The Michaelian
the michaelian

issue two: december 2010


Reviewing the last twelve months in Michael Field studies, it is impossible not to linger on two events that demonstrate the Fields’ increasing visibility beyond academia and the building interest in Field as an area for study amongst emerging scholars. I am referring, in the first instance, to that exciting moment for Michael Field enthusiasts when the UK’s Guardian newspaper featured “La Gioconda” as the Poem of the Week in January, 2010 ( Carol Rumens declared the poem a “mixed success” but nevertheless suggested it “whet the appetite” for more. The blog generated a considerable amount of attention, attracting 326 comments. Predictably perhaps, both the blogger and commenting readers spent almost equal amounts of time on biographical information and particularly the titillating familial-lesbian relationship as they did the poem itself. While not wishing to overstate the significance of this tiny piece of media exposure—I don’t think those blank looks familiar to those of us who write regularly on the Fields are going to be magically replaced with knowing comprehension—but it is encouraging to see that knowledge of Michael Field has permeated beyond the walls of the universities and is beginning to have some small presence in the popular imagination.

The other significant event in Michael Field studies over the last year was the Women Writers of Fin de Siècle Conference at the University of London in June 2010. Those of us used to seeing the odd paper devoted to Michael Field in conference programmes were agreeably surprised to discover an entire panel devoted to Field, and more. And these were not only established names in Michael Field scholarship: Marion Thain, Ana Parejo Vadillo and Elizabeth Primamore but work by emerging scholars. Sarah Parker, chair of the Michael Field panel, has contributed a review of the conference to our Michaeliana section; and we hope to feature articles by Parker and other conference delegates in the next issue of The Michaelian. Not since Margaret Stetz and Mark Samuels Lasner’s landmark Michael Field and their World conference at the University of Delaware in 2004 have we seen such a concentration of papers showcasing the vitality of scholarship being done in this area.

On a related note, Michaelian editor Michelle Lee published her meditation on a personal journey, taken with Bradley, Cooper and Field, from Graduate student to fledgling Professor. “Performing Michael Field: The Infatuation and Revelation of Auto/Biography”(Text and Performance Quarterly 30.2) reflects on autobiography and biography—of both Lee and the Fields—and imagines an engagement that culminates in performance. In this case, it is the actual performance of Lee’s work at the David Cohen New Works Festival at the University of Texas in 2005. Lee’s article deals with the often unacknowledged aspects of academic work, the transference between researcher and subject, and highlights important questions that the Fields often raise about the construction of identities and of gender, sexuality and authorship.

In this issue of The Michaelian are three exciting new essays by Jennifer Krisuk, Elisa Segnini, and Sharon Bickle. Two of these engage with Michael Field’s much neglected verse dramas, and one more broadly with a short story by one of the Field’s literary circle, Richard LeGallienne. Elisa Segnini’s article, “Richard le Gallienne’s ‘The Worshipper of the Image’: How the Death Mask became a Fetish” explores a cultural curiosity in the l’Inconnue de la Seine, a death mask widely believed to be a beautiful, drowned, unknown woman. Segnini argues that through his short story “The Worshipper of the Image,” Le Gallienne explores the late-Victorian fascination with masks, with the uncanny, and the blurring of the boundaries between the human and its representation; as well as an increasing culture of commodity in which even a death mask can become a commercial and fetishized object.

The other articles both point to the importance of reclaiming Michael Field’s verse dramas as part of their body of work. Jennifer Krisuk argues for Borgia as an intricately crafted piece of historical drama that, according to Mary Sturgeon, creates “an extraordinary combination of subtlety with passion … that addresses all the nineteenth-century influences Thain indicates as residing within the poetry.” Krisuk focuses on the relationship between Cesare and Lucretia in the play, and the parallels with Bradley and Cooper’s own partnership. Krisuk interprets Cesare and Lucrezia as struggling to construct their own identities independent of their socially prescribed ones; identities that are also interconnected. That both Cesare and Lucrezia fail in this attempt, Krisuk argues, echoes the ultimate failure of Field to exceed the female, collaborative nature of his parts. Taking a complementary approach, Sharon Bickle turns to the first and slightly better known drama, Callirrhoë, in order to re-examine Michael Field’s Maenadism as a structuring principle of the drama. She asserts that when the play is read with attention to the anarchic elements—the goddess Anaitis, the faun and the doctor Machaon—it is possible to understand the dangerous promise of disorder that the play represented to 1880s literary culture, and why London went wild for it.

This issue also offers some excellent reviews of new books of interest to Michael Field scholars: Rivendale Press’s Masking the Text: Essays on Literature and Mediation in the 1890s by Nicholas Frankel, reviewed by Lewis H. Whitaker; and Tiresian Poetics: Modernism, Sexuality, Voice, 1888–2001, written by Ed Madden and reviewed by John McRae.

Michelle Lee and Sharon Bickle