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This article is taken from PN Review 117, Volume 24 Number 1, September - October 1997.

New Light on Charlotte Mew Val Warner

Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) once refused to supply biographical facts; subsequently, it has been open season on her life. Mary Davidow's unpublished thesis, 1960,1 contained valuable information from friends and relatives of Mew, but was spoilt by Davidow's belief, without evidence, in a secret affair between Hardy and Mew in the 1890s, and her ignorance of Virginia Moore's 1936 description of Mew as a lesbian.2 In 1970 May Sinclair's biographer, Theophilus Boll, tenuously confirmed the latter via Rebecca West.3 I followed Boll in the Introduction to my Collected Poems & Prose (1981),4 stressing that Mew's work focused romantically on women. Marjorie Watts, daughter of Mew's friend Catharine Dawson Scott, reviewing the Collected decided to publicize her mother's journals' confirmation of Mew's lesbianism.5 She subsequently gave access to her material to Penelope Fitzgerald, who published Mew's biography in 1984, declaring that Charlotte fell in love with three women - despite a continuing dearth of information. For instance, in the six years before her best-known poem 'The Farmer's Bride', nothing is known of her life except she published one other poem and had holidays in Dieppe and Boulogne, with her friend Elsie O'Keeffe (née Millard) and her sister Anne respectively. (This article does not rely on Fitzgerald's book for biographical information.) Contrary to many reviewers' accounts, P.B. Parris's 'fictional autobiography', His Arms are Full of Broken Things (Viking, 1997), shows Mew as lesbian, in a Victorian and subtler psychological evocation than Fitzgerald's, but falsifies by wholesale ignoring of known facts.


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