“Final Form”: Michael Field’s Palimpsestic Poetic
IAS Open Programme Fellow Dr LeeAnne M. Richardson delivers a seminar on her research
Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper—who published poetry and drama as Michael Field--recorded their lives in a joint diary they titled Works and Days. The twenty-nine diary volumes can be read as palimpsests: layer upon layer of meaning accretes as each new diary sheet layers over the page that came before. They are figurative palimpsests when Bradley and Cooper employ a palimpsestic narrative technique (one will inscribe a narrative of the day’s events, and the other will follow with the same event from her point of view) and describe palimpsestic actions (on several occasions, they read poems aloud in the company of different individuals in order to make them to signify differently in the new context). And when one inscribes poetry into the diary, the other creates a literal palimpsest when she alters her fellow’s writing to emend the poem.
As Virginia Blain has suggested, the image of the palimpsest (which she takes from Michael Field’s 1908 poem “A Palimpsest”) is a useful way to for scholars to imagine Bradley and Cooper’s shifting and dynamic relationship. But more than an image of interpersonal relations, the palimpsest provides a way to understand Bradley and Cooper’s poetic practice and their joint identity as Michael Field—as well as the ways in which their joint identity and their literary works are mutually constitutive.
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