Charlotte Mew: and Her Friends

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Articles

  1. Tim Kendall
  2. Penelope Fitzgerald
  3. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends by Penelope Fitzgerald | Shiny New Books
  4. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends: With a Selection of Her Poems

Charlotte Mew. The life of turn-of-the-twentieth-century British writer Charlotte Mew was full of tragedy from beginning to end. Mew was born in London in into a family of seven children; she was the eldest daughter. While she was still a child, three of her brothers died.

Later, another brother and then a sister were committed to mental hospitals in their twenties where they would spend the rest of their lives. That left only Charlotte and her sister Anne, both of whom, because of the history of mental illness in their family, decided never to marry so they wouldn't pass the traits on to their children.

Tim Kendall

The traumatic issues Mew grappled with during her childhood—death, mental illness, loneliness, and disillusionment—became themes in her poetry and stories. Mew published her first work when she was in her mid-twenties.


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Although today she is best remembered for her poetry, she also wrote a number of short stories, including this first published work titled "Passed," which appeared in the new journal Yellow Book, in Inspired by Mew's volunteer social work, the story is narrated by a woman who, while visiting a church, happens upon an unsightly scene. A desperate prostitute leads her into a room where another woman, the prostitute's sister, lies dead.

The narrator tries to comfort the grieving woman for a while until fear causes her to flee back to the security of her own home. Trying hard to forget the awful experience, the narrator is unexpectedly confronted by it again when she sees the same woman on the street wearing a red dress and accompanied by a man. The moment causes the narrator to break down because she can no longer turn a blind eye to the social ills all around her.

In Mew's father passed away, leaving the family in financial straits and putting them in the embarrassing position of having to rent out the top floor of the family home. Mew continued to publish her short fiction sporadically in journals like the Yellow Book, Temple Bar, Englishwoman, the Egoist, and the Chapbook over the next decade or so.

Penelope Fitzgerald

However, she would gain her first real attention with the publication of a poem, "The Farmer's Bride," in the Nation in Having previously only published seven pieces of poetry in various journals, this work established her literary reputation. The narrative poem tells the story of a farmer and his young wife. The farmer is determined to win the love and affection of his hesitant bride, but instead, they become even more isolated from each other. The poem ends with none of the farmer's desires fulfilled, and he is left lonely, yearning for his wife.

With the publication of this poem, Mew began to be asked to participate in readings and introduced to influential people in the literary community of London. Once Mew was introduced into this world, she was quick to gain attention and friends, partly because of her unusual style and mannerisms which turned many heads.

She was a tiny woman with short hair who wore tailored men's suits and always carried a black umbrella.

Charlotte Mew and Her Friends by Penelope Fitzgerald | Shiny New Books

She is thought to have had lesbian tendencies though there is no evidence of any sexual relationships with other women. Her initiation into a circle of writers did, however, incite the most prolific period of poetry writing in her career. Most notable from this time are the poems "Madeleine in Church" and "The Fete," published in the Egoist in The latter centers on a sixteen-year-old boy who tells about the life-altering experience he had of spending a night with a circus performer.

These works were included in Mew's first collection of poetry titled The Farmer's Bride, published in a small edition by Harold Monro's Poetry Bookshop in Though the mere five hundred-volume printing took years to sell out, it nonetheless won Mew praise from the literary community, most notably from Siegfried Sassoon, Sara Teasdale, Ezra Pound, Thomas Hardy, and Virginia Woolf who called Mew "the greatest living poetess. This edition received considerably more attention and was praised by critics like W.

Braithwaite, who wrote in the Boston Transcript, "The very tight intellectual web of these poems takes nothing from the beautiful and impressive imagery with which they are packed. This expanded edition.

Charlotte Mew and Her Friends: With a Selection of Her Poems

The Mew women were forced to move, an experience so trying that it caused Anne to fall ill. Because of her financial difficulties, several of Mew's influential literary friends took it upon themselves to recommend her for a government pension in In Anne was diagnosed with cancer and Charlotte took on duties of nursing her sister nearly full time. Anne died the following year. The last remaining member of her once large family, and especially close to Anne, Charlotte gradually sank into despair.

Becoming delusional, she entered a nursing home in for treatment, but ended up committing suicide there later the same year.

After Mew's death, her friend Alida Monro wife of Harold Monro, who released Mew's first book collected and edited Mew's poetry for publication. The Rambling Sailor appeared in and brings together her early work with her more mature and successful poetry from the teens and twenties.

Humbert Wolfe praised the often overlooked merit of Mew's poetry in his review of this volume for the Observer: "She has no tricks or graces.

It was a hideous end to a frustrating life. In spite of misfortune, Charlotte Mew had her friends. She fell in love with several brilliant older women, ''partly because, in each case, she had been helped and taught.


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  • It was her male mentors, however - one of whom was Thomas Hardy - who had most to do with shaping her career as a poet, each recognizing and nurturing the gifts of this almost pathologically demure woman. One sees, in particular, Hardy's influence in the subject matter and tone of her poetry, which often affects a country dialect reminiscent of his Wessex poems.

    But there is something insistently original about Mew 's voice, as in ''The Shade-Catchers'': I think they were about as high As haycocks are. They went running by Catching bits of shade in the sunny street: ''I've got one,'' cried sister to brother, ''I've got two. Fitzgerald, in this study, seems something of a shade-catcher.

    Mew 's self-circumscribed life does not easily yield material for narrative.

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    Her relations with her friends remain obscure, despite her biographer's diligent probing. The poetry itself, most of which was published in ''The Farmer's Bride '' , contains little in the way of overt autobiography. Mew often wrote in other voices, preferring the self-deflection of a mask, although a fiercely personal emotion akin to hurt glitters through the highly polished surfaces of her poems.

    This volume includes a well-chosen selection of Charlotte Mew 's work, so readers can judge for themselves whether she warrants reconsideration.