sense of guilt about their former lives. Their separately written but jointly published volumes of devotional poetry, Poems of Adoration (Cooper, 1912), and Mystic Trees (Bradley 1913) affirm they were able to accommodate their literary worldview to a Catholic ethos. The two women remained poets and devoted partners until their deaths from cancer in 1913 and 1914, a mere nine months apart.
If Michael Field were prolific in their production of creative works, they were equally dedicated to writing the story of their own lives. Even more astounding for two unmarried women with no direct descendants, an extensive collection of life writings has been preserved. Twenty-nine volumes of the diaries of Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper ranging over the period from 1888 to 1914 are housed in the British Library: selected excerpts were published in 1933 as Works and Days. A large body of correspondence, as well as many of their workbooks and manuscripts, was lodged with the Bodleian Library at Oxford University after their executor, Thomas Sturge Moore, died in the 1940s.
Since the 1980s, Michael Field has been the subject of a highly successful critical recovery. Early critics focused predominantly on issues surrounding Bradley and Cooper’s sexuality and the character of their pre-modern lesbian relationship. Since then, attention has shifted to the lyric verse with a considerable amount of scholarship produced on Long Ago (1889) and Sight and Song (1892). Most recently, critics have begun to re-evaluate the verse dramas, although these remain, for the most part, neglected.
By Sharon Bickle, University of Queensland.
Sharon Bickle is a post-doctoral research fellow in the School of English, Media Studies and Art History at the University of Queensland. She edited a collection of Michael Field’s early letters: The Fowl and The Pussycat: Love Letters of Michael Field (U. of Virginia P., 2008) and has published several articles on the Michael Field dramas. Her current project is a scholarly biography: Entwined: The Many Lives of Michael Field.
Field, Michael. The Fowl and the Pussycat: Love Letters of Michael Field, 1876-1909. Ed. Sharon Bickle. Charlottesville: U. of Virginia P., 2008.
---. Work and Days: From the Journals of Michael Field. Eds. T. S. and D. C. Moore. London: John Murray, 1933.
Keynes, J. M. “Obituary: Mary Paley Marshall.” The Economic Journal. 54.214 (1944): 268-86.
Ricketts, Charles. Michael Field. Ed. Paul Delaney. Edinburgh: Tragara Press, 1976.
Sturgeon, Mary. Michael Field. New York: Macmillan, 1922.
“The Year 1886.” The Liverpool Mercury, December 31, 1886.
Una Lucy Silberrad (1872-1955)
Una Lucy Silberrad was an established and popular novelist whose worked spanned almost 50 years, from the late Victorian Era until World War II. Silberrad, who is largely forgotten today, was a prolific writer: she published more than 40 novels, short stories and one non-fictional work.
Una Silberrad was born in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, to Arthur Pouchin de Toict Silberrad, the 38th Baron Willigas, and to Clarissa Lucy, née Savill. The Silberrads were in the business of horticulture and imported exotic plants. Hardly any information exists on Una Silberrad’s childhood in Buckhurst Hill. She never married, and, at the age of 60, Una Silberrad rented Wick House in Burnham on Crouch, also in Essex, where she moved in with her sister Phyllis. Especially later in life, she was an Anglican and a regular churchgoer. One of her younger brothers, the chemist Oswald Silberrad, was a member of the United Kingdom Government Explosives Committee. One of his contributions was the introduction of TNT as an explosive for the Royal Navy ordnance, and his scientific interests found their way into some of Silberrad’s fiction.
Una Silberrad’s career as a published writer commenced in 1899; she was 27 when her first novel The Enchantress was published. From then on Silberrad turned into a productive writer with a consistent output: her prolific production of novels and short stories spanned 44 years, from her first novel The Enchanter (1899), to The Three Men who went to Ardath, 1760 (1943 or 1944). Her texts offer interesting insights into the changing sensibilities of a society that experienced the decline of the British Empire and lived through two World Wars.
Silberrad’s writing presents the reader with a great variety of themes and genres. Among the recurring themes are the role of women in society, observations of class and social mobility, the settings of middle class discourse (such as the suburbs), as well as depictions of uprooted individuals, and the respective reconstructions of identity. These themes are embedded in genres ranging from gothic fiction (as seen in The Enchanter, 1899), to romantic novels (The Good Comrade, 1907, or Desire, 1908), to the speculative fiction of The Affairs of John Bolsover (1911), and historical fiction, such as Keren of Lowbole (1913). In 1909, Silberrad published her only non-fictional work, entitled Dutch Bulbs and Gardens. Silberrad’s blending of themes and genres is not only evident in the entirety of her oeuvre; this eclecticism is also discernible in the works themselves. The Good Comrade, to name just one, presents the reader with a romantic novel as the frame narrative. The well-known formula is then interlaced with elements from the spy novel and new science, and also presents utopian elements to voice a scathing critique of contemporary social realities. Kate Macdonald argues that these contradictions “give strength to [Silberrad’s] work, even if they may constitute the reasons for excluding her from the canon” (Macdonald 214).
From 1915 on, the diversity of Silberrad’s output decreased, and her novels now had a stronger focus on historical romance and the English lower middle classes. While A.P. Watt & Co. remained Silberrad’s permanent literary agent, she did change publishers. This may have affected the concentration on fewer genres. According to Macdonald, this “new pattern was probably influenced by the publishing requirements of Hutchinson and Co., with whom she began publishing this year. […] The fact the Hutchinson and Co. marketed her both as a historical novelist and as a modern novelist is indicative of her successful transition from the ghetto of the publisher’s list to being a writer whose name was enough to suggest the genre” (220).
Despite the mentioned variety of themes and genres, two thematic threads can be discerned throughout Silberrad’s middlebrow fiction: the role of the (new) woman in society, and the identity of the very middle-classes she portrays. Macdonald quotes The Academy, describing her as part of “a group of writers who are doing a not insignificant service by depicting the minds, morals, and manners of people who individually do not count for much on the social scale, but who collectively represent so much of what is contemporaneously characteristic of the national life” (212).
After living with Silberrad for eleven years, her sister Phyllis died in December 1943. Tony Fox notes that this “loss seems to coincide with Una Silberrad’s retirement from writing” (61). Not much is known about the end of the author’s life except that she died on September 1,1955, after suffering a stroke. Her grave slab in the Burnham cemetery indicates her profession as “Authoress” (Fox 61).
By Christoph Singer, Universität Paderborn
Christoph Singer teaches English Literature and Cultural Studies at the Universität Paderborn, Germany. His research interests are utopian studies, representations of liminality and transgression, and English middlebrow literature.
Fox, Tony. “Una Lucy Silberrad, Authoress, 1872-1955” In: Essex Journal: A Review of Local
History & Archeology. (44:2/2009) 58-63.
Macdonald, Kate. “Edwardian Transitions in the Fiction of Una L. Silberrad” In: English
Literature in Transition (52:2/2011) 212-233.
Singer, Christoph. “Gravitating Away from an Empire’s Heart: London in Una Silberrad’s The
Good Comrade.” Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of
London. (9:1/2011) < http://literarylondon.org/london-journal/march2011/singer.html>.