Charlotte Mew

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Charlotte Mary Mew (15 November 1869 – 24 March 1928) was an English poet, whose work spans the cusp between Victorian poetry and Modernism.

Early life and education

She was born in Bloomsbury, London the daughter of the architect Frederick Mew, who designed Hampstead town hall,[1] and Anna Kendall.[2]The marriage produced seven children. Charlotte, nicknamed Lotti by her family, attended Gower Street School, where she became infatuated with the school's headmistress, Lucy Harrison,[3] and lectures at University College London.[4] Her father died in 1898 without making adequate provision for his family; two of her siblings suffered from mental illness, and were committed to institutions, and three others died in early childhood leaving Charlotte, her mother and her sister, Anne. Charlotte and Anne made a pact never to marry for fear of passing on insanity to their children. (One author calls Charlotte "almost certainly chastely lesbian)".[5] Through most of her adult life, Mew wore masculine attire and kept her hair short, adopting the appearance of a dandy.[6]

Writing career

In 1894, Mew succeeded in getting a short story published in The Yellow Book,[7] and became a frequent contributor of fiction to the magazine[8] but wrote very little poetry at this time. Her first collection of poetry, The Farmer's Bride, was published in 1916, in chapbook format, by the Poetry Bookshop; in the United States this collection was entitled Saturday Market and published in 1921 by Macmillan. It earned her the admiration of Sydney Cockerell and drew popular respect for her as a poet.[9]

Her poems are varied: some of them (such as 'Madeleine in Church') are passionate discussions of faith and the possibility of belief in God; others are proto-modernist in form and atmosphere ('In Nunhead Cemetery'). Many of her poems are in the form of dramatic monologues, and she often wrote from the point of view of a male persona ('The Farmer's Bride'). Two concern mental illness - "Ken" and "On the Asylum Road". Many of Mew's poems, including "Ken", "The Farmer's Bride", and "Saturday Market" are about outcast figures, expressing Mew's feelings of alienation from the community in which she lives.[10]

Mew gained the patronage of several literary figures, notably Thomas Hardy, who called her the best woman poet of her day, Virginia Woolf, who said she was "very good and interesting and quite unlike anyone else",[11] and Siegfried Sassoon. She obtained a Civil List pension of seventy-five pounds per year with the aid of Cockerell, Hardy, John Masefield and Walter de la Mare.[12] This helped ease her financial difficulties.

Decline and death

After the death of her sister from cancer in 1927, she descended into a deep depression, and was admitted to a nursing home where she eventually committed suicide[13] by drinking Lysol.

Mew is buried in the northern part of Hampstead Cemetery, London NW6.


  1. Hampstead - Local Government | British History Online
  2. Warner, Val, ed. Collected Poems and Selected Prose of Charlotte Mews. New York: Routledge, 2003, p. ix.
  3. Fitzgerald, Penelope. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends. NY: Addison-Wesley, 1988, p. 28
  4. Spender, Dale and Janet Todd, ed. British Women Writers: An Anthology from the Fourteenth Century to the Present. New York: Bedrick Books, 1989, p. 695.
  5. Rice, Nelljean McConeghey (2003). A New Matrix for Modernism: A Study of the Lives and Poetry of Charlotte Mew and Anna Wikham. Routledge. p. 35. ISBN 0-415-94140-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Rice, p. 6
  7. Mew, Charlotte M. (1894). Passed. The Yellow Book. 2. London: Elkin Mathews & John Lane. pp. 121–41.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Fitgerald, Penelope. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends. NY:Ashley-Wesley, 1988, p. 66
  9. Fitzgerald, Penelope. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends. NY: Ashley-Wesley, 1988, p. 102
  10. Fitzgerald, Penelope. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends. NY: Ashley-Wesley, 1988, p. 139
  11. Fitzgerald, Penelope. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1988, p. 180
  12. Rice, Nelljean McConeghey (2003). A New Matrix for Modernism: A Study of the Lives and Poetry of Charlotte Mew and Anna Wikham. Routledge. p. 35
  13. Warner, Val. "Mary Magdalene and the Bride: The Work of Charlotte Mew". Retrieved 2 June 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Penelope Fitzgerald (2002) Charlotte Mew and Her Friends, Flamingo.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 19: British Poets, 1880-1914. London, 1983
  • Charlotte Mew: Collected Poems and Prose, Edited with an introduction by Val Warner. London, 1981

External links