Charlotte Mary Mew
15 November 1869
Bloomsbury, London, England
|Died||24 March 1928 (aged 58)|
London, England, United Kingdom
|The Farmer's Bride|
Early life and education
Mew was born in Bloomsbury, London, the daughter of Anna Kendall and the architect Frederick Mew, who designed Hampstead Town Hall. The marriage produced seven children. Charlotte, nicknamed Lotti by her family, attended Gower Street School, where she became infatuated with the school's headmistress, Lucy Harrison, and attended lectures at University College London. Her father died in 1898 without making adequate provision for his family; two of her siblings suffered from mental illness and were committed to institutions, and three others died in early childhood, leaving Charlotte, her mother, and her sister Anne. Charlotte and Anne made a pact never to marry for fear of passing on insanity to their children. (One author calls Charlotte "almost certainly chastely lesbian".) Through most of her adult life, Mew wore masculine attire and kept her hair short, adopting the appearance of a dandy.
In 1894, Mew succeeded in getting a short story published in The Yellow Book. Entitled Passed its inspiration derived from Mew's activities as a volunteer social worker and concerns a sex worker, who leads the narrator to a room where the sex worker's sister lies dead. The narrator is profoundly shocked by the experience, but flees in the end to her comfortable life. Yet, she is later confronted by the woman again, accompanied by a man, and this causes the narrator to break down. Five years followed without any publications, but by the beginning of the 20th century she was contributing fiction with some regularity to magazines, including Temple Bar. She apparently wrote very little poetry until the 1910s. Her first collection, The Farmer's Bride, was published in 1916 in chapbook format by the Poetry Bookshop; in the United States this collection was entitled Saturday Market and published in 1921 by Macmillan. It earned her the admiration of Sydney Cockerell and drew popular respect for her as a poet.
Her poems are varied: some of them (such as "Madeleine in Church") are passionate discussions of faith and the possibility of belief in God; others are proto-modernist in form and atmosphere ("In Nunhead Cemetery"). She made experimental use of long, prose-like lines, and varieties of enjambment and indentation, which has been praised for its originality. Many of her poems are in the form of dramatic monologues, and she often wrote from the point of view of a male persona ("The Farmer's Bride"). Two concern mental illness - "Ken" and "On the Asylum Road". Many of Mew's poems, including "Ken", "The Farmer's Bride", and "Saturday Market", are about outcast figures, expressing Mew's feelings of alienation from the community in which she lived. Her poem "The Trees Are Down" is a poignant plea for ecological sensitivity and is singled out particularly in the anthology The Green Book of Poetry by Ivo Mosley.
Mew gained the patronage of several literary figures, notably Thomas Hardy, who called her the best woman poet of her day; Virginia Woolf, who said she was "very good and interesting and quite unlike anyone else"; and Siegfried Sassoon. In 1923, she obtained a Civil List pension of £75 per year with the aid of Cockerell, Hardy, John Masefield, and Walter de la Mare. This helped ease her financial difficulties.
Decline and death
After the death of her sister from cancer in 1927, she descended into a deep depression and was admitted to a nursing home where she eventually committed suicide by drinking Lysol, a disinfectant.
In 1981 Carcanet/Virago commissioned the poet Val Warner to edit Mew's poetry and prose for publication. Warner had written about her work in 1975 but this resulted in a "rediscovery" of Mew's work.
- "Hampstead: Local Government | British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk.
- Warner, Val, ed. Collected Poems and Selected Prose of Charlotte Mews. New York: Routledge, 2003, p. ix.
- Fitzgerald, Penelope, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1988, p. 28.
- Spender, Dale, and Janet Todd, eds, British Women Writers: An Anthology from the Fourteenth Century to the Present. New York: Bedrick Books, 1989, p. 695.
- Rice, Nelljean McConeghey (2003). A New Matrix for Modernism: A Study of the Lives and Poetry of Charlotte Mew and Anna Wickham. Routledge. p. 35. ISBN 0-415-94140-7.
- Rice, p. 6.
- Mew, Charlotte M. (1894). Passed. The Yellow Book. 2. London: Elkin Mathews & John Lane. pp. 121–41.
- Foundation, Poetry (20 October 2020). "Charlotte Mew". Poetry Foundation.
- Fitzgerald, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (New York, 1988), p. 66.
- Fitzgerald, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (New York, 1988), p. 102.
- Rumens, Carol (23 December 2019). "Poem of the week: Not for That City by Charlotte Mew" – via www.theguardian.com.
- Fitzgerald, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (New York, 1988), p. 139.
- Fitzgerald, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (New York, 1988), p. 180.
- Rice, Nelljean McConeghey (2003). A New Matrix for Modernism: A Study of the Lives and Poetry of Charlotte Mew and Anna Wickham. Routledge, p. 35.
- Warner, Val. "Mary Magdalene and the Bride: The Work of Charlotte Mew". Retrieved 2 June 2009. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3rd edn: 2 (Kindle Location 32265). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition
- "PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine - Mary Magdalene and the Bride - The Work of Charlotte Mew - Val Warner - Poetry Nation 4". www.pnreview.co.uk. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
- "Val Warner obituary". the Guardian. 2 November 2020. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
- Penelope Fitzgerald (2002), Charlotte Mew and Her Friends, Flamingo.
- Charlotte Mew: Selected Poetry and Prose, edited with an introduction and notes by Julia Copus. London: Faber, 2019
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 19: British Poets, 1880–1914. London, 1983
- Charlotte Mew: Collected Poems and Prose, edited with an introduction by Val Warner. London, 1981