01-12-1862

Edith Emma Cooper and Katherine Harris Bradley

EDITH EMMA COOPER, American author and poet born (d: 1913); with her aunt/lover Katherine Harris Bradley, Cooper wrote poetry and plays under the joint pseudonym “Michael Field.” As Field they wrote around forty works together, and a long journal Works and Days. Their intention was to keep the pen-name secret, but it became public knowledge, not long after they had confided in their friend Robert Browning. The journal reveals that they were Lesbian lovers, over a long period.

Katherine Bradley was educated at the College de France and Newnham College, and became Edith Cooper’s guardian since her mother was disabled. Bradley was for a time involved with Ruskin’s utopian project. She published first under the pseudonym Arran Leigh, a nod to Elizabeth Barrett. Edith adopted the name Isla Leigh.

From the late 1870s, when Edith was at University College, Bristol, they agreed to live together; they were to be suffragists and oppose vivisection. The first joint publication as Michael Field was in 1884. They had financial independence: Bradley’s father Charles Bradley had been in the tobacco industry in Birmingham.

They developed a large circle of literary friends and contacts; in particular Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, near whom they settled in Richmond, London. While they were always well connected, the early critical success was not sustained (something that is often attributed to the joint identity of Field becoming known). They knew many of the aesthetic movement of the 1890s, including Walter Pater, Vernon Lee, J.A. Symonds and also Bernard Berenson. William Rothenstein was a friend.

Their joint journal starts with an account of Bradley’s passion forAlfred Gerente, an artist in stained glass and brother of Henri Gerente, who was of an English background but worked mostly in France. It goes on to document Michael Field as a figure, amongst ‘his’ literary counterparts, and a pet dog. When the latter died in 1906, the emotional pattern of the relationship was disturbed; both women became Roman Catholic converts in 1907. Their religious inclinations are reflected in their later works, where their earlier writing is influenced by classical and Renaissance culture, in its pagan aspects particularly, Sappho as understood by the late Victorians, and perhaps Walter Savage Landor.

Edith died of cancer in 1913, as did Katherine less than a year later. A much-edited selection from the journals, which were two dozen annual volumes in ledgers with aspects of scrapbooks combined with a self-conscious literary style of composition, was prepared by T. Sturge Moore, a friend through his mother Marie.