Michael Field: Poetry Background

Michael Field: Poetry Background

Michael Field was the composite pen name for 19th century British writers Katherine Harris Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper. Bradley was born in 1846 and Cooper, her niece, was born in 1862. After the health of Cooper's mother began to fail, Bradley adopted Cooper as her own. By the late 1870s, the two women were also linked as lovers despite being blood relatives.

Bradley had first written under the name Arran Leigh and Cooper as Isla Leigh in 1881; however, they began using the composite Michael Field in 1884. They used a male pseudonym for several reasons. Female authors of the era experienced difficulty in finding a publisher and were often critically dismissed. As well, they sought to express their unity and oneness by using the same name, and they continued to do so for the following three decades.

The two were associated with the Aesthetic movement of the 19th century. It regarded beauty as the paramount value of literature, and one to which all authors should strive. The aesthetics believed that literature should be an expression of pleasure, not a means by which to espouse morality. Cooper and Bradley befriended many members of the Aesthetic movement and were known for their expansive social circle.

Cooper and Bradley produced a prolific amount of poetry and verse drama under the Michael Field pseudonym. Their work featured strong female figures and expressed a committed feminist stance. At points, it was openly homosexual and erotic, which was taboo at the time, however their writing under the guise of a man offered more latitude. Their work was well-received and considered influential in the development of 20th century English poetry. They continued to write until Cooper died in 1912, with Bradley following just nine months later. Their poetry has been gathered into several collections. This 2009 edition, edited by Marian Thon and Ana Vadilla includes both published and unpublished material from the poet's long and successful career.

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