Author of some 30 plays and 11 books of poetry, Michael Field was a prolific if relatively minor late-Victorian literary figure. Field's first verse play, Callirrhoe and Fair Rosamund, was published to wide acclaim in 1884; what early reviewers didn't know was that ""Michael Field"" was actually two women, Katherine Bradley and her sister's daughter, Edith Cooper, who were not only literary collaborators but also lovers. Donoghue's (Kissing the Witch) brief but absorbing biography is based on the detailed journals in which Bradley and Cooper recorded their life together for nearly half a century. Describing her subjects as ""hardworking, witty, generous in love and friendship"" but also ""bitchy, snobbish and monstrously egotistical,"" Donoghue finds Bradley and Cooper ""superbly contradictory"" in the way that so many late-Victorian literary figures are. Indeed, as lesbians who wrote blatantly erotic love poetry and celebrated ""art for art's sake"" but who also clung to many of the pieties of their haute-bourgeois upbringing, they emerge here as embodiments of the complex fin de siecle literary zeitgeist. Donoghue suggests that their work deserves more attention than it has received. That's a debatable point, but given their literary friendships with such notables as Robert Browning, John Ruskin and Oscar Wilde; their struggles to maintain their literary reputation as Michael Field's true identity gradually became known; and their constant straddling of the lines between respectability and transgression, Bradley and Cooper were undeniably a remarkable pair. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 09/28/1998 Release date: 10/01/1998 Genre: Nonfiction
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