Log In Start studying!

Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

Charlotte Mew

Charlotte Mew

In many ways, Charlotte Mew (1869–1928) was striking. Her experimental prose and poetry and her challenging of gender norms contributed to Mew making waves within famous literary circles following the publication of her poetry collection The Farmer's Bride in 1916.

Virginia Woolf was just one of these famous writers whose attention Mew attracted, and she went on to describe Mew as 'very good and interesting and unlike anyone else'.1 Read on to find out more about how this talented yet largely forgotten literary talent stood out from the crowd.

Charlotte Mew: poet biography

Charlotte Mew was born on 15 November 1869 at 30 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, London, where a blue plaque stands today to commemorate her life. Mew's life was far from being easy. On top of the challenges that she faced being a (likely lesbian) woman born in Victorian Britain, she also dealt with the effects of being born into a family in which mental and physical illness ran rife. She was the eldest of seven siblings and witnessed the deterioration, asylum incarcerations, and deaths of her brothers and sisters until she and her sister Anne were the only two left.

Victorian Britain: the Victorian era is a period in British history between 1837 and 1901 during the reign of Queen Victoria. During this time, there were many social changes influenced by the rise of the industrial revolution that was fuelled by the expansion of the British Empire.

Following the early institutionalisation of her brother and her sister due to mental illness, Mew and her sister Anne vowed to remain childless and never marry so as not to pass on what they saw as being a family trait. However, Mew's sexuality may have also influenced her decision. Mew's attraction to women is documented throughout her life, beginning with a childhood crush on her headteacher and developing into multiple – and seemingly always unrequited – romantic interests. Because of this, it was not only in her familial relationships that Mew experienced love and loss intensely but also in her romantic and sexual endeavours.

After her parents died, Mew was thrust into financial hardship. But perhaps the largest blow to Mew was the death of her last remaining sibling, Anne, who died in 1927 after a year-long battle with cancer during which Mew cared for her. The trauma that Mew experienced resulted in her own physical and emotional decline and she was admitted to a nursing home just one year after her sister's passing. Soon after, on 24 March 1928, Mew died after poisoning herself with the disinfectant Lysol.

Charlotte Mew: books

Alongside her poetry, Mew also published short stories, essays, and plays.

Her first short story, 'Passed' (1894), was published in The Yellow Book, a London literary magazine known for its controversial style that was in circulation between 1894 to 1897.

Did you know: Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) references a yellow book as being a key corrupting influence on the novel's protagonist.

Despite the short time the magazine was in publication, it was widely renowned within the British literary scene. Alongside Mew's short story, works by artists and authors such as John Singer Sargent, Henry James, and H. G. Wells also found their way into its pages. Due to its taboo topics and sexual undertones, 'Passed' was a fitting addition to The Yellow Book and added to Mew's image as a Victorian New Woman.

New Woman: a concept that evolved during the later Victorian Era that presented a new feminist perspective on how a woman should or could be within Victorian society.

Unlike the ideal domestic image of a feminine wife and mother who was submissive to men, the New Woman was pictured as educated, independent, and generally rebellious against societal views surrounding sex and gender. New Woman fiction developed parallel to the New Woman ideology and reflected the feminist discussions that were being had in its writing.

Other examples of prose written by Mew include essays such as 'An Old Servant' (1913), the short stories 'Elinor' and 'The Minnow Fishers', and a play titled The China Bowl. The latter three works were all published posthumously in 1981.

Charlotte Mew: poems

Although Mew wrote many different types of literature, the works that she is most famous for are her poems. The collection The Farmer's Bride is Mew's most famous work. After its title poem was printed in a weekly magazine in 1912, it attracted the attention of Alida and Harold Monro. The Munros ran the Poetry Bookshop (a publisher and shop in London that was famous within the literary community), and they published The Farmer's Bride in 1916.

From a sales point of view, the collection was relatively unsuccessful. However, its publication marked Charlotte Mew as an established and highly respected poet among the high-profile writers of the time. Virginia Woolf praised Mew's individuality, Thomas Hardy named Mew the 'greatest poetess', and Siegfried Sassoon described Mew as 'the only poet who can give me a lump in my throat'.2

The collection contains 28 poems, with three of the most famous being 'The Farmer's Bride', 'The Fête', and 'A Quoi Bon Dire'.

Charlotte Mew: quotes

Let's take a look at some key passages from 'The Farmer's Bride', 'The Fête', and 'A Quoi Bon Dire', and how they reflect Mew's style and influences as a poet.

'The Farmer's Bride'

She sleeps up in the attic there

Alone, poor maid. 'Tis but a stair

Betwixt us. Oh! my God! the down,

The soft young down of her; the brown,

The brown of her – her eyes, her hair, her hair!

In 'The Farmer's Bride', the farmer is the speaker who describes the alienation he feels from his very young wife who seems to be afraid of her new husband. The farmer observes his wife from a distance and expresses the yearning and desire he feels for her.

'The Farmer's Bride' was the poem that triggered Mew's success as a poet after drawing the attention of influential figures within the literary community. This poem is notable for its demonstration of Mew's ability to adopt various voices – especially men's voices – within her works, visible through the use of dialect in the poem and the focus on the speaker's inner world and experiences. The poem seems to present the farmer in a sympathetic way despite its focus on the inequality of the marriage, the girl's fear of her older husband, and his dehumanisation of her, adding to the complexity of the text.

'The Fête'

To-night the splendour and the sting

Blows back and catches at your breath,

The smell of beasts, the smell of dust, the scent of all the roses in the world,

the sea, the Spring,

The beat of drums, the pad of hoofs, music, the dream, the dream, the

Enchanted Thing!

'The Fête' is another example of Mew's poems in which she adopts the voice of a male speaker expressing his desire for a woman – in this case, a circus performer. The poem was originally published in the Modernist magazine The Egoist in 1914 by Ezra Pound, a major American literary figure and fellow poet. Because of the poem's irregular form and stream-of-consciousness style, the poem and its publication in The Egoist added to Mew's reputation as an early Modernist poet.

Modernism: Modernism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement from the late 19th to the mid-20th century and especially around the First World War. Modernist works can be defined by their exploratory and experimental styles as they sought to break away from established traditions.

Stream-of-consciousness: a style of writing that aims to reflect the way that we naturally think as our minds flow from one association or idea to another.

'A Quoi Bon Dire'

Seventeen years ago you said

Something that sounded like Good-bye;

And everybody thinks that you are dead

But I.

'A Quoi Bon Dire' is a short poem that deals with topics that can be found across Mew's works: alienation, love, loss, and death. In the poem, the speaker mourns a loved one, to whom they remain intensely emotionally connected, who has passed, until they are seemingly reunited again after death. Because of the poem's experimental use of spacing and irregular meter, Mew's originality as a poet and a writer and her resistance to follow traditional rules also shines through in 'A Quoi Bon Dire'.

Charlotte Mew: facts

Let's take a look at some interesting facts about Charlotte Mew's life and legacy:

  • Mew's poem, 'Sea Love' (1916) was printed on posters designed by the typographer Tom Davidson and displayed in the London Underground as part of the 'Poems on the Underground' programme.

  • Mew was at the centre of a scandal when fellow author and friend May Sinclair told her peers that Mew had leapt into her bed and forcefully expressed her feelings, which were strongly unrequited.

  • When Mew fell into financial hardship, her peers from the literary community, including Thomas Hardy, organised a Civil List pension for her (government money paid to people considered to serve the state).3

Charlotte Mew - Key takeaways

  • Charlotte Mew was born in London on 15 November 1869 and died in London on 24 March 1928.
  • Charlotte Mew had a difficult life as she witnessed the deterioration, asylum incarcerations, and deaths of brothers and sisters until she and her sister Anne were the only two left.
  • Charlotte Mew was likely a lesbian and was subject to scandal and experienced many rejections in her relationships.
  • In many ways, Charlotte Mew can be considered a Victorian New Woman and a Modernist.
  • Charlotte Mew wrote essays, poems, short stories, and a play, for which she was greatly admired by those in the literary community at the time. Some of Charlotte Mew's most famous poems include 'The Farmer's Bride' (1916), 'The Fête' (1916), 'A Quoi Bon Dire' (1916), and 'Sea Love' (1916).

1 Val Warner. 'Introduction.' Collected Poems and Selected Prose. Carcanet Press. 1997. xvi.

2 Kathryn Hughes, 'This Rare Spirit: A Life of Charlotte Mew review – in praise of a Victorian New Woman'. The Guardian. 19 May 2021.

3 Penelope Fitzgerald. Charlotte Mew and her Friends. Flamigo. 1984. 196–205.

Frequently Asked Questions about Charlotte Mew

On top of the challenges that Charlotte Mew faced being a (likely lesbian) woman born in Victorian Britain, she also dealt with the effects of being born into a family that struggled with mental and physical illness.

Charlotte Mew is buried with her sister, Anne Mew, in Hampstead Cemetery in London.

Charlotte Mew died after poisoning herself with the disinfectant Lysol on 24 March 1928.

Charlotte Mew was born on 15 November 1869 at 30 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, London in England.

Charlotte Mew suffered from depression after the death of her sister.

Final Charlotte Mew Quiz

Question

Who wrote the poem 'A Quoi Bon Dire'?

Show answer

Answer

Charlotte Mew

Show question

Question

What type of poetry is 'A Quoi Bon Dire'?

Show answer

Answer

Lyric poem

Show question

Question

What is the name of the collection in which 'A Quoi Bon Dire' was published?

Show answer

Answer

The Farmer's Market

Show question

Question

What are the two main themes of 'A Quoi Bon Dire'?

Show answer

Answer

Love

Show question

Question

What does the title 'A Quoi Bon Dire' mean?

Show answer

Answer

 'What good is there to say' or 'what's the point of saying'

Show question

Question

Charlotte Mew had difficult experiences with love and loss in her life. What happened?

Show answer

Answer

Mew witnessed the deaths and asylum incarcerations of all her siblings until only she was left. 


Mew experienced multiple rejections by the women she pursued romantically. 

Show question

Question

What is the poem's rhyme scheme?

Show answer

Answer

ABAB CDCD EFEFF

Show question

Question

The poem follows an entirely regular structure.

Show answer

Answer

True. 

Show question

Question

Can you connect the contrast between regularity and irregularity in the poem's structure to the themes of love and loss it discusses?

Show answer

Answer

You could interpret this as a reference to:

  • The feelings of instability and stability that love can bring. 
  • The powerful emotions connected to love and loss. 
  • The unique experience of love that can transcend strict rules.

Show question

Question

How is love shown as powerful in the poem?

Show answer

Answer

It transcends life, death, and ageing. 

Show question

Question

How is love shown as painful in the poem?

Show answer

Answer

The poem deals with the alienation of grief after a relationship with someone they were deeply connected to is cut short.

Show question

Question

How is love shown as personal in the poem?

Show answer

Answer

The speaker and their loved one are contrasted with those on the outside throughout the poem.

Show question

Question

Who described Charlotte Mew as 'very good and interesting and unlike anyone else'?

Show answer

Answer

Siegfried Sassoon

Show question

Question

Why can Charlotte Mew's life be considered a difficult one?

Show answer

Answer

  • She was (likely) a lesbian woman in a strict Victorian society and experienced a lot of rejection in her relationships.
  • There was a history of physical and mental illness in her family and she was the last sibling to survive. 
  • She experienced financial hardship.

Show question

Question

What was The Yellow Book literary magazine (in which one of Mew's short stories was published) known for?

Show answer

Answer

It was known for its controversial style. 

Show question

Question

Charlotte Mew's reputation for challenging gender norms in her personal life and literary works led her to be considered:

Show answer

Answer

A New Woman

Show question

Question

When The Farmer's Bride collection was published in 1916, it sold many copies. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

The Farmer's Bride collection received high praise from famous writers in the literary community.


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Charlotte Mew is known for her ability to adopt various voices in her poetry, especially the voices of _____-

Show answer

Answer

Men

Show question

Question

Because of Charlotte Mew's use of stream-of-consciousness styles and irregular structures in her poems, she is often associated with the _____ movement.

Show answer

Answer

Romantic

Show question

Question

Why was Charlotte Mew at the centre of scandal during her career?

Show answer

Answer

Because her fellow author and friend May Sinclair told her peers that Mew had leapt into her bed and forcefully expressed her feelings, which were strongly unrequited. 

Show question

Question

What did Charlotte Mew's literary friends do when they heard she was in financial hardship?

Show answer

Answer

They organised a Civil List pension for her (government money paid to people considered to serve the state).

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Charlotte Mew quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Get FREE ACCESS to all of our study material, tailor-made!

Over 10 million students from across the world are already learning smarter.

Get Started for Free
Illustration