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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 4 Number 4, 1975.

Mary Magdalene and the Bride - The Work of Charlotte Mew Val Warner


'IT is said that her genius was masculine, but surely it was purely spiritual, strangely and exquisitely severed from embodiment and freed from any accident of sex.' Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) praised Emily Brontë in these terms, but ironically, this 'accident' contributed to the former's relatively slight œuvre. From the start, Mew was successful in placing her stories, and although The Farmer's Bride attracted few reviews when it came out from the Poetry Bookshop in 1916, her poems were published widely in periodicals. From 1915 she had the consistent support of Harold Monro and Alida Klemantaski. Hardy, who considered her 'the least pretentious but undoubtedly the best woman poet of our day',1 with Masefield and de la Mare secured her a Civil List pension in 1928. Sassoon admired her too. Yet her posthumous volume of poems, The Rambling Sailor (1929), contained few written after the publication of The Farmer's Bride, and her prose writing, too, seems to have ceased about 1916.

According to Alida Monro's 'Memoir', Charlotte Mew herself attributed her slight output to her domestic duties, looking after her mother - albeit with the assistance of a factotum. Yet today many women writers combine caring for a family with considerable literary work, and from the past there is the example of Mrs Gaskell. Since, like Hardy's, Mew's stories are 'minor novels', with a frequently arbitrary use of the short story form, it is surprising that she did not attempt a full-length novel; 'Mark Stafford's Wife' suggests ...


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