Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper wrote for twenty-five years under the pseudonym, Michael Field, producing numerous poetic historical dramas and eight volumes of verse. Both women were daughters of Irish Birmingham merchant families, born in 1846 and 1862 respectively. Because of their social standing, they were as well educated as ... Read more
Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper wrote for twenty-five years under
the pseudonym, Michael Field, producing numerous poetic historical
dramas and eight volumes of verse. Both women were daughters of Irish
Birmingham merchant families, born in 1846 and 1862 respectively.
Because of their social standing, they were as well educated as any 19th
century women could be.
Katherine attended Newham, a Cambridge College, and wrote The New
Minnesinger in 1875 under the pseudonym, Arran Leigh. She had raised
her niece, Edith Cooper, who was a published poet as well, having
published her first work in 1871 at the tender age of 13. They became
emotionally closer as the years went by and began to write poetry
together as Arran and Isla Leigh. Their works were compared to the
published love poems Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning
wrote to each other. As their popularity rose, they decided to write
under the new pseudonym, Michael Field. Their letters to one another
spoke of love and devotion and were published as a collection of verse
called Underneath The Bough, by Vale Press, in 1893.
As Michael Field, the two women attracted the attention of Robert
Browning and W.B. Yeats. When questioned about the need to write under
an assumed name, Katherine Bradley told Browning that society would
never accept a poet who wrote about the sexual love between two women.
Feeling more comfortable under the disguise, both she and her niece
were able to portray women in a more realistic light, even though it
was presumably from a male's point of view. They also wrote and
championed women's rights throughout their lives when it was very
dangerous to do so.
The two women embraced Catholicism in 1907 and thereafter only wrote
devotional poetry until their deaths, Katherine in 1914 and Edith a
year earlier. Both women died from cancer.
According to Margaret D. Stetz, Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Delaware: “After many years of neglect, these two writers are being studied all around the world. People find them fascinating, because they broke every rule in sight. In the late 19th century, women weren't supposed to attend universities, but the ‘Michael Fields’ did. Women weren't supposed to be authorities on the Greek Classics, but these two women were. Respectable women weren't supposed to have anything to do with the stage, but they wrote plays and had one of their works produced. English Protestants weren't supposed to be attracted to other religions, but they both converted to Roman Catholicism. And, women certainly weren't supposed to love each other passionately, but they did.”