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Finishing Touches

Susannah Clapp, 20 December 1984

Charlotte Mew and her Friends 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Collins, 240 pp., £12.95, July 1984, 0 00 217008 6
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The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield. Vol. I: 1903-17 
edited by Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott.
Oxford, 376 pp., £15, September 1984, 0 19 812613 1
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... On 24 March 1928 Charlotte Mew killed herself by drinking a bottle of disinfectant in a nursing-home near Baker Street. She left behind her a volume of poems, a number of uncollected essays and short stories, and instructions that after her death her main artery should be severed: she had thought a lot about being buried alive ...

Lotti’s Leap

Penelope Fitzgerald, 1 July 1982

Collected Poems and Prose 
by Charlotte Mew, edited by Val Warner.
Carcanet/Virago, 445 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 0 85635 260 8
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... During her lifetime Charlotte Mew was either greatly liked or greatly disliked, and now, more than fifty years after her death, those who are interested in her are very much interested. There are at least two collections of her papers which nobody is given permission to see – not quite with the feeling that she ought to be left to rest in peace, but, rather, that she shouldn’t be shared indiscriminately with outsiders ...

The Death of a Poet

Penelope Fitzgerald: Charlotte Mew, 23 May 2002

... by Harold Monro’s Poetry Bookshop in Bloomsbury. In the event, however, she wrote a biography of Charlotte Mew, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends, which was published, and reviewed in the LRB in 1984 – and will be reissued this summer.In 1927 Charlotte Mew was 58 and living ...

A Whack of Pies

Matthew Bevis: Dear to Mew, 16 December 2021

This Rare Spirit: A Life of Charlotte Mew 
by Julia Copus.
Faber, 464 pp., £25, April 2021, 978 0 571 31353 2
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Selected Poetry and Prose 
by Charlotte Mew, edited by Julia Copus.
Faber, 176 pp., £14.99, October 2019, 978 0 571 31618 2
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... it? Sixty years after Punch ran the poem, Knox’s daughter, Penelope Fitzgerald, published Charlotte Mew and Her Friends, in which she observed that her subject would always be an outsider. Twenty years ago Ian Hamilton wrote that Mew’s reputation ‘hangs by a thread’. Her Collected Poems and Prose has long ...

Making Do and Mending

Rosemary Hill: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Letters, 25 September 2008

So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald 
edited by Terence Dooley.
Fourth Estate, 532 pp., £25, August 2008, 978 0 00 713640 7
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... was fading so fast from living memory that they might otherwise be lost for ever, or because, like Charlotte Mew, their achievement, though slight, was not negligible. ‘She did write at least one good poem, how many of us can say that?’ Fitzgerald wrote to Richard Ollard at Collins, who was pessimistic about the prospects for a biography. At odds with ...

The Inner Lives of Quiet Women

Joanna Kavenna, 21 September 2000

May Sinclair: A Modern Victorian 
by Suzanne Raitt.
Oxford, 307 pp., £19.99, April 2001, 0 19 812298 5
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... who found her too wary and easy to offend. The equally diffident, if yet more isolated poet Charlotte Mew courted Sinclair with a wrecker’s passion, but found herself rebuffed. Sinclair generally discouraged any kind of intimate approach, and chose to work in remote moorland retreats and inhospitable huts. She was occasionally ...

Christina and the Sid

Penelope Fitzgerald, 18 March 1982

Christina Rossetti: A Divided Life 
by Georgina Battiscombe.
Constable, 233 pp., £9.50, May 1981, 0 09 461950 6
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The Golden Veil 
by Paddy Kitchen.
Hamish Hamilton, 286 pp., £7.95, May 1981, 0 241 10584 6
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The Little Holland House Album 
by Edward Burne-Jones and John Christian.
Dalrymple Press, 39 pp., £38, April 1981, 0 9507301 0 6
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... one was, the other was, and that was almost always at home.’ Like Emily Brönte, Charlotte Mew and Eleanor Farjeon, she knew the greatest happiness of her hushed life-drama very early on. No wonder that the most radiant of her lyrics are the children’s verses of ‘Sing-Song’, or others that children readily understand (‘In the ...

‘Come, my friend,’ said Smirnoff

Joanna Kavenna: The radical twenties, 1 April 1999

The Radical Twenties: Aspects of Writing, Politics and Culture 
by John Lucas.
Five Leaves, 263 pp., £11.99, January 1997, 0 907123 17 1
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... a threatened pastoral. Other writers, more diffident or isolated, threw in their lot with entropy: Charlotte Mew’s poetry of the early Twenties is littered with speakers on the verge of disappearance, clutching stillborn children as they sink into dream landscapes; Anna Wickham harbours fantasies of purgatorial fires raging over steeples and ...

The Sage of Polygon Road

Claire Tomalin, 28 September 1989

The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Vols I-VII 
edited by Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler.
Pickering & Chatto, 2530 pp., £245, August 1989, 1 85196 006 6
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... by Mirah in Daniel Deronda on Mary’s attempt to drown herself in the Thames. The roll-call of Charlotte Mew, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath is a reminder of other women writers who have preferred oblivion to the burden of great gifts and great unhappiness, as Wollstonecraft twice thought she did. Professor Butler ends her introduction with a quotation ...

Each of us is a snowball

Susannah Clapp: Squares are best, 22 October 2020

Square Haunting 
by Francesca Wade.
Faber, 422 pp., £20, January, 978 0 571 33065 2
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... old vocabulary of Leavis and Stephen I-think-continually-of-those-who-were-truly-great Spender. Charlotte Mew, who was born on the edge of the square (and rather surprisingly does have a plaque), might have prompted some different adjectives. I wish Wade had said more about her unsettling talent. Both shrinking and dramatic, ...

Defence of the Housefly

Dinah Birch, 14 November 1996

Letters of Emma and Florence Hardy 
edited by Michael Millgate.
Oxford, 364 pp., £45, April 1996, 0 19 818609 6
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... to forget her own afflictions when she sensed greater distress, she did all she could to help Charlotte Mew, whom she pitied and admired. ‘What a pathetic little creature! She has genius, I think.’ Though Hardy’s needs absorbed more of her energies as he grew older, Florence resisted his attempts to occupy her whole life. She was proud of what ...

The Buffalo in the Hall

Susannah Clapp: Beryl Bainbridge, 5 January 2017

Beryl Bainbridge: Love by All Sorts of Means, a Biography 
by Brendan King.
Bloomsbury, 564 pp., £25, September 2016, 978 1 4729 0853 7
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... little considered. The wits. I would put her alongside Ivy Compton-Burnett, Stevie Smith, Charlotte Mew and Penelope Fitzgerald. All unflinching, elliptical, self-disguising. King quotes well from a terrific essay in which Bainbridge describes the surprise she got when she attended her brother’s funeral. She hadn’t realised he had been a ...

We shall not be moved

John Bayley, 2 February 1984

Come aboard and sail away 
by John Fuller.
Salamander, 48 pp., £6, October 1983, 0 907540 37 6
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Children in Exile 
by James Fenton.
Salamander, 24 pp., £5, October 1983, 0 907540 39 2
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‘The Memory of War’ and ‘Children in Exile’: Poems 1968-1983 
by James Fenton.
Penguin, 110 pp., £1.95, October 1983, 0 14 006812 0
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Some Contemporary Poets of Britain and Ireland: An Anthology 
edited by Michael Schmidt.
Carcanet, 184 pp., £9.95, November 1983, 0 85635 469 4
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Nights in the Iron Hotel 
by Michael Hofmann.
Faber, 48 pp., £4, November 1983, 0 571 13116 6
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The Irish Lights 
by Charles Johnston and Kyril Fitzlyon.
Bodley Head, 77 pp., £4.50, September 1983, 0 370 30557 4
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Fifteen to Infinity 
by Ruth Fainlight.
Hutchinson, 62 pp., £5.95, September 1983, 0 09 152471 7
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Donald Davie and the Responsibilities of Literature 
edited by George Dekker.
Carcanet, 153 pp., £9.95, November 1983, 9780856354663
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... In a tradition various enough to include Emily Dickinson, Mary Coleridge, Christina Rossetti and Charlotte Mew, her poetry gets on with itself, not self-absorbed but quite independent. Men poets, it makes one feel, get together too much, have too much of an eye for each other’s points and failings; and women have not shared in this tradition, with its ...

In the Potato Patch

Jenny Turner: Penelope Fitzgerald, 19 December 2013

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life 
by Hermione Lee.
Chatto, 508 pp., £25, November 2013, 978 0 7011 8495 7
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... again’, was the last Fitzgerald novel drawn from autobiographical experience. A third biography, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (1984), became what Lee calls ‘the crucial turning point’ – two others, on L.P. Hartley and the Poetry Bookshop of Harold Monro, were abandoned – after which came the four late novels, their settings derived almost ...

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