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Interpreting Female-Female Love in the Early Poetry of Michael Field

Ward, Dinah (2008) Interpreting Female-Female Love in the Early Poetry of Michael Field. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

Thesis abstract Michael Field was the pen-name of Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper, an aunt and niece who wrote closet drama and lyric poetry from the 1880s through to the 1910s. The two women also conducted an intense love relationship, which caught the interest of feminist scholars from the 1970s onwards. Their poems have been read as evidence for the existence of lesbian sexuality during a historical period that was crucial for the emergence of male homosexuality as a form of identity. My aim in this thesis is to assess whether the poetry of Michael Field can indeed be understood as communicating an underlying sense of a lesbian self. I explore the homoerotic and heteroerotic discourse they produce, examining the differences and similarities between this writing and writing by three contemporary men key in the development of male homosexuality. I also question whether their representations of female-female love can be understood as part of a feminist or radical development of ideas. My findings are that while these poems show a strong interest in the formation of identity for the poets, and while that process has some resemblance to the construction of identity in contemporary male writers associated with the emergence of male homosexuality, nevertheless Bradley and Cooper do not produce representations of lesbian sexuality recognisable in the modern sense as a form of sexuality that exists in necessary opposition to female heterosexuality and male homosexuality. Furthermore, I argue that the forms of homoeroticism used to underpin the identities constructed by Bradley and Cooper reproduce and maintain some deeply conservative traditions. I conclude that feminist critics need to be sensitive to historical difference and development, understanding how modern political positions arise from and against previous possibilities, rather than searching for an imaginary cross-historical similarity amongst women to support a present-day feminist social critique.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Michael Field Katharine Bradley Edith Cooper
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Dr Dinah Ward
Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2009 11:02
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 08:43
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/114

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