10-27-1848

Edith Emma Cooper and Katharine Harris Bradford

KATHERINE HARRIS BRADFORD, English author and poet, the “other half” of Edith Emma Cooper, born; together with her niece (and lover) Cooper, Katherine Harris Bradford wrote poetry and plays under the joint pseudonym “Michael Field.”Katharine called Edith “Henry” and Edith called Katherine “Michael” and for the rest of their lives they were known to each other and to their friends by these names. Where the name “Field” came from is anybody’s guess. Among their closest friends were Royal Academy painter, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, who lived together near them in a relationship comparable to their own. The poems of “Michael Field” are rich in love lyrics to women, and they were well received until it was discovered that the “male” poet was in fact two women. From that time on their work was treated by ever-increasing coldness by the literary world.

Of course, many people knew the identity of “Michael Field” from the beginning, including Robert Browning, who was a friend. But even Browning asked for an explanation when Long Ago, based on fragments from Sappho, appeared in 1889. Their friendship with Browning is telling. The Brownings wrote their poetry separately. The two women, on the other hand, wrote theirs jointly, believing themselves to be “two bodies joined as one.” The contrast was not lost on “Michael Field.: “These two poets, man and wife, wrote alone; each wrote, but did not bless and quicken one another at their work; we are closer married.”