Speakers’ Abstracts and Biographies


Leire Barrera-Medrano, Birkbeck

‘St John of the Cross! Oh That I Could Read Him With Quiet Heart!’: Michael Field and Spanish Mystic Poetry

In 1908 Michael Field wrote excitedly to the poet John Gray about her deep admiration for the seventeenth-century Spanish mystic Saint John of the Cross: ‘Then of S. John of the Cross! Oh that I could read him with quiet heart (…) I cannot speak of the new life I am getting from St. John –perhaps this is best – not a drop of the precious emotion is wasted – it is all wanted for the Spirit to use.’

As scholars have noted, Michael Field’s esteem for the Spanish mystic is reflected in their collection Whym Chow: Flame of Love (1914), a direct allusion to St John’s The Living Flame of Love (1585-6). Nonetheless, scholars have obviated other works of Saint John, particularly Ascent of Mount Carmel and Spiritual Canticle, that are referred to throughout Michael Field’s later works —after both women became Roman Catholic converts. Other Spanish mystic poets were also appreciated by British fin-de-siècle writers, including Michael Field’s close friend and poet John Gray, and are also reflected in the women poets’ later work. In particular, references to the Carmelite nun Saint Teresa of Avila’s oeuvre and philosophy that have not been yet acknowledged by scholars can be found in several of Michael Field’s poems.

The Spanish Mystics of the Catholic Reformation of 16th and 17th century Spain attempted to express in words their experience of a mystical communion with Christ. Their writings inspired a religious quest for God based on desire rather than obligation and medieval legalism. Their sensuous and spiritual work attracted several British writers of the late nineteenth century, as it represented a bridge between Decadent Aestheticism of the 1890s and the Catholic conversion that many of them embraced later. It exemplified the perfect reconciliation of luxurious poetry and religious doctrine.

The purpose of this paper is, therefore, to explore Michael Field’s relation to and understanding of Spanish mystic poetry, which proves crucial to our understanding of the relationship between Catholicism and Aestheticism.


Leire Barrera-Medrano is a doctoral candidate at Birkbeck College, University of London, where she is working under the supervision of Dr Ana Parejo Vadillo on the role Spanish culture played in the articulation of British fin-de-siècle Aesthetic and Decadent literary movements. She has recently finished cataloguing the papers of the Spanish art critic, writer and diplomat José Fernández Giménez (1832-1903), an intimate friend of and early influence on Vernon Lee.

Caroline Baylis-Green, Manchester Metropolitan University

We Two Are One: Singularity and Duality in the Queer Life Writing of Anne Lister and Michael Field

The nineteenth century is bookended by two major diaries, that of Anne Lister and Michael Field (in 27 and 30 volumes respectively.)  My paper will consider what happens when these texts are juxtaposed as part of an analysis of evolving, queer life writing across this period.  Additionally, what can be learned from texts which superficially appear to range across a wide subjective spectrum, from Lister’s singular, alienated “I” to Field’s constructed, overlapping and merged “we”.  While both diaries have been recovered as part the late twentieth/twenty first century feminist project, they are more rarely considered as examples of life writing within a queer canon of female writers.

Although Michael Field’s writing is predominantly situated within an aesthetic, fin-de-siècle movement, it is also characterised as proto-modern/ist, out of its own period, or “before its time”. Famously noted in the diaries by Bradley “We are Michael Field. Again he said: – Wait fifty years”.[1]   The concept of being out of period is one that is also shared with Lister and her writing.  Lister is often cited as the “first modern lesbian” in analyses of her textual, queer personae and psychology.   My paper considers how this historical disjunction is negotiated in current theoretical work, to ask questions about queer projection and queer retrospection, and why Field’s diary writing is rarely considered alongside writing produced in an earlier historical context.

In placing these texts together I will challenge received notions of queer subjectivity, readership, coding, identity and community to suggest that far from being diametrically opposed these diaries share a number of intriguing similarities, and that by reading them together across a Foucauldian paradigm new spaces for the exploration of gender, sexuality and desire become available.

[1] Field, Michael, Diaries, {K.B} 1888 – taken from Thain, Marion, and Ana Parejo Vadillo, Michael Field, The Poet (Toronto: Broadview Editions, 2009) p.233


Caroline Baylis-Green is a PhD student based in the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research is predominantly focussed on the construction of queer poetics, closeting, and desire in  nineteenth-century women’s writing; specifically the work of: Anne Lister, Emily Brontȅ, Christina Rossetti, Adelaide Anne Procter, Michael Field and Amy Levy. She has a long-standing commitment to, and interest in feminist theory and practice, as well as queer theoretical perspectives. Caroline teaches on the Nineteenth-Century Writing to Modernism Unit as an Associate Lecturer at MMU, and is a member of the IHSSR Feminist Agendas Research Group.

Sharon Bickle, University of Southern Queensland

Legacies: The Unfinished Lives of  “Michael Field”

From the black marble gravestone that cracked as Charles Ricketts sought to lay it to Ursula Bridge’s unfinished biography, lodged in the Bodleian Library on her death, the lives of Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper resist closure—seemingly from beyond the grave.

This paper engages with early attempts to direct readings of the lives of Bradley and Cooper, beginning with Bradley’s own demands about how obituaries of her dearly beloved partner should be constructed, and including the contributions of Ricketts, Rothenstein, Emily Fortey and Vincent McNabb and the legacy they left in the Sturgeon, Sturge Moore and Bridge texts; as well as how this has affected more recent readings of the entwined lives of “Michael Field.”

This paper reflects my own decade long engagement with the lives of “Michael Field” and the complexities of dealing biographically and historiographically with highly constructed and performed lives.


Sharon Bickle is a feminist researcher with a keen interest in the literature of the Fin de Siècle, based at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. Her research focuses on feminist and queer literary studies with a particular concern for women poets, especially “Michael Field” and issues associated with biography, autobiography and life-writing; the politics of the “gendered” archive; and scholarly textual editing. She has published a number of articles on “Michael Field” and edited a collection of the Bradley-Cooper correspondence: The Fowl and the Pussycat: Love Letters of ‘Michael Field’ (UVa 2008). She is currently finalising a scholarly biography to be titled, “Intwined: The Many Lives of ‘Michael Field.”

Heather Bozant Witcher, Saint Louis University

‘Collaborating with the Past: Sympathetic Concord in The Tragic Mary and Deirdre’

“Your Queen,” wrote Oscar Wilde to Michael Field in 1890, “is a splendid creature, a live woman to her finger-tips. I feel the warmth of her breath as I listen to her.” When Michael Field turned to writing historical verse drama, they entered that form’s tradition of recuperating for modern sexual politics the legends of mythic women. By re-animating these arcane female histories — including those of Mary Stuart and the Irish figure, Deirdre of the Sorrows — Michael Field blends their voices with the voices of women’s history in an act of collaboration fashioned to mirror their own collaborative process.

Though verse drama has been neglected in recent scholarship, this was not the case in 1922, when critic Mary Sturgeon devoted half of her monograph to the couple’s drama. While these dramas might not rank among the best of their works, in them we find striking representations of women speaking from the past for the future—representations foregrounding female collaboration as a conduit for modern sexual and political incarnation. In The Tragic Mary (1890) and Deirdre (1903/1918), the poet-dramatists focus on the possibilities afforded by myth to rewrite sexual women as harbingers of social change. In their collaboration with the historical voices of Mary and Deirdre, Field focuses on the desire between titular characters and the necessity of same-sex communities to imagine a communal space for female desire. In this space, selfhood is imagined as emerging from a blend of dialogic voices, embodied not only in the act of authorial collaboration, but in a transhistorical collaboration between the modern writer and mythic female figures with which that writer is in sympathetic “concord.”

In this paper, I will use Adam Smith’s theory of sympathetic “concord” to illuminate the interlocked system of collaborative connection and circular identification (interpersonal, transhistorical, transnational) Michael Field engages through these now-understudied verse dramas. By insisting that sympathy is much more than simply feeling, this presentation will extend our understanding of minds in “concord” to provide a framework for analyzing the process of late-Victorian collaboration.


Heather Bozant Witcher is a doctoral student at Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her dissertation focuses on theorizing the collaborative process throughout the long-nineteenth century. Using 18th and 19th-century understandings of sympathy as a model framework for the ideal collaborative process, her dissertation argues that collaboration becomes a means of artistic construction and a lived experience of communal relations. Areas of focus include: 18th and 19th-century moral philosophy, the cultural history of Aestheticism, and feminist theory; figures of focus include the Shelleys, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, William Morris, and Michael Field.

Pearl Chaozon-Bauer, University of California

Michael Field’s Long Ago: Engendering the Epithalamium Genre

In the Preface to Long Ago (1889), written in the first person singular of Michael Field, Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper comment on Sapphic authorship. They write that extending Sappho’s fragments into lyrics is “delightfully audacious” because of its transgressive possibilities. Michael Field’s imitation of Sappho’s fragments calls to light the un-originality of Sappho’s texts: no one and everyone can write Sappho. More importantly, they allude to the un-materiality of Sappho’s texts. They are ideal texts because they are fragments. In writing as Michael Field, Bradley and Cooper play with this un-materiality: they double the “I” of Sappho—And this we feel in ourselves—by writing as two women identifying as a male. Their writing experience raises the following question: what happens when Sappho, the “original” epithalamium poet, becomes doubled by the dual authorship of Bradley and Cooper, and how does this simultaneous identification as Sappho and as male author destabilize the generic assumptions we have about the epithalamium genre?

In this paper, I claim that Sappho represents a false original because configurations of her legacy changed historically as each age represented its own Sappho. In Michael Field’s case, it is through the Greek fragments of Sappho—and not through the figure of Sappho—that Bradley and Cooper can enter a space for interplay between sexuality and textuality. Sappho’s fragments allow their various sexualities to emerge and her texts help Bradley and Cooper find new ways to engender the epithalamium genre, typically gendered male. I argue that their performance as Michael Field destabilizes gender identities, and their collaborative work in Long Ago complicates gender and generic assumptions about a genre typically associated with traditional heterosexual romance in order to make room for the queer.


Pearl Chaozon Bauer is a doctoral candidate in the English department at University of California, Davis with an Emphasis in Critical Theory and Research. Her dissertation, “Performative Subversions: The Epithalamium, Sappho, and the Victorians,” studies how the Victorian epithalamium—the marriage celebration poem—is enmeshed with one of the most dramatic moments of legal and political transformations over the institution of marriage. She argues that Victorian-era revisions of the genre challenged the traditional concept of marriage, and became a way to rethink marriage as something other than a biologically-reproductive, heteronormative, and (for women) legally oppressive culture institution.

James Diedrick, Agnes Scott College

Proto-Modernism in the Poetry of Mathilde Blind and Michael Field

Writing in the early 1920s, Ford Madox Ford attempted to throw up a cordon sanitaire between himself and his fellow modernists and the 19th-century writers he grew up with and learned from. He was especially dismissive of Mathilde Blind and, by extension, the other fin de siècle women poets of her generation. Yet the poetry of Blind and Michael Field, especially the volumes they published in the 1890s, challenges Ford’s repeated assertions of an epistemic rupture separating the late Victorians from the moderns.

This conference paper will examine selected poetry by Blind and Field—especially those poems which reimagine gender identity and sexuality—to analyze the genealogy and question the usefulness of the sharp dividing line that Ford Madox Ford and other modernists drew between themselves and their Victorian predecessors. I will argue that Ford’s assertions about the “modern” are actually part of what Foucault calls in Power/Knowledge a “strategic apparatus” which constructs the conceptual binaries on which such historical categories depend. Blind and Field’s poetry destabilizes  conventional epistemic categories and thus highlights important continuities between Victorian aestheticism and modernism.  I will discuss poems from five fin de siècle collections: Dramas in Miniature (1891) and Songs and Sonnets (1893) by Blind, and Long Ago (1889), Sight and Song (1892) and Underneath the Bough (1893) by Michael Field. My specific focus will be what Maria Pramaggiore has called the “bisexual epistemologies” that characterize these poems—“ways of apprehending, organizing, and intervening in the world that refuse one-to-one correspondences between sex acts and identity, between erotic objects and sexualities, between identification and desire.” My paper will conclude by briefly considering connections between this poetry and the “queer modernism” of Virginia Woolf and H.D.


James Diedrick (Ph.D. English, University of Washington, Seattle) is Professor of English at Agnes Scott College (a women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia USA) where he teaches courses on 19th-20th century British literature and culture and film. His scholarship includes a co-edited anthology of essays on Stanley Kubrick, Depth of Field: Stanley Kubrick, Film and the Uses of History (University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), and a critical monograph Understanding Martin Amis (University of South Carolina Press, first edition, 1995; revised and expanded edition, 2004). He has published essays on Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, and Mathilde Blind, and is currently working on a biography of the late-Victorian poet and woman of letters Mathilde Blind.

Jill Ehnenn, Appalachian State University

“Thy body maketh a solemn song:” Desire and Disability in Michael Field’s “Catholic Poems”

This paper turns to relatively unstudied texts from the Michael Field oeuvre—the later poems and archival material written after their conversion to Catholicism and during the period when Edith was dying of cancer. Here, I examine these texts using approaches informed by phenomenology, queer theory and disability studies; in so doing I explore how Michael Field’s experiments with ekphrastic and devotional traditions represent lived experience askance to gendered and able-bodied norms.

Michael Field is well known for their innovative picture-poems in their earlier Sight and Song (1892), and for poetry collections that creatively engage lyric traditions as varied as Sapphic verse (Long Ago, 1889), Renaissance songbooks (Underneath the Bough, 1893), and elegy (the “Longer Allegiance” cycle from Wild Honey from Various Thyme, 1908).  Here I focus on Poems of Adoration (1912) and Mystic Trees (1913), which employ both devotional and (some) ekphrastic forms, and ask the following questions: How does Michael Field appropriate and/or modify the conventions of devotional poetry in their verse?  How do the ekphrastic selections contribute to and/or complicate these devotional writings; and does the effect of their ekphrastic verse, here, bear resemblance to their earlier ekphrastic work in Sight and Song? What are we to make of the representation of embodiment and desire in these texts, especially in context of their earlier work? Is it even useful to consider these two collections alongside their other verse, or, should we heed Edith’s journal entry documenting Charles Ricketts’ bitter criticism that he would not have known that she had written Poems of Adoration because “there is nothing in it like me.”

Ultimately, I argue here that the occasional ekphrastic poem from the largely devotional collections Poems of Adoration and Mystic Trees can, indeed, be read as being firmly situated within Michael Field’s ongoing re-visionary and queer-feminist project, yet with new emphasis on spiritual and homoerotic love and desire specifically in context of being, and seeing, an embodied (female) subject in pain.


Jill Ehnenn is Professor of English at Appalachian State University, where she teaches Victorian Studies and LGBT Studies/Queer Theory. She is the author of several articles on Michael Field, who also figure prominently in her first book: Women’s Literary Collaboration, Queerness, and Late-Victorian Culture. Her interests in Victorian women writers have also resulted in essays on Dorothy Wordsworth, Vernon Lee, and Elizabeth Siddal; she has an article forthcoming on Elizabeth Siddal’s work with ballads in Victorian Poetry later this summer. Her work on contemporary queer issues include essays on topics as various as the lesbian romance novel, Harry Potter, and an in-progress article on queerness and the rhetoric of choice. She is currently planning her second book, which is tentatively titled Orienting the Victorians: Nineteenth-Century Progress Narratives, Sexuality, Disability and Nation.

Stefano Evangelista, Trinity College, Oxford

Michael Field’s Archaeology of Eros: Epigraphy, Elegy, Ekphrasis


Stefano Evangelista is Fellow and Tutor in English at Trinity College, Oxford. His research interests are in nineteenth-century English literature (especially Aestheticism and Decadence), comparative literature, cosmopolitanism, the reception of the classics, and in the relationship between literary and visual cultures. He is the author of British Aestheticism and Ancient Greece: Hellenism, Reception, Gods in Exile (2009) and editor of The Reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe (2010) and, together with Catherine Maxwell, of A. C. Swinburne: Unofficial Laureate (2013).

Dustin Friedman, National University of Singapore

“The inevitable force of personality”: Sight and Song and the Erotics of Historicism

This paper reads Michael Field’s Sight and Song (1892) as exemplary of a phenomenon I refer to as “erotic negativity.”  This is the name I give to one of British aestheticism’s foundational insights: that a moment of historical insight into an art object can also be a moment for attaining erotic self-knowledge.

The Michael Fields frame their aesthetic project in seemingly paradoxical terms, as an “effort to see things from their own centre, by suppressing the habitual centralisation of the visible in ourselves” yet nevertheless allows “the inevitable force of personality” to “have play and a temperament mould the purified impression” (vi).  This description partakes of the dialectical logic of Hegel’s Aesthetics (1835), and his concept of “negativity” in particular.  This is a concept Edith Cooper would have encountered as a student of modern philosophy at University College, Bristol in the late 1870’s.

When aesthetes like the Michael Fields encounter a homoerotic artistic representation, they undergo an experience that is at once both intellectual and visceral: this is the revelation of an erotic desire, previously hidden as a determinate absence in the mind, which shatters and radically reconfigures the very structure of consciousness itself.  This process, which Hegel terms the “encounter with the negative,” elicits not only greater self-knowledge, but also critical insight into the cultural and historical significance of the art object.

In their well-known poem “La Gioconda,” for instance, the Michael Fields focus on the erotic pull of Mona Lisa’s “Historic, side long, implicating eyes” and the “dusky forehead and a breast/Where twilight touches ripeness amorously” (1, 6-7).  The highly sexualized renderings of the female body in Sight and Song make use of erotic negativity to transform seemingly enigmatic artistic representations of feminine sexuality, including Walter Pater’s famous prose description of the same painting, into critical considerations of the larger cultural forces at play in the portrayal of female subjectivity.  In this way, the poems in Sight and Song express a definitively modern and feminist critical stance, one that demonstrates how the erotic motivations underlying Michael Field’s ekphrasis are inseparable from their historicist analysis of the artwork.


Dustin Friedman is Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore. His fields of research and teaching are British, Irish, and Anglophone writing from the late eighteenth century to the present, Victorian aestheticism, gender and sexuality studies, intellectual history, and literary theory. His current book project, titled “Erotic Negativity: Victorian Sexual Aesthetics, 1864-1903,” explores the intersection between artistic experience and homoerotic desire in the writings of aesthetes such as Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, Vernon Lee, and the Michael Field poets. Friedman’s writings have appeared in ELH, Studies in Romanticism, Literature Compass, the Pater Newsletter, among other venues.

Andrea Gazzaniga, Northern Kentucky University

Michael Field’s Wild Honey From Various Thyme and The Sonnet Tradition

In his The Book of the Sonnet, Leigh Hunt likens the sonnet to that daily receptacle of experience: the diary. He encourages poets to write sonnets about all life events, from the mundane to the exalted. He asks, “Why did not Milton write a sonnet on every cheerful, mournful, and exalting event in his life? Why do not all poets do so? …What new and enchanting volumes of biography we should possess!” (80-81). In other words, Hunt reads sonnets as a poet’s biographical record.

As a cloistered form, enclosed by literary tradition and closed to formal variation, the sonnet seems to leave only a scanty plot of ground, as Wordsworth would have it, for germinating the slow growth of self-consciousness. Yet, unlike the single sonnet, the sonnet sequence offers a space for unlimited reproduction; its accumulative fertility resists narrative closure by enabling the possibility of infinite rebeginnings. In constructing individual, highly wrought units according to strict structural demands, but building from them a sequence with no traditional or predetermined duration or endpoint, the poet, particularly the sonnet-writer, is constantly reopening a space for cognitive process and experiential reflection while constantly reconstructing her own subjectivity in relation to others.

In this paper, I argue that Michael Field’s sonnet sequences in Wild Honey From Various Thyme represent a unique model of lyric subjectivity and cognitive process that both conforms and departs from the largely masculine sonnet tradition. My model of reading Michael Field’s sonnets is deliberately situated between a formalist’s attention to an intricately self-contained structure and a biographer’s attention to the interpersonal and social contexts informing the composition of a literary work.  In analyzing the way Cooper and Bradley formally construct their own terms of intimacy within the enclosed space of the sonnet, I show how they alter the dimensions of the lyric’s close room by making it a place to nurture, sustain, or renounce private partnerships.


Andrea Gazzaniga is an Assistant Professor of English at Northern Kentucky University. She teaches courses in British Romanticism, Victorian literature, poetry, and film. She has published on film and Victorian poetry with a forthcoming article in the Victorians Institute Journal entitled “Collaborative Space and the Poetics of Enclosure in Michael Field’s Underneath the Bough”.

Anne Jamison, University of Utah

‘Michael Field’s ‘L’Embarquement pour Cythère’ and French poetry’

While recent critical work has rightly situated Michael Field’s “L’Embarquement pour Cythère” with relation to their acknowledged influence Walter Pater, the Watteau painting on which it is based already had a long poetic legacy in nineteenth-century France. Gerard de Nerval and Charles Baudelaire both have poems on the painting, and Paul Verlaine, a great favorite with Michael Field, invented a “féte galante” genre in homage to the painter. Katherine Bradley was educated in France, having moved there to study in the year (1869) Verlaine’s Fêtes galantesvolume was published, and she and Edith Cooper maintained an active interest in French literature throughout their lives. Thus it is well worth examining how this poetic and aesthetic tradition of response to Watteau might also have resonated with their own entry into it. Watteau’s fate in ninteenth-century French poetry has everything to do with the rejection of the strict neoclassical norms, restrictive norms for which, at the level of form, there were no real English prosodic equivalents. In England, however, women poets in particular were subject to other kinds of poetic restrictions, particularly of content, as Michael Field acknowledged as a motivation for writng under a male pseudonym.  In France, poems for Watteau were associated with a looseness and freedom of referent as well as increasing formal experiment informed by interplay between arts, part of an embrace of the Rococo style rejected by utilitarian norms governing both painting and poetry. In writing themselves into this tradition, Michael Field are aligning themselves with a Decadent poetics that connects poetic innovation with rejected stylistic and referential “excesses” of the past.

Sarah E. Kersh, Dickinson College

The Amatory Sonnet Tradition and Whym Chow, Flame of Love

In 1908 Michael Field published a poem entitled “The Longer Allegiance” in the volume Wild Honey from Various Thyme.  The verse—about devotional love and poetic inspiration—was dedicated to their dog.  “Nay, thou art my eternal attribute… The very essence of the thing I am” wrote Field of their pet named Whym Chow (1, 3).  A sonnet, the poem likens Whym Chow to Saint Jerome’s lion who “beside him, wrote of later times, of curse,/ Bloodshed, and bitter exile, verse on verse…in awe/ ….So it was wont to be betwixt us two—/ How still thou lay’st deep-nosing on thy paw!” (9-14).  “The Longer Allegiance” served as only the beginning of Michael Field’s poetry which praised Whym Chow’s status as muse and poetic guardian, and, after the dog’s death, the two composed a sequence of poems entitled Whym Chow, Flame of Love (1916).  In the sequence, Chow becomes a fulcrum for the women’s intimate and spiritual connection with each other and the sequence of poems creates a triangulated understanding of love and poetic production.

Breaking from the strict sonnet structure which first inspired the project, Whym Chow transforms the form.  Through manipulations of rhyme, line length, and poem length, the verses explore and revise the sonnet form as well as the tradition of amatory poetry.  In this paper, I argue that these formal manipulations underscore the subject of the poems.  The exploration of form corresponds to the reexamination of notions of individuality and intimacy.  The sequence pushes for an understanding of the self in relation to others that cannot easily be defined by Victorian norms of marriage and gender.  Michael Field’s poems are particularly queer— not only does the marriage between Bradley and Cooper challenge heternormativity, but the poems, and their revision of amatory poetics, expose the very concept of a single, stable, sexual identity, and a single, stable, gendered identity as a Victorian myth.           Instead, the poems celebrate a different kind of intimacy which includes Whym Chow as a spiritual and inspirational interlocutor.  I argue that Michael Field’s radical departure from the strict composition of the sonnet presses not only against the boundaries of the amatory poetic form, but it also of what counts as intimacy.


Sarah E. Kersh is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Her book project, Naked Novels: Victorian Amatory Sonnet Sequences and the Problem of Marriage, argues for the political worth of the Victorian amatory sonnet sequence and utilizes theories of teleology and queer time, to show that the sequences engage marriage not to uphold it as a social ideal, but to resist the inevitability of marriage generally suggested by the heteronormative marriage plot. Additionally, she is exploring a project centered on the construction of authorship and the role of social networks in the writings of Michael Field.

Johanna Kirby, University of Westminster

Fair Rosamund and Female Autonomy: Imposed Roles, Constructed Identities and the Position(ing) of Women

In this paper I will concentrate on the Fields’ early drama Fair Rosamund (1884), using it as something of a case-study; employing a careful, detailed analysis of the text as well as discussing the wider contextual issues which intersect, converge upon, and surround the work. I will focus both on the ways in which the play covertly engages with and reflects upon, key socio-political issues of the time, and how it is, in some ways, typical of the approach that the Fields took with their drama in the 1880s. Drawing on a wide range of contemporaneous literary, scientific, political and ‘cultural’ sources – newspapers, legal discourse, artistic works – I will ‘locate’ the Fields’ treatment and ‘dramatization’ of  key issues (such as female autonomy, the role of the mother and sexual exploitation), within the web of intersecting ideas, issues and attitudes which surrounded the production of the play. Establishing the context in this way offers some insight into what the Fields were responding to, and to what extent they challenged or subverted contemporary ideas about prostitution, motherhood, female sexuality, and lack of autonomy as a result of imposed roles and constructed identities. I will examine their engagement with this series of specific issues within the narrative – in terms of language, imagery, or character construction – then how this engagement is reflected on the level of form, setting and structure. I am then going to identify the significance of their negotiation of the tragic form and its conventions, particularly the Fields’ challenging of the linearity of ‘fate’ as a result of an individual flaw, reflecting on it through the figure of the female protagonist ‘without autonomy’. Finally I will conclude by tracing some of the connections, development of ideas and style, similarities and differences between Fair Rosamund and the other plays of the decade, paying close attention to the way similar issues are reflected on, responded to and engaged with elsewhere in their works of that period.


Johanna holds a BA and an MA in English Literature, from the University of Westminster and is currently working on a PhD there. Before beginning her studies she managed an Army Surplus shop in Camden Market. Johanna’s interests include queer history, material culture, and issues of gender and sexuality in late Victorian and early modernist literature. Her research is focussed on the dramatic works Michael Field, and is concerned with re-locating the individual plays within the socio-historical context which surrounded their production, a study of how the women responded to key issues and concerns of the time in their dramas.

Michelle Lee, Daytona State College

Pseudonym (filmpoem)

My research into the poetics of Michael Field often focuses on their polyvocality: how Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper transformed the idea of the solitary lyric poet.   This spills into my creative work: I publish in poetry – and often my colleagues question the confessional nature of my work, reminding me of how Bradley and Cooper would be questioned about who wrote what lines.

Recently, I wrote a poem called “Pseudonym,” inspired by Field, and asked two colleagues (one in music production, one in photography) to help me go beyond words on a page.  Much like Christine Edwards-Groves in her research on creative technologies, the three of us attempted to “harness the creativity inherent in contemporary sociality and text construction” (102).  In creating the filmpoem version of “Pseudonym,” the tenor and tone of our three creative “voices” took on new meaning in light of Bradley, Cooper, and Michael Field.  In echo of Field’s journals, letters, plays, and poems, our filmpoem, “Pseudonym,” shows poetry as a social space: a space where ideas, visuals, words, and sounds collide, combine, and overlap to change meaning and tone.  “Pseudonym” also comments on the inherent fluidity in love, sex, identity, and writing.

I invite you to attend this participatory closing session, where we not only will discuss my work in the context of Field, but also will imagine, for a moment, that we are poets coming to a page “half-writ” and, with our colleagues, “must cross and interlace like a company of dancing summer flies.”


Dr. Michelle Lee received her MA in creative writing and PhD in English Literature from the University of Texas at Austin.  She has written short plays and creative non-fiction on Michael Field and has presented at numerous conferences on Field’s closet drama. Dr. Lee’s poetry and fiction has been included in a variety of academic and literary publications, and recently, Red Bridge Press nominated one of her long poems for the next-round Pushcart Prize.  She is one of the poetry editors for Rivet Journal and currently teaches composition and creative writing at Daytona State College in Florida.

Kristin Mahoney, Western Washington University

Eric Gill and Cosmopolitan Queer Catholicism

In 1913, Michael Field wrote to the sculptor Eric Gill, “artist to artist,” to thank Gill for a small statuette, “Madonna and Child” (1912-13), that they had requested after seeing a plaster cast from the same plasticine original in the home of their friend William Rothenstein. The statuette seemed to them “more of the East than of the Church,” with a “Chinese forthrightness in dealing with a religious subject, a squareness of imagination that takes one Eastward, where belief is too calm to own to any vagueness of emotional appeal.” While Fiona MacCarthy’s recent biography (1989) of Gill has solidified a vision of the sculptor as a provincial paterfamilias, in this paper, I use the circulation of this image to place Gill and his work within a cosmopolitan and queer Catholic network.  Copies of the original bronze sculpture were given to the Indian art historian Ananda Coomaraswamy and to Robert Ross, who in turn presented the work to the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Plaster copies were presented to Michael Field and the Meynells, and a very similar sculpture from the same period, “Madonna and Child, Suckling” (1913), was given to André Raffalovich and John Gray. The manner in which this image circulated demonstrates Gill’s connection to a sexually dissident strain of Catholicism as well as a transnational aesthetic vision, a vision that Michael Field claimed registered so clearly in the image itself. While Gill is often thought of as a hyper-masculine figure with a circumscribed and highly localized vision, during the early teens, he affiliated himself with a group of authors and artists whose nonnormative sexual identities were deeply intertwined with their Catholic religious identity, and he exhibited a tremendous thirst for information about global artistic practices, writing frequently to Coomaraswamy and reading extensively about the history of Indian art. Drawing on material from the Eric Gill collection at the William Andrews Clark Library, including Gill’s diaries, correspondence, and unpublished material detailing his sexual experiences, I will investigate the manner in which these connections and influences inflected his own aesthetic practices as well as his radical and highly unconventional ideas about eroticism, faith, and kinship.


Kristin Mahoney is an associate professor in the Department of English at Western Washington University. Her current book project, “Old Guard/Avant-Garde: The Politics of Post-Victorian Decadence,” focuses on the persistence of Decadent aesthetics during the modernist period. She has published essays in Victorian Studies, Criticism, English Literature in Transition, Literature Compass, College Teaching, and Victorian Periodicals Review. She published a scholarly edition of Baron Corvo’s Hubert’s Arthur with Valancourt Books in 2009.

Catherine Maxwell, Queen Mary, University of London

Michael Field’s Fragrant Imagination

Katharine Bradley writes to Edith Cooper (20 September 1882):  ‘And so my sweet Sea Lavender, Farewell. Thou are not a savour to me like the saints, but a fragrance. Some are born so. I think of you more as scent than colour.’ Both poets seem to have been remarkably sensitive to fragrance, and perfume was a constant pleasurable presence in their lives often exchanged between them as a gift in the form of scented flowers. This passion for perfume is also found throughout their poetry where – as an expression of romantic love – it informs the early lyrics of Underneath the Bough (1893) through to some of the most accomplished poems of Wild Honey (1908). While Cooper has been noted for her immense love of flowers and writes beautifully about them in the poets’ shared diary, the preponderance of ‘scented verse’ can be ascribed to Bradley. However, not all this verse deals with romantic love, as perfume can also be a figure for the highly refined imagination of Michael Field. This paper draws extensively on unpublished material in diary entries from Michael Field’s Works and Days (British Library). After providing a brief overview of the poets’ love of fragrance and its significance of to them, it concentrates on one key poem of 1894 by Katharine Bradley, supplies an enriched context for it, and offers a new interpretation that reads its perfumed references as essential to the poetic identity of Michael Field.


Catherine Maxwell is Professor of Victorian Literature at Queen Mary, University of London. Her publications include the monographs The Female Sublime from Milton to Swinburne: Bearing Blindness (Manchester UP, 2001), Swinburne (Northcote House, 2006), Second Sight: The Visionary Imagination in Late Victorian Literature (MUP, 2008), and co-edited collections on Vernon Lee (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) and Swinburne (MUP, 2013). She has published essays on Shelley, Browning, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, George Eliot, Ruskin, Swinburne, Thomas Hardy, Theodore Watts-Dunton, Arthur Symons, John Addington Symonds, and Vernon Lee. She has been awarded a two-year Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship from September 2014 for a monograph on perfume in Victorian literary culture contracted to Oxford University Press.

Alan McNee, Independent Scholar

The Poets and the ‘Divine Stranger’: the correspondence of Michael Field and Edward Whymper

This paper will examine the friendship between Michael Field and the mountaineer and explorer Edward Whymper. When Edith Cooper’s father, James Robert Cooper, disappeared near Zermatt in July 1897, Whymper contacted Edith to offer his assistance. He put at her disposal his intimate knowledge of the area and his contacts among local guides and hoteliers, wrote to the Times to urge a more determined search in the face of local indifference, and later travelled to Zermatt himself to interview the witnesses who had last seen James Cooper alive. Although Cooper’s body was eventually discovered without Whymper’s help, Edith Cooper remained grateful, describing Whymper as a ‘divine stranger’ who had turned up just when needed, and correspondence continued between them for a number of years. Whymper visited the Field household at Reigate, and Michael Field’s diaries record their impressions of the ‘hero of the Matterhorn’ in a domestic setting.

The rather unlikely relationship between the aesthetic poets and the taciturn, socially awkward Whymper continued into the early twentieth century. In 1903 Whymper wrote to Cooper about the loss of his own father, noting how recently he had visited James Cooper’s grave in Zermatt. Michael Field’s beloved dog Whym Chow, acquired the year after James Cooper’s death, was named in honour of Whymper, and the series of elegaic poems published in Wild Honey from Various Thyme suggest the degree to which mourning for Cooper’s father and for Whym Chow were connected to each other, as well to Michael Field’s preoccupation with remembrance of the dead and with elegy. For his part, the emotionally constrained and rigid Whymper seemed to find a degree of liberation in his relationship with Field, allowing him to express grief at his own father’s death by linking it directly to Cooper’s bereavement.


Alan McNee completed his PhD, on the development of British mountaineering in the period 1870 to 1900, at Birkbeck in September 2013.  He is now writing a biography of Albert Smith, the Victorian journalist, showman, and traveller.

Elizabeth Meadows, Vanderbilt University

Elegy into Ekphrasis in Michael Field’s Sight and Song

1889 was a momentous year for Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper, the two halves of the poetic persona Michael Field.  Lissie Cooper, Edith’s mother and Katharine’s sister, died in August, and at some point before the end of the year Cooper and Bradley decided to turn their shared journal into a joint, lifelong project.  Field’s life-writing—the thirty-plus volumes of Works and Days—begins as an aesthetic transformation of the moment of Lissie Cooper’s death that functions as a revision of elegiac tropes and an assumption of poetic authority.  Through multiple accounts of her mother’s death, Cooper discovers a power to speak beyond the bounds of ordinary language, deploying an aesthetic performativity that makes her “stronger than death” through the representation of death as the transformation from life into art.

Immediately after this watershed year, Field embarked on the project that became Sight and Song, their 1892 volume of ekphrastic poems on Old Master paintings.  During 1890, Bradley and Cooper travelled the Continent visiting museums and exhaustively describing the art they viewed in their journal for that year.  Reading the 1890 volume of Works and Days as the matrix for Sight and Song reveals that this ekphrastic project was from the beginning bound up with death, corpses, and aesthetic and erotic desire.  Transforming elegy into ekphrasis in their poems, Field’s ekphrastic poems become a hinge between Victorian and Modernist apprehensions of temporality.  As they collapse history and futurity in the multiple figures of Venus that appear within Sight and Song and convert the spectacular appeal of the displayed corpse into ekphrastic incarnations of Old Master paintings, Field challenges the endstopped temporality Victorians celebrated and feared in their notorious fascination with death, morbidity, and the memorialization of loss.


Elizabeth Meadows is a senior lecturer in English and the Assistant Director of Vanderbilt University’s Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy.  She was previously a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College, through an Andrew W. Mellon New Faculty Fellowship awarded by the American Council of Learned Societies. Her book project examines how Victorian authors use marriage to problematize the social and material power of literary form.  Her chapter, “‘You’ve Got Mail’: Technologies of Communication in Victorian Literature,” co-authored with Jay Clayton, is forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture.

Alex Murray, University of Exeter

Decadence on Sea: ‘Michael Field’ in Cornwall

In ‘The Critic as Artist’ Wilde would declare that Wordsworth ‘was never a lake poet.  He found in stones the sermons he had already hidden there.’ This statement is apposite for any Decadent landscape writing, reminding us that for all the travelling undertaken by writers of the fin de siècle they never left their aesthetic and literary visions at home; Decadents were never ‘on holiday’. This paper will explore the ways in which writers of the period translated the landscapes of Cornwall into their own aesthetic. The first part of the paper will introduce some contexts for reading Cornwall at the fin de siècle, before providing a brief survey of Decadent writing set in the county, including Lionel Johnson and Arthur Symons. The second part of the paper will focus on the two weeks in May 1896 that ‘Michael Field’ spent visiting their friend Alice Trusted in St Mawgan in North Cornwall. After a difficult winter following Cooper’s break with Berenson their spring sojourn filled them with vigour. During their time here they planned Noontide Branches: A Small Sylvan Drama Interspersed With Songs And Invocations (1899) in which they were able to draw on their recent reading of Nietzsche as they combined the Miltonic pastoral of Comus with the Dionysian. Works and Days for the period records the intensity of their paganism as the landscape is transformed into a Sylvan idyll. Yet at the same time St Mawgan is a deeply Roman Catholic environment, with the Carmelite Lanherne Convent and the seat of the recusant Arundel family exerting an influence over the pair who begin reading Newman’s Meditations and Devotions. Their attempts to read the landscapes of St Mawgan, and to translate them into their own aesthetic practice make ‘Michael Field’ exemplars of Decadent landscape writing.


Alex Murray is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Exeter. He publishes on Victorian literature, Modernism, contemporary literature and critical theory. He recently edited, with Jason David Hall, Decadent Poetics: Literature and Form at the British Fin de Siècle (Palgrave, 2013) and has essays recently published, or forthcoming, in English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, Modernism/modernity and The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture. He is currently completing a manuscript entitled Landscapes of Decadence: Literature and Place, 1880-1920.

Tracy Olverson, University of Western Sydney

Michael Field’s Dramatically Queer Family Dynamics

This paper will explore the extraordinarily conflicted, violent and complex familial relationships in the work of the late nineteenth-century writer “Michael Field”; Katharine Bradley (1848-1914) and Edith Cooper (1862-1913). In recent years much has been made of Michael Field’s queer relationship, the devoted aunt and niece, who re-created notions of family, intimacy, sexuality and individuality in their lives and in their work together.  But this uncommon partnership was beset with difficulties and anxieties from its very beginnings. Sharon Bickle suggests that Edith’s mother Emma is ‘key to the development of Michael Field,’ as ‘Emma’s unexplained distrust of the relationship, and the omnipresent family tensions, produce a conspiratorial attitude.’[2] It is hardly surprising, therefore, that when Bradley and Cooper “took hands and swore, / Against the world to be/ Poets and Lovers evermore,” that their defiance was, in part, a response to their own family.[3]

Whilst this biographical approach remains important in understanding the depth and complexity of their creative collaboration, what has been overlooked is the extent to which Michael Field re-present family dynamics in their work. From the estranged father-son relationship of The Father’s Tragedy (1885), to the confused loyalties and fratricidal betrayals of Atilla, My Atilla (1896), Julia Domna (1903) and Borgia (1905), Michael Field repeatedly represent familial relationships as fraught with tension, incest, sacrifice, betrayal, violence and retribution. In focussing on under-studied dramatic productions, this paper will thereby reveal how the queer relations of Michael Field challenged contemporary understandings of the heavily sentimentalized, normative nineteenth century (heterosexual) family unit.

[2]Sharon Bickle, “Rethinking Michael Field: The Case for the Bodleian Letters,’ in Michael Field and Their World, eds., Margaret D. Stetz & Cheryl A. Wilson (High Wycombe: The Rivendale Press, 2007), pp.39-47 (43-44).

[3] ‘Prologue,’ Underneath the Bough: A Book of Verses (1893), 79.


Dr Tracy Olverson is a Lecturer in Literary Studies in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at the University of Western Sydney.  She is a nineteenth-century literary critic, with specific interest in women’s writing of the mid- to late-Victorian period. Her primary area of research is women’s appropriation of classical literature and culture and the intersections between politics, power dynamics and culture. She has published on a variety of Victorian women writers, including Michael Field, Amy Levy and Emily Pfeiffer, all of whom feature in her monograph, Women Writers and the Dark Side of Late-Victorian Hellenism (Palgrave, 2010).

Donna S. Parsons, University of Iowa

‘In Virtual Delirium’: The Nietzschean Michael Field and Der Ring des Nibelungen

Music figured prominently in Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper’s lives.  They constantly listened to a variety of genres as they heard friends perform lieder and solo piano works, attended Dolmetsch’s concerts of early music, and while in England and Europe took every opportunity possible to attend the opera.  As Michael Field they received constant inspiration for the construction of their verses and dramas.  However, no music spoke to them in the way that Richard Wagner’s did.  In Works and Days we find many accounts of the performances they heard, their interpretation of Wagner’s librettos, and what they learned about the construction of drama and emotion.  What is most intriguing is that even the possibility of hearing a Wagnerian opera caused a heightened intensity of emotion in both women.  While traveling through Germany in 1891 they considered going to Bayreuth to hear Parsifal.  Just the anticipation of attending this performance made them physically ill, and they were forced to cancel their order for tickets.  Yet, Bradley and Cooper never wavered in their devotion to studying Wagner’s librettos or attending performances of his operas. Like their fellow English Wagnerites they read Nietzsche’s The Twilight of the Idols and The Birth of Tragedy, travelled to Bayreuth in 1896 to hear Der Ring des Nibelungen, and wrote detailed accounts of what they read and saw in their diary.  While much scholarship has investigated the significance of the visual arts in their lives, little attention has been paid to the manner in which an operatic soundscape influenced their writing.  This paper examines Michael Field’s visceral reactions toRichard Wagner’s operas and contextualizes them in a fin-de-siècle culture obsessed with all things Wagner.  The second half of my discussion analyzes the ways in which their reading of Nietzsche informed their analysis of Der Ring des Nibelungen.


Donna Parsons is a lecturer in Honors and Music at the University of Iowa where she teaches courses on British literature and popular music. Her nineteenth-century research focuses on the musical resonances heard in Michael Field’s writing and more specifically on the ways in which an operatic soundscape influenced the construction of Field’s diaries and dramas. She has appeared as a featured guest on Iowa Public Radio and has published articles on British popular culture in theNorth American British Music Studies Association Newsletter and theDes Moines Register. She has an article on Jane Austen forthcoming in Romantic Circles.

LeeAnne M. Richardson, Georgia State University

The Aesthetics of Decapitation: Salome, John the Baptist, and Michael Field’s Artistic Philosophy

In a recently completed essay (just sent for review to Victorian Poetry), I argue that Field’s “A Dance of Death” (Poems of Adoration, 1912) expresses a paradoxical literary aesthetic grounded in an amalgamation of decadent and biblical imagery. This poem retells the Salome story, based on legendary accounts of her death by decapitation: while ice-skating, Salome falls through and severs her head on a sharp sheet of jagged ice. In Field’s rendering, Salome becomes a figure like John the Baptist: a martyr, a prophet, a representation of devotion to a vision. Through a close reading of the poem’s imagery, I demonstrate that, although Field insistently declared that they were not “decadents,” they make the classic decadent figure of Salome an avatar for their own artistic work. They equate Salome’s decapitation with John’s—but elevate Salome above John because she is a martyr for artistic expression.

Field’s rendering of this Biblical tale—featuring Salome’s severed head dancing on the ice—might be described as quintessentially fin de siècle. But this poem enacts a further paradox: it is not chronologically “fin de siècle” and thereby troubles the “facts” about Field’s post-conversion poetry. Critics who study Field’s post-conversion poetry often work to demonstrate how Field reconciles religion with their lesbian sexuality and/or their earlier embrace of pagan symbols and images. In short, the critics who address the devotional poetry look for the theology implicit in the poems. My essay performs a different task, looking for the poetic implicit in the biblical representation.

The first portion of my conference paper will recap the claims of my long essay in order to ground the exploration enacted in the second portion, which will expand on my claims about the complex sacrificial aesthetic of Field’s late poetry. The poem following “A Dance of Death” in Poems of Adoration is titled “Obedience” and again figures forth John the Baptist, whose appearance throughout Poems of Adoration further complicates the implied aesthetic of “A Dance of Death.” This paper concludes by incorporating the “apian aesthetic” of Wild Honey from Various Thyme that Marion Thain identifies with my own claims about the figure of John the Baptist in Poems of Adoration.


LeeAnne M. Richardson is Associate Professor of English at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, where she teaches courses in British literature and culture, primarily 1880-1920. Her interest in late-Victorian women poets stems from her earlier work on New Woman novelists. Currently, in addition to writing on Michael Field’s later volumes of poetry, she is working on an essay about Olive Schreiner and the Universal Races Congress of 1911.

BJ Robinson and Anita Turlington, University of North Georgia

Michael Field and New Woman Aesthetics

Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper, writing as Michael Field, are often discussed in the context of New Woman writers and poets. Their aestheticism, that is, their construction of gender, sexuality, and identity (as the Artist), though, seems to counter the activism of the foremost New Woman novelists.

Sarah Grand, Mona Caird, and Olive Schreiner, for example, established an aesthetic that deliberately destabilizes the boundary between political discourse and literary fiction as they employ narrative to engage in the contemporary public debate on the definition of the New Woman and her goals. In her introduction to The New Woman: Women’s Voices 1880 – 1918 (1994), Juliet Gardiner notes that the New Woman novels “testified to the power of fiction as an alternative means of exploration and a manifesto for change.”

Considering the aims of these fiction writers alongside the apparently male dominated aestheticism of Michael Field, particularly their non-fiction journals such as “Works and Days,” suggests how the activist aesthetic of New Woman novelists militates against their literary reception. This activist aesthetic, challenging the traditional critical stance that labels didactic fiction as inferior, more than other considerations of literary value, has kept the New Woman novelists outside of the 19th century literary canon.


Bonnie J. (B. J.) Robinson is Director of the University Press of North Georgia and a professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She has published a book of poetry, He/She/Eye (Snake Nation Press 2008); guest-edited a special issue on Women Writers 1890-1918 for Victorian Poetry (Spring 2000); and published several articles on late-Victorian literature and on creative writing pedagogy. She has served on the editorial boards of the journals Turn-of-the-Century Women, The Walter Pater Newsletter, and Oscholars.com; she is currently on the editorial board for The William Morris Newsletter.

Anita Turlington is Associate Professor of English and Associate Department Chair at the University of North Georgia. She holds an M.A. in English from the University of Tennessee and is writing her dissertation on the New Woman writers under the direction of Dr. Leeanne M. Richardson at Georgia State University.

Nicholas Sharland, University of Sheffield

‘Cesar’s Triumph’: Culture and Inheritance in Michael Field’s Borgia

This paper will examine Michael Field’s 1905 verse-drama Borgia both in the context of the ideas and narratives circulating the family of Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI) during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in the context of Michael Field’s exploration of their aesthetic and religious conflicts through historical paradigm in their closet dramas.

The public perception of the Borgias during the fin de siècle was dominated by stories of corruption and debauchery, popularised by the Borgias’ contemporary political enemies, and perpetuated in the nineteenth century by cultural works such as Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, which was a staple of the operatic repertoire in the 1890s. Also during the 1890s, Pope Leo XII, eager to re-assert the importance of the Catholic Church in Roman history following the attempts of the Risorgimento to identify the new Italian state with classical Rome, ordered the Borgia apartments to be restored and opened to the public. Tourists to Rome would act as mediators of this debate on the city’s cultural legacy.

This conflict between pagan and Catholic traditions would have held particular resonance for Michael Field in the first years of the twentieth century. Many of their earlier historical dramas are concerned with religious conflict, and in Borgia they focus on the religious dilemma of Cesare Borgia, who desires to be released from his duties as a Cardinal to follow military success like his namesake, Julius Caesar. In Borgia, Michael Field offer a strikingly contemporary assessment of the Borgia legacy that eschews popular sensationalism to draw a compelling analogy between Cesare Borgia’s religious conflict, the struggle between the secular and Catholic powers in Italy for the right to define Italian history, as well as Michael Field’s own sense of division as the pagan phase of their joint life drew to an end.


Nicholas Sharland is a postgraduate student at the University of Sheffield, currently completing his MA thesis on fin-de-siècle closet drama and national identity. He graduated from the University of Exeter in 2013.

Kate Thomas, Bryn Mawr College

“Vegetable Love”

Michael Field used the same woodblock decoration on the title pages of three of their books: Brutus Ultor (1886), Canute the Great/The Cup of Water (1887) and Sight and Song (1892) all carry the image of a bramble in fruit and flower. Having “made the bramble-bough the emblem of our united life” the women even had the design carved into their furniture.  Katherine describes the carvings, and her account emphasizes their erotics: “berry & blossom are seen either poutingly apart, or bending toward and beckoning to each other; at the last close, — flower & fruit in perfect unison.”

The botanical was so expressive for these poets who named themselves Field, that it became, as Chris White notes, a “meta-discourse” (“Flesh and Roses, 48).  They made an “emblem” or “sign” of the bramble-bough because of its sensuous temporalizations: as they describe it, “On the same bramble-bough the pale-cheek’d Bloom/ Fondling by purple berry loves to lie.”  This vegetal moment, in which blossom and fruit are coincident with each other, shows full-blown fruitfulness touching immanence, disrupting associations of fecundity with temporal linearity. The bramble-bough is an ebullient deconstruction of what Elizabeth Freeman has called “chrononormativity” (xxii).  It is also an image of persistence: if Marvell’s “vegetable love” grew more vast than empires, Field’s “fruit & flower in living unity” holds the promise of a re-generative immortality.  Another fin de siecle gay writer saw similar promise in plants: Edward Carpenter imagined a future in which brambles and grasses and herbs seize and destroy London.  And in Patience, W.S. Gilbert satirized the “vegetable love” of “The Aesthete” who harbours “An attachment a la Plato for a bashful young potato,/or a not-too-French French bean.” Using theorizations of temporality and aestheticism, this paper will argue that Michael Field’s sustained tropes of seasonality and fruit, leaf and flower form a most metaphysical expression of the possibilities of imagining queer love as vegetal.


Kate Thomas is Associate Professor and Chair of English at Bryn Mawr College.  The author of Postal Pleasures: Sex, Scandal and Victorian Letters (OUP, 2012), she publishes on Victorian literature, queer studies and – most recently – food studies.

Kelsey Williams, Northern Illinois University

“Copied without loss”: Michael Field and W. B. Yeats in Relation

Michael Field have consistently been overlooked as influences on their own principal literary inheritor, William Butler Yeats, who was a great admirer of their poetry in his youth and continued to show serious critical engagement with their work throughout his career. My paper discusses the changeable connection between Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper and Yeats, a relationship fraught with professional admiration and private biases on either side. I also identify Yeats’s allusions to Field’s work in order to reveal a significant case of poetic influence.

Specifically, my paper examines the similarities in form and theme between Field’s Deirdre: A Sorrow of Story-Telling (1903) and Yeats’s Deirdre (1907); I also discuss the poetic echoes of Field’s lyric “A Pen-Drawing of Leda by Sodoma” (1892) to be found in Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” (1924). The two versions of the Deirdre myth are both framed by questions of narrative and each complicates the issue with the inclusion of female storyteller figures who attempt to rewrite the master narratives in which they are situated. Moreover, I claim that the parallels between Field’s and Yeats’s respective versions of the Leda myth are even more overt. In a draft version of Yeats’s “Leda,” five of the end rhymes correspond to those in “A Pen-Drawing of Leda”: two of the words used by Field are identically rhymed with those in Field’s poem, two are exact rhymes, and one is an approximate rhyme.

While tracing these moments of influence, I seek to explain why Field have been passed over as the literary predecessors of an author whose influences have been studied exhaustively. I also argue that conventional notions of authorship, which are mired in masculinist conceptions of the author as solitary individual, are insufficient when analyzing the work and poetic legacy of collaborative women writers such as Bradley and Cooper.


Kelsey Williams is currently a Ph.D. student at Northern Illinois University, where she also received her master’s degree following the completion of her undergraduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include the life and works of Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper as well as the rhetoric of vision and audition in nineteenth and early twentieth literature.



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