The Michaelian
the michaelian

issue one: june 2009

The Trial of Katharine Harris Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper: Poets versus Lovers

Rachel Morley

Dramatis Personae

Miss Katharine Harris Bradley: Poet, one half of Michael Field, accused
Miss Edith Emma Cooper: Poet, other half of Michael Field, accused
Mr. Robert Browning: Poet, mentor, responsible (in part) for exposing the Field identity
Mr. Thomas Sturge Moore: Poet, friend, critic, literary executor
Mr. Charles Ricketts: Artist, friend, possible subject of infatuation for Katharine
Mr. Alfred Gerente: Artist, possible fiancé of Katharine
Mr. Bern(h)ard Berenson: Artist, critic, friend, possible lover of Edith
Mr. Oscar Wilde: Writer, critic, occasional social associate, eventually disregarded
Fr. Vincent McNabb: Priest, confidante
Miss Mary Sturgeon: Unofficial, published biographer
Dr. Jeanette Foster: Critic, psychobiographer
Mrs. Ursula Bridge: Official, unpublished biographer
Ms. Lillian Faderman: Critic, psychobiographer
Unknown biographer: Unofficial, unpublished bio/autographer
Chorus: A mix of critics, scholars and friends


(Chorus enters, clutching folders emblazoned with various logos. They are wearing nametags bearing titles like Dr., Prof., Fellow. Some huddle together to the left of the stage while others randomly wander across the stage. After some shuffling, they all turn to the audience and speak.)


Here’s a story, some know it’s true
About a love that grew and grew
It bore desire that knew no end
Forging forth as ‘special friends’

Two bright women from England’s north
Joined by blood travelled forth
They went down south to seek their fame
To claim themselves a poet’s name

In great delight they created verse
From their wombs the words did burst
They said it came from the gods above
Who quickened passions roused by love

But from the dark the dissenters came
To wash away our lovers’ reign
Then and now, they denied the desire
That lit their bellies and took them higher

Were they poets, could they sing
Songs worth our heralding?
Were they lovers, was it so
In that bed so long ago?

We can tell you, we know the facts
We’ve learnt the lines, we know the acts
Yet here’s a word from those who knew
But will they tell you, will they be true?

(The CHORUS shuffles off to the side of the stage. THOMAS STURGE MOORE enters wearing a long white robe, followed by MRS URSULA BRIDGE who trails behind clutching a dusty manuscript. MR STURGE MOORE is muttering. He is distracted. MRS BRIDGE looks excited.)

MR STURGE MOORE: I can’t believe I came back for this. It’s awful. A dreadful business. I have already made myself clear on these matters.

MRS BRIDGE: Terrible.

MR STURGE MOORE: Do you know what they’re saying? What they’re talking about? Mrs Bridge, the poetry! It’s that which suffers. It’s lost, it’s gone, and what have we in its place? Bedrooms and politics!

MRS BRIDGE: Indeed, quite frightful! But as I suggested in my biography it’s hardly surprising. Tommy, I knew this day would come. Had my manuscript been published, everything would have been different. The facts would have been straight. (She rifles through her papers.) I quote, “It may be stated here on plain evidence from the diary that Katharine and Edith were not Lesbians.”1 It’s in the manuscript. How could they have argued with that?

(The UNKNOWN BIOGRAPHER enters. She is also wearing white robes. She looks tentative. She smiles obligingly at MR STURGE MOORE and at MRS BRIDGE who both ignore her.)

(MR STURGE MOORE to MRS BRIDGE.) BIOGRAPHER: The evidence, Mrs Bridge, is conclusive.

MRS BRIDGE: I know…..

(OSCAR WILDE enters. He is wearing a purple judge’s wig and paisley green and orange robes. He is carrying a green banana. He walks behind the podium on the stage and sits down facing the audience.) MR WILDE (banging the banana on the bench): Order, order. This court is in session. Will the accused for the case of Poets versus Lovers please rise to their knees?

(EDITH COOPER and KATHARINE BRADLEY shuffle forward. They are gagged and cannot speak. Their hands are bound and intertwined.)

MR WILDE (looking delighted to see them, doffs his wig): Ladies! What a surprise. How lovely to see you again. (To the courtroom.) Before we begin, might I take this opportunity to give explanation to the oft-quoted episode that unfolded in the salon when I seemingly snubbed our two defendants. Or are they accused? I’m afraid I scarcely know. (WILDE looks confused for a moment.)  It was quite unfortunate that I was not given the opportunity for redress. (To KATHARINE and EDITH.) I was most upset to hear of your description in Sturge Moore’s little selection. Might I explain? I was not, as you so righteously presumed, snubbing you in the salon. I did not recognise you. Indeed, I do not even recall your attendance. I do, however, recall the appearance of two wet dogs, neither of whom I patted. If it was you who were the dogs, then I must apologise. I was not slighting you, I was slighting the dogs. I have no time for dogs, the wetter the worse.

(KATHARINE and EDITH look up at MR WILDE silently.)

MR WILDE: Good. Now that we have that little misunderstanding cleared up, let me welcome you here today. And isn’t it good to be back and sitting here, rather than there! (He laughs somewhat nervously.) Now, who may I ask is defending you—or is it accusing?—from the great jaws of sin?

MR STURGE MOORE and the BIOGRAPHER (both at once): I am. (They turn to glare at each other.)

MR WILDE: Defending or accusing?



MR WILDE: Oh dear, can’t have two of you dividing the same team. Come on which side of the bed will it be? Counsellor Sturge Moore speak your case.


MR WILDE: Good, good. Respect. That’s what we like. I didn’t get enough of that at Reading.

MR STURGE MOORE: Your Honour, these ladies are the victims of scurrilous rumours that seek to undermine both their personal reputations and their poetry. As both friend and literary executor, it is my duty to defend Miss Cooper and Miss Bradley from such rumours and to re-instate their works back into their rightful place within the canon of literature.

MR WILDE (to himself): Hmmm…didn’t know it had been instated to be re. (To the court.) Counsellor Sturge Moore, be more specific.

MRS BRIDGE (calling out): The claim is that they are lesbians Your Honour. Homosexuals even.


(DR JEANETTE FOSTER enters.) DR FOSTER: Sex-variant women.

MR WILDE: Does that then make them men? If it does, I’m afraid I must depart.

BIOGRAPHER: Lovers. They were lovers. They dedicated themselves to each other and to poetry. They adored each other, cherished each other. They loved each other.

MR STURGE MOORE (firmly): Their affections are not being contested. It is the nature of those affections. The problem, Your Honour, is the poetry. The poetry is suffering. It is being turned into something it isn’t.

MR WILDE: I see. Counsellor…counsellor... (to the BIOGRAPHER) What should we call you?

BIOGRAPHER: Call me the Biographer.

MS STURGEON: That’s my title. I am the Biographer.

MRS BRIDGE: I beg your pardon. I am the Biographer. I am the official Biographer. It says so in my manuscript. It says, and I quote: “The book was written at the request of Michael Field’ copyright, and is the result of considerable research.” 2

MS STURGEON: Yes, but not at the request of Michael and Henry themselves. Besides which, you are unpublished.

MRS BRIDGE: You are unofficial

MR WILDE (takes a bite from the banana): Ladies. Order, order. For the purposes of this court today Counsellor, Biographer, we will call you just that. Biographer.  (MS STURGEON and MRS BRIDGE grunt and grumble.)

BIOGRAPHER: Your Honour, the plaintiffs deserve my representation, they need me to defend them.

(A loud thump is heard. KATHARINE is banging her head against the wooden banister near her head, signalling for attention. She is ignored.)

BIOGRAPHER (continuing): In light of the neglect they have suffered, of the trauma they have experienced, the loss of public identity, the right to love and the right to desire, they deserve to be supported and, indeed, defended by me. I have studied the facts, Your Honour. These ladies need the right to speak their names. They need honest … (MR STURGE MOORE interrupts.)

MR STURGE MOORE: Honest? Facts? Sorry Biographer, but I do not recall facts being part of your defense. I do not recall seeing you at The Paragon, or meeting you at tea. Who was there, who sat with them, watched them, who was entrusted with their manuscripts? You, or me? Who knew them? You or me? I think we can safely say that I know what they were, and more to the point, what they weren’t.

BIOGRAPHER: Yes, but you also told Mrs Bridge that Ricketts and Shannon were straight. I mean, really. Allow me to quote you in Mrs Bridge. (MRS BRIDGE looks up with a pleased expression. STURGE MOORE looks bored.)  It reads—“between Ricketts and Shannon existed the most marvellous human relationship that has ever come within my observation, and in their prime each was the other’s complement, but neither easily indulged the other; their union was more bracing than comfortable”3 Bracing! Whatever do you mean Counsellor Sturge Moore? To me it sounds like the same sort of bracing that our Honour, Your Honour, was indicted for. But no. Later Mrs. Bridge writes—”Sturge Moore did not consider that the affection between the two men was homosexual in its nature.” 4 Honestly, if the man denies that Ricketts and Shannon—who were identified as queer by their own biographer J.G. Delaney—and who were as camp as a row of tents…

(MR STURGE MOORE leaps across the room and tackles the BIOGRAPHER who fights back. They engage in a tussle. KATHARINE gestures by shaking her head vigorously, indicating that she wants to speak. No one pays her any attention. MR RICKETTS calls out “Hear, hear.”)

MR WILDE (bangs on the remains of the banana. It squelches between his hands): Order, order! We need to make a decision. Sturge Moore, heads or tails?

MR STURGE MOORE (his voice is muffled. He is in a headlock): Heads.

MR WILDE (throws up the coin): Tails it is. You should have known old chap, tails never fails. Biographer, the floor is yours.

(The BIOGRAPHER gives STURGE MOORE a thump and lets him go.)

BIOGRAPHER: Your Honour, I would like to call upon Dr Jeanette Foster, Ph.D, the first critic to openly acknowledge the “variant” relationship shared between Edith and Katharine.

(DR FOSTER takes the stand.)

BIOGRAPHER: Dr Foster, could you please tell the court in your own words, how you came to view the relationship between Edith Cooper and Katharine Bradley, the lesbian couple …

MR. STURGE MOORE: Objection Your Honour…

BIOGRAPHER: …The couple known to many as Henry and Michael following your research for Sex Variant Women?

DR FOSTER: Certainly. May I provide some background?

BIOGRAPHER: Of course.

DR.  FOSTER: In 1958 I published a study called Sex Variant Women in Literature: A Historical and Quantitative Survey. I decided to commence this work after a personal experience at college some forty years previous…

(STURGE MOORE interrupts): Is this really relevant?

WILDE: I don’t know, is it?

DR FOSTER: Yes, I am trying to provide an historical perspective which will help you to understand my thesis on the matter of Miss Cooper and Miss Bradley.

WILDE: Go on…

DR FOSTER: At my college, and this was before 1920 and Miss Radclyffe Hall, there was a meeting in which two girls were to be ejected from the dormitory unless they changed their habits. The meeting was held in secret and the case itself was spoken about in heavy whispers around the halls. It was a matter of morals and the younger girls were prevented from attending. The problem was that these two girls had the habit of locking themselves in their room together. Now back then, I didn’t understand what the problem could be. I certainly didn’t understand why they would want to hide themselves away. So, I went to the library and found out. It was here that I met Havelock Ellis, and it was here that I came to learn about sex variant women. 5

MR STURGE MOORE: Firstly, what is your point, and secondly, what do you mean by sex variant women?

DR FOSTER: Let me explain the second first. I use the term sex variant to avoid the controversy of previous terms. Variant simply refers to sexualities that deviate from the chosen standard, which is generally heterosexual, and in my usage, relates to “persons having emotional experiences with others of their own sex.”6 May I state that it does not always refer to sexual experiences. For this, I use the term lesbian or the term homosexual.

MR. STURGE MOORE: Ah ha! So you do differentiate. Love does not always have to mean sex.

WILDE: And sex does not always have to mean love.

DR FOSTER: My point, Counsellor, is this. My studies, informed by those outlined by Dr Kinsey, revealed that “not all women recognise a sexual factor in their subjective emotional relations, particularly in the intersexual field so heavily shadowed by social disapproval.”7

(A member of the CHORUS calls out “Nice girls never do,” followed by a second who yells, “Cross your legs and straight to bed.”)

DR FOSTER (frowning): “Still they often exhibit indirect responses which have all the intensity of physical passion and which quite as basically affect the pattern of their lives.”8 These are women who share passionate attachments to each other but who perhaps have not necessarily access to contemporary modes of expression.

LILLIAN FADERMAN (calls out from the public gallery): That was exactly what I meant when I used the term “romantic friends.” (To herself.) And didn’t that get me into trouble! Bloody Anne Lister.

BIOGRAPHER: Might I suggest Dr Foster, just to clarify, that a more contemporary approach would find that pre-twentieth century women did engage in sexual relationships, as can be evidenced from the diaries of Anne Lister and, indeed, Michael Field, and that it was only the phallocentric discourses such as those of Kinsey that suggested otherwise? It is a thought worth considering today. But, to continue...Edith and Katharine would not heterosexual were they?

DR FOSTER: No, certainly not. Apart from a brief interest in a French man on the part of Miss Bradley, my studies of the two ladies revealed no evidence of heterosexual desire in either.

MRS BRIDGE: Mine did!

DR FOSTER: However, poems such as “It was deep April” and the third book of songs in Underneath the Bough leave no doubt in my mind about “the intensity or the variance of their mutual emotion.”9 Certainly, if we are to look at photographs of the two women we can see that Edith’s features were decidedly boyish and her hair was rather short. They also used masculine and feminine nicknames. Indeed, “it seems as though they tried to think of themselves as a single bisexual personality.”10

BIOGRAPHER (interrupting): Of course Dr Foster, today we would not seek to categorise and define individuals so coarsely. We would recognise that there are many forms through which diversity and difference can be expressed…

STURGE MOORE: Sorry, I am confused. Are we now saying that they were bisexuals? And why is the Biographer prompting her witness?

WILDE (as an aside to MR STURGE MOORE): It’s what biographers do.

DR FOSTER: I am merely suggesting that the relationship may have modelled itself on the heterosexual frameworks of marriage, whereby two identities—each possessing the capacity for singing both masculine and feminine songs—came to arrange themselves under a single union, which one may choose to be read as a metaphor for marriage, and that is the voice represented by the pen name Michael Field.

MR STURGE MOORE: Yes, but do you think that Michael and Henry were…were intimate?

DR FOSTER: Yes, I think they were intimate.

MR STURGE MOORE: Perhaps I need to rephrase my question? You seem eager to side with those who would affirm there was a sexual relationship, yet I note that the Biographer has not asked you specifically on the exact nature of the relationship. You will remember your second last paragraph on Michael Field with reference to the religious conversion in which you state, and I quote: “There is no hint of struggle, change of habit or attitude, or anything resembling ‘repentance’ in either woman and this fact…suggests that the two had achieved some sort of limitation upon expressing their love which satisfied their stringent Victorian consciences.”11 To me Dr Foster, it sounds as though you do not think they were sexual.

BIOGRAPHER: You will note that Dr Foster made these comments based purely on your edited selections from Works and Days. This was all she had access to. More contemporary studies show that there was a struggle, particularly for Edith. Indeed, she refers to her great sin and to “fleshly love.”12

MR STURGE MOORE: In preparing and editing Works and Days I never once suggested it was the definitive portrait of Michael and Henry. Yet, it has been received as such, despite the fact that the ladies’ journals have been available for perusal for many years now. I prepared my selections—note the term, selections—as per the instructions of Miss Bradley so as to re-introduce the poetry of Michael Field into the contemporary sphere.

DR FOSTER: Yes, Mr Sturge Moore, I do note your term “selections.” May I then quote to you my final paragraph on Michael Field which, incidentally—and which also proves my point—follows on directly from the paragraph you just quoted to me: “Probably the complete manuscript of Works and Days included other psychological and philosophical discussion of such relationships, and perhaps also more details of the poets themselves, for Sturge Moore mentions having reduced the text considerably in the interests of good taste”—now I do wonder what that might mean—“and of omitting matter likely to be of little interest to later students of literature. Unfortunately, biographers and literary historians often prune material of foremost interest to students of emotional psychology.”13 Well Mr Sturge Moore, we are very interested.

MR STURGE MOORE: You still haven’t answered the question.

MR WILDE: I am tiring of this. Sturge Moore, your turn.

MR STURGE MOORE: Ladies and Gentlemen of the court, we find ourselves positioned in a tremulous period, deep in the outer reaches of time and space. Today, we come here not to fight with the past, but to grapple with the present…

MR WILDE (calling out): Brevity, Sturge Moore, brevity.

MR STURGE MOORE: I would like to call upon Mrs Bridge, Michael and Henry’s only official biographer.

(MRS BRIDGE takes her position.)

MR STURGE MOORE: Mrs Bridge, can you explain in your own words how you came to view the relationship shared between Michael and Henry during the many long decades you spent reading the documents tendered here today and then provide the reasons why you reached your conclusions.

MRS BRIDGE: Certainly. I would like to quote you chapter six of my unpublished manuscript, located in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which explains in full detail the nature of this most complex relationship. (She clears her throat.) Right, and I quote—“It has been supposed by some that Katharine and Edith knew nothing of love and by others that their affection for each was of a Lesbian nature. Neither of these suppositions is correct.”14

(This last remark elicits shouting from the BIOGRAPHER, DR FOSTER and some members of the CHORUS. They call out: “Heresy, heresy.”)

MRS BRIDGE: If I may continue—

MR WILDE: Go on.

MRS BRIDGE: “The Lesbian theory was based on the charming poems in which Katharine expresses her devotion to Edith and on the erroneous assumption that other more passionate poems belonged to the same category. Starting thus from a false foundation it was not difficult to be misled further by the poets’ use of lover and beloved not only of sexual love but of any affectionate relationship, and by the masculine nom-de-plume, by Long Ago and by the poets’ reference to themselves as Michael and Henry, and as a married couple. ‘We are closer wed’, they said a propos of Robert and Elizabeth Browning, meaning that they did not work in secret from one another.”15

(MRS BRIDGE stops and looks up at the gallery and then across to KATHARINE and EDITH who say nothing. They look as though they might have something to add, however, they are gagged.)

MRS BRIDGE: If I may break away for a moment, I would like to say that this is a very significant point and one which, to my mind, has been thoroughly misinterpreted. They were not referring here to their own relationship as being sexual. Rather, they were referring to their poetic relationship. You may recall the Browning episode in which the old Poet told Edith and Katharine that he and Elizabeth worked separately and that they rarely discussed their work. Mr Browning said they had more important matters to discuss. This shocked Edith and Katharine who found each other through their art. Their art was their love, and their love was their art. They could not imagine not sharing both. The marriage metaphor stands for the links made through the poetry.

BIOGRAPHER: Hogwash. The marriage metaphor appears throughout. What about the poem “It was deep April”—written with direct reference to a marriage ceremony and to “poets and lovers.”16

MRS BRIDGE: You will find that poem was written after a family wedding.17 It was inspired by the wedding, not necessarily by the consummation of a sexual relationship, as has been suggested. If you will allow me to continue…(She continues reading from the manuscript.) “Their language was on occasion very ‘spousy’, as someone said of the metaphysical poets, but their marriage conceits should not be taken more literally than their feline conceits: from nursery days they wrote as one cat to another. Nor should it be forgotten that it was quite usual at that time for persons of the same sex to share a bed. The poets each had her own study and bedroom but for twenty years or so they shared a four-poster bed. Katharine and Edith were exceedingly feminine women with a natural feminine interest in men. They were devoted to each other but many of their poems are love poems to be properly interpreted only in the light of the characters of the men who inspired them. Mrs. Sprigge”—(MRS BRIDGE looks up at the gallery at BERENSON and adds) that is, Mr Berenson’s biographer—“did not know this when she wrote of the two poets who gave” —and I quote—“fairly exquisite” tea parties and—quote—“when they sang of love it was of love for each other”18—(She stops and folds up the manuscript with a self-satisfied smile on her face, then continues…)  In conclusion, as their official biographer, I would have to agree with Mr. Sturge Moore. I have studied the evidence. The relationship you refer to Ms Foster, Biographer, is a direct impossibility.

BIOGRAPHER: But, and I must ask you Mrs. Bridge, how can you be so sure? Were you there? Did you snuggle down under the bedclothes with them? Did you shake off your priestess’ robes and allow your flesh to mingle with theirs?

MR. WILDE: I would seek to ask the same Mrs. Bridge. Is there no possibility here for impossibility? Can love not speak its own name? (To himself.) Have I been effigised and martyrised for nothing?

MR STURGE MOORE and MRS. BRIDGE (both at once): Impossibility, Your Honour, is impossible.

MS STURGEON: As the first biographer, I would also have to say that it is impossible.

MR. WILDE: My point. It is impossible.

MR RICKETTS: Your Honour, if I may interrupt? Allow me to quote to you from my diary, January 24, 1900, about impossibility. I quote—”Self-control in life is a staff of safety but without passion—an impassioned self-control—life would be without genius. Genius is largely contained passion finding expression. Without genius life would be but a function or series of functions. Self-control merely saves one from danger. Passion makes the impossibility a possibility.”19

BIOGRAPHER (excitedly): I always wondered what you meant by that.

MR RICKETTS: I’m sure. Is its unravelling proving…

MS STURGEON, MR STURGE MOORE and MRS BRIDGE (all at once): NO! Enough! The possibility of impossibility is impossible.

RICKETTS (continuing): Impossible?

MR WILDE (satisfied): Exactly.

(FR VINCENT McNABB enters the courtroom) FR McNABB: They loved each other yes it’s true, however, they were lovers of Christ first. They loved each other under God’s eyes. It is God who is their witness, who bore the passion of their flame. (McNABB sits down).

MR WILDE: Mercy for the eyes of Him. Oh, for a slice of the good life eh, Berenson?

(MR BERENSON looks out curiously from the public gallery from where he has been sitting, up until this point, bored.)

MR WILDE: To look down into the laps of the gods. But it’s the holy trinity for you isn’t it dear boy? The father, the son and the holy mistress.

(MR WILDE winks at MR BERENSON who looks uncomfortable.) MR BERENSON: I am certain I don’t know what you mean.

MR WILDE: Oh, but Mr Berenson, I am certain you do. Husband’s wives, aunty’s nieces, Swedish sculptors…B.B doesn’t just stand for Bernhard—with an ‘h’ if you will—Berenson does it? It also stands for Busy Boy.

MR BERENSON: I do not…. What do you mean? You must tell me. I insist.

(MR BERENSON glares at MR WILDE, who chuckles in delight. MRS BRIDGE smiles to herself. She then speaks up more forcibly.)

MRS BRIDGE: Your Honour, Ladies and Gentlemen of the courtroom. I have evidence that Miss Bradley and her niece enjoyed several love affairs with a number of men.
(The courtroom reels with the news. There is an audible gasp.)

MR WILDE (admirably): Ladies…evidence too! Naughty girls.

MR BERENSON (getting more agitated): Wilde, what was it you meant by that?

MRS BRIDGE: What I mean to say is this. During the course of their lives, Edith and Katharine were always falling in love. (She pauses for emphasis and lowers her voice dramatically.) With men. (She spies ALFRED GERENTE lurking in the back corner.) Mr Gerente, will you speak about your love affair with Miss Bradley in that tawdry summer of ‘68?
(MR GERENTE looks around, frightened. He begins to cry.)

MRS BRIDGE (frowning): Hmm…always was unstable. What was I saying? Ah yes. As a young woman Miss Bradley had various crushes on men including her parish priest Mr. George Dawson, her cousin Mr Francis Brookes, and the Parisian artist Mr Alfred Gerente, now seen scurrying out the back door as we speak. She also had affections for Mr Ruskin—although at thirty, she was probably far too old for him—and for Mr Browning, Mr Berenson, and Mr Ricketts…

RICKETTS (incredulously): What??

MRS BRIDGE (ignoring RICKETTS): Edith, now Edith was a real sensualist, they all adored her.

RICKETTS: Yes, I far preferred her…

MRS BRIDGE: To begin with, there was that morbid little choir boy, then there was Dr John Main, Mr John Gray, Mr Arthur Symons, Mr Bernhard Berenson, the other Mr John Gray whom, might I say, is not Dorian…

MR WILDE: Ah, has that been up for contest? What strange things these critics fight about nowadays.

BIOGRAPHER: Now hang on just a minute. Nothing happened with these men.

MRS BRIDGE: Perhaps not, but they existed. The thoughts were…what is it Fr McNabb, how might we describe it?

FR McNABB: Impure?

MR STURGE MOORE (interrupting): Can’t we talk about the poetry? About the verse? The music, the lyricism. There was no love affair. There was only love. You are detracting, subtracting, extracting. You are neglecting the real voices. Let Michael and Henry speak. Let the poetry speak.

BIOGRAPHER: All right, what about the poetry? Let’s turn to the poetry then. What about “My Love and I took hands and swore / Against the world to be / Poets and lovers evermore”?20

STURGE MOORE: Borrr-ing. Don’t you know how many times that poem has been analysed? Surely you haven’t used it too?

BIOGRAPHER: Okay, what about this from the diary. “My Love took me to her breast and to young joyousness”21 … What do you say to that?

CHORUS: She’s right, she’s right, you know it’s true. They had a love that grew and grew.

MISS STURGEON: If I may take that question Mr. Sturge Moore?


MISS STURGEON: Katharine and Edith shared a maternal relationship. “It need not be supposed that there was anything abnormal in this devotion. On the contrary, it was the expression of her mother-instinct, the outflow of the natural feminine impulse to cherish and protect.”22 Katharine spoke and wrote as a mother and Edith responded accordingly.

MR WILDE: What family fun. I do wish you had invited me for Christmas.

BIOGRAPHER: I would like to ask Mr. Berenson a question. (MR BERENSON grimaces). Mr. Berenson, could you please tell the court the exact nature of your relationship with Miss Cooper. Did you and she ever consummate your relationship in the physical sense? Was there any mention of marriage? In your own words, tell the court how you felt about Miss Cooper. Did you love her? Or did she refuse you when it came to it? Is it not true that she did not want to leave her aunt? That she loved her aunt over you?

(MR BERENSON looks at EDITH who, for the first time, looks interested in the proceedings. Her expression is one of fright and then, just as quickly, changes to a forced nonchalance.)

MR BERENSON: I won’t answer your questions. That information is strictly of a private nature, as are the matters that have given rise to this circus today. In fact, what I would like to talk about is you. (The public gallery turns and stares at the BIOGRAPHER.) I think it’s rather dubious that you have elected yourself as this court’s defence, as its reporter and most likely, its juror; and I think it more dubious that it will be you who sets down on paper the events that happen here today. You pretend to think you can know them, that you can know us! What on earth led you to this preposterous notion? Some preconceived notion of hindsight, or perhaps it was curiosity? (KATHARINE and EDITH look up at MR BERENSON adoringly.)  You think you can tug at our strings and pull us out like marionettes to dance upon your stage, when and as you want us, and then stuff us back into dusty boxes to lie cramped and squashed up until some such time that a line from our mouths—and then just a line—is required again? Who told you that you could determine what is right and what isn’t? Out of all of us, you’re the furthest away from them. If time is linked to knowledge, then you know them least.

(The other characters look around at each other and then variously call out: “Yes,” “I agree,” “How ludicrous” and “Hear, hear.”)

BIOGRAPHER: Well, I…ah…I mean…Time does not divorce you from experience, from knowing. Time gives distance yes, but it also gives perspective. It is devoid of the same sorts of prejudices that may perhaps have blurred the vision of previous eyes. Look at Sturge Moore and what he says about Ricketts… Through time we now have access to proof, evidence, sources. I have letters, diaries, poetry even.

MR RICKETTS: For once, I agree with BB. Biographer, I don’t recall meeting you in our living rooms. I mean who knows if you are even writing down exactly what we say? How do we know? And, if you are not, how do we defend ourselves? As for letters, poetry and journals, did I hear you say proof? Are you always truthful in your letters, in your diary? Do you not think that perhaps these constructions are just sample sides of ourselves, experiments in ideas, not always to be taken literally? Perhaps they are hoaxes. Made to fluster and make fools of people like you?

ALL: Hear, hear

MR WILDE: It is a point Biographer. In fact if I may say, I think that in writing them, in writing us, you really want to write about yourself. Just whose life is this anyway? And, might I point out, you’re not the only one. All of you, Miss Sturgeon, Dr Foster, Mrs Bridge, Mr Sturge Moore, all of you—guilty. Guilty, guilty, guilty. (At this point, MR WILDE gets up and does a little Irish jig. He stops and returns to his seat.) Call yourselves critics, biographers, friends? We’re just cardboard cut-ups to you aren’t we? BB’s right. And rarely is it so. Marionettes and puppets. Poster girls and pin-up boys. I’ve always said it and still it remains true. Self-representation is protection against defamation. Ladies and Gentlemen, the worst thing about dying is that someone invariably wants to write about you, possibly they even want to be you. They want to buy your letters, snatch up your parcels, seize upon your diaries. Why, remember the ruckus over poor old Keats’s letters? Squabbled over at the auction mart for “each separate pulse of passion quote.”23  I even wrote about it once. (He stands up and puts his right hand over his heart to recite):

I think they love not art
Who break the crystal of a poet’s heart
That small and sickly eyes may glare and gloat.24

(MR WILDE sits back down again. He says thoughtfully:) And yet, we shall never escape the invasion of the future. (Pause.) The lesson my good fellows is to always make sure you leave behind a set of plain-speaking memoirs. And be prepared for them to be misconstrued. So leave behind another set responding to the distortion of the first. Or, if that’s too taxing, don’t do anything at all. Lie in your bed all day. Be a nobody. Then no one will care. No one will want to write about you and you can avoid all this silly business altogether. For:

All men kill the thing they love,
     By all let this by heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
     Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
     The brave man with a sword!25

ALL (except for the aforementioned, and KATHARINE and EDITH who cannot speak): Hear, hear.

(At this point, GUARDS march in and try to take away all of the players. A struggle ensues. From the sides of the stage, the chorus, now parted in two halves, begins pushing two giant bookends together toward the struggling players who do not realise their fate. Once all of the players, except KATHRINE and EDITH, are between the covers, the CHORUS pushes the book shut with a click and then groups together.)


Revise, rewrite, reclaim, renew
What do we find when we search for truth?
Is it us or is it them?
Who fills the page and dreams again?

Rachel Morley
University of Western Sydney

1 Ursula Bridge, “The diary of Michael Field: a biographical study of a forgotten poet,” [six parts; incomplete] [1966], MS. Eng. misc. d. 983, fol.10. Bodleian Library, U. of Oxford.
2 Bridge, MS. Eng. misc.d. 983, fol. 3.
3 Ursula Bridge, “The diary of Michael Field: a biographical study of a forgotten poet,” [six parts; incomplete] [1966], MS.Eng.misc.d.984, fol. 87. Bodleian Library, U. of Oxford.
4 Bridge, MS. Eng. misc. d. 984, fol. 87.
5 The Foreword to Sex Variant Women in Literature provides background on Jeanette Foster’s decision for commencing her study on what she calls “sex variation.” Foster describes how, in the 1910s, she and another girl found themselves the subjects of a ‘secret’ investigation by a female college student council for “locking themselves into their room together.” Their behaviour resulted in a brief probation which Foster said she did not, at the time, understand. Why, she asks, “were two girls so obsessed with one another as to lock themselves in their room together at every opportunity?” (Foster, Foreword) It was this curiosity that led her to seek out Havelock Ellis’s Studies in the Psychology of Sex, and to then undertake a study of diverse sexualities. The book includes a study of the Michael Fields. See Foster, Sex Variant Women, A Historical and Qualitative Survey, (London:Frederick Muller, 1958).
6 Foster, 11.
7 Foster, 12.
8 Foster, 34.
9 Foster, 143.
10 Foster, 144.
11 Foster, 145.
12 Foster, 144.
13 Foster, 145.
14 Bridge, MS. Eng. misc. d. 984, fol. 217.
15 Bridge, MS. Eng. misc. d. 984, fol. 217.
16 This stanza is from the Michael Field poem: “It was deep April” (also known as the ‘Prologue’ poem), line 1. See Field, Underneath the Bough, 79.
17 Bridge, MS. Eng. misc. d. 984, fol. 27.
18 Bridge, MS. Eng. misc. d. 983, fol. 217.
19 Charles Ricketts diary, cited in Bridge, MS. Eng. misc. d. 984, fol. 90.
20 “It was deep April,” lines 4-6; Field, Underneath the Bough, 79.
21 Michael Field, “Works and Days” [1896], Add. MS. 46785, fol. 52a, British Library.
22 Sturgeon, Michael Field, 75.
23 ‘On the sale by auction of Keats’ love letters,’ lines 6–8; Wilde, 108.
24 Wilde, 108.
25 Wilde, 55.

Works Cited

Manuscript Sources
Bridge, Ursula. “The diary of Michael Field: a biographical study of a forgotten poet,” [six parts; incomplete] [1966], MS. Eng. misc. d. 983 and d. 984. Bodleian Library, U. of Oxford.
Field, Michael. “Works and Days” [1896]. Add. MS .46785. British Library.

Published Sources
Field, Michael.  Underneath the Bough: A Book of Verses.  London: George Bell & Sons, 1893.
Foster, Jeanette.  Sex Variant Women, A Historical and Qualitative Survey.  London: Frederick Muller, 1958.
Sturgeon, Mary.  Michael Field.  [1922]; New York: Arno Press, 1975.
Wilde, Oscar.  The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Poems. First ed. London: Heron Books, London, n.d