Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) was a talented and successful poet, but
one whose life was overshadowed by personal misery. Parental
attitudes and a dominating nurse instilled in her feelings of guilt
and alienation from a young age and her high spirits and love of
reading and writing were continually disparaged. In adult life
Charlotte believed that all passion was destructive and she
repressed that joyful part of her personality with only occasional
glimpses, as when she charmed Walter de le Mare. Two of her
siblings became insane and were put into an asylum, so Charlotte
and her sister determined to remain single and together they cared
for their very difficult widowed mother. It was a lonely life, made
harder by Charlotte's pride - which forbade her to accept help and
literary patronage - and her unrequited passions for strong
talented women. Eventually, in her 50s, she achieved financial
security, but she was consumed by guilt after the death of her
sister Anne. To the horror of her friends and admirers she
committed suicide. Penelope Fitzgerald is famous mostly for her
novels, but this biography, first published in 1984, is just as
accomplished. Her portrait of Charlotte, her social circle -
friends included Alice Munro - and her family is a vivid one, and
she provides a fascinating insight into an era of great advances in
art and technology. The reissue of this excellent book should
ensure a renewed and much-deserved interest in Charlotte's work.
"A tantalising, touching story. An entire life's emotional history in a short space."
VICTORIA GLENDINNING, 'Sunday Times'
Charlotte Mew (1869 – 1928) was a poet with a formidable reputation who, Thomas Hardy declared, was 'far and away the best living woman poet' and who wrote some of the finest English poems of the twentieth century. Her private life, to all appearances, was content and respectable: she was a dutiful daughter, living at home in late Victorian Bloomsbury, waiting, with the help of a sister, on a monster of an old mother. The proprieties had to be observed and no-one suspected that the Mews had no money, that two siblings were insane and that Charlotte was a lesbian, living in the dark thrill of self-inflicted frustration.
On all this Charlotte put a brave face, but despite literary success and a passionate, enchanting personality, eventually the conflicts within her drove her to despair, and she killed herself by drinking a glass of the household disinfectant, Lysol, the cheapest poison available.
In this unexpectedly gripping portrait of 'Bloomsbury's saddest poet', Penelope Fitzgerald brings all her novelists skills into play. The story she tells is a tragic one, but the book is full of the love of life.
"Moving and vivid. Her story reads like a Victorian melodrama"
RACHEL BILLINGTON, 'Financial Times'
"A sad story, beautifully told."
MARK GIROUARD, 'Guardian'
"Everyone says you can't write the biography of a genius. Penelope Fitzgerald has…and she has managed to present Charlotte Mew with such subtlety that you feel you've read her work, even if you haven't."
PATRIC DICKINSON, 'The Times'
WITH A SELECTION OF CHARLOTTE MEW'S POEMS
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