CHARLOTTE MEW AND HER FRIENDS by Penelope Fitzgerald

CHARLOTTE MEW AND HER FRIENDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A graceful biography that brings to light a little-known British poet and literary personality of the early 20th-century. British novelist Fitzgerald (Innocence and Offshore, both 1987, etc.) has recaptured with great delicacy and insight the tortured psychology, troubled family life, and social milieu of this late Victorian poet. With a tact unusual in modern biographies, Fitzgerald manages to give a full portrait of her tragic subject without a psychological prying that would have been distasteful to the extremely private Mew. Charlotte Mew was born in 1869 to a moderately well-off family (her father was an architect) that suffered progressive degeneration both financially and personally. Three siblings died and two others were institutionalized for life because of insanity. Charlotte spent most of her 59 years with her sister Anne and her mother in increasingly reduced circumstances, while experiencing intermittent literary success and romantic disaster. She published a story in The Yellow Book, a fashionable literary journal of the 1890's through which she met and fell in love with Ella D'Arcy. In 1913, when her poem ""The Farmer's Bride"" was published, she once again found herself in a literary circle, mn by a writer called ""Sappho,"" where she met novelist May Sinclair, another unsuccessful object of her passion. Other friends were Harold and Alida Munro, in whose Poetry Bookshop her poems were read, and Thomas Hardy's wife, Florence. Increasing mental instability and the death of both her mother and sister led to her suicide in 1928. A selection of Mew's best poems, illuminated by Fitzgerald's skillful analysis, completes this biography and offers to US audiences a long overdue chance to hear Mew's voice. Mew's lyrical narrative poetry is of a type that has largely been drowned out by the dominant modernist voices of T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. Fitzgerald's excellent biography is an important step in opening our ears to this nearly forgotten poet's beautiful and melancholy work.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1988
Publisher: Addison-Wesley