Poets & Lovers aims to transcribe the diaries and related papers of two major women poets of the fin de siècle, who published as "Michael Field." Much of this material has only been accessible through archives in the UK until now. This project will make their material freely available to all readers in standards-compliant web and downloadable formats.
The late-Victorian poet “Michael Field” is canonized as the author of lyric poetry rooted deeply in classical and Renaissance literary traditions. Today as in their lifetimes, “Michael Field” is also well known to be the male pseudonym of two women, Katharine Harris Bradley (1846-1914) and Edith Emma Cooper (1862-1913). In addition to their shared literary identity, Bradley and Cooper were aunt and niece. They were also longtime coupled partners whose poetry contributed a discourse of queer sexuality to the English fin de siècle.
Perhaps their finest, most challenging, and most significant work is the prose narrative Michael Field wrote together from 1888 until Bradley’s death in 1914. They titled this text Works and Days; it is by turns a diary; an artist’s book; a gossipy, witty record of the foibles of literary- and art-world luminaries; and an experimental novel. Bradley and Cooper produced Works and Days with the express goal of publishing it. In her will, Bradley charged Michael Field’s literary executor (Thomas Sturge Moore) with responsibility for depositing Works and Days in the British Library and with publishing excerpts from the text her will described as a “linked autobiography.” Moore published in 1933 an expurgated volume of extracts, and that single volume is all that has been published of this remarkable work to date.
It is a tribute to Michael Field’s literary executor that he successfully deposited Works and Days in the British Library following their deaths. But because the work is massive, running to 29 volumes and 9,500 handwritten pages, its availability has been limited to scholarly experts with access to London. Even for those scholars it has been a challenge to see the forest of Works and Days for the trees: individual passages and volumes are dense and compelling, so much so that zooming out to comprehend the text as a unified whole has been impossible until the present opportunity. Fortunately, we now have a critical mass of experts who are prepared to tackle the work of creating this archive and making it discoverable.
Because the two women were related, their relationship constituted incest, a fact that complicated their legacy then as now. Their biographer Emma Donahue notes that the diaries betray no awareness that their relationship might be considered incest; "clearly incest only happened between men and women" (We Are Michael Field, 30). Edith sometimes makes enigmatic allusions to sex, but these are rare. Instead, the diaries illustrate the nature of their daily lives, ongoing concerns, and love for one another as their feelings evolved during their lifetime together.
In 2014, the British Library supported efforts by Prof. Marion Thain to produce a digital facsimile of each of the diary’s 9,500 pages. Thain worked with the Victorian Lives and Letters Consortium (through the University of South Carolina) to host a pilot website offering page images of the whole. She designed the pilot site at South Carolina, recruited a team of transcribers, and appointed an editorial board. With the help of Prof. Peter Logan, who came on board in 2018, the team added two sample volumes of transcription to the pilot site in 2019. Since that time, volunteers have worked to transcribe additional volumes.
In June 2021, the pilot website transferred to Dartmouth College, where a team of faculty, staff, and students has created a partnership with the project’s original leaders to expand the archive, with the diary at its center. Works and Days offers an untapped trove of detail about literary celebrities such as Oscar Wilde and W.B. Yeats, about late-Victorian art and architecture, and about the challenges of Michael Field’s career as an openly pseudonymous “male” author. As Bradley writes in the image below, “What games we have by our bed-room fire at night! We lie in our bed, read proofs and poems, and stick roses in our ears” (1897).
Several volumes present unique problems, such as containing documents in the form of letters, postcards, and notes, gathered from many people and so written in many hands. Those volumes are presented here, where we hope that with the help of many volunteers these difficult volumes can be turned into legible text for the digital edition.
Our goal is to make this work available as the two women intended it, in its entirety, and to make it freely available to all readers. We will remake the current pilot at Dartmouth into an online archive that includes fully searchable transcriptions of all 29 diary volumes, following the Association for Documentary Editing standards for electronic editions. When complete, the new site will embed the transcribed diary within a network of linked resources. This project has the following goals:
- To transcribe, encode in TEI, and make discoverable the full text of Michael Field’s Works and Days;
- To contextualize these materials through linked notes, maps, images, and annotations;
- To facilitate the materials’ discoverability through indexes, search engines, and linked open data;
- To link the diary with related digital archives;
- To make the diary available for use for a broad audience, including scholars and teachers, students, and a wide general audience of people interested in Victorian women’s lives, Victorian expressions of desire, late-Victorian celebrities, clothing, travel, poetry, art and design, and architecture;
- To promote collaboration among these audiences.
Most broadly, the online archive will model the capacity of a digital archive to make accessible a text of social and cultural significance and to situate that text within important new networks. The archive, fully realized, will serve scholars, teachers, students, and general readers who turn to the past for answers to the questions of the present, and the possibilities of the future.
Copyright of the diaries is held by the Michael Field estate (Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmian O'Neil). The diaries are reproduced with kind permission of the Michael Field estate. The diaries were digitized for us by the British Library in partnership with New York University, and the images are published online with permission of the Library.
No permission is given for reproduction of these images outside of this site, and permission for use of the images (academic or otherwise) must be sought from the copyright holders.