Charlotte Mew and Friends

deadline for submissions: 
January 31, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Francesca Bratton (Maynooth University); Megan Girdwood (Edinburgh University); Fraser Riddell (Durham University)

Charlotte Mew and Friends 

Decadent and Modernist Networks 

A one-day virtual symposium 9 July 2021 


Dr Megan Girdwood, University of Edinburgh Dr Francesca Bratton, Maynooth University Dr Fraser Riddell, Durham University 


Professor Joseph Bristow, UCLA 

‘I think it is myself I go to meet’ ‘The Quiet House’ (1916) 

Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) was a British poet and author of short stories whose life and body of work have so-far remained critically neglected in studies of late Victorian and modernist writing. Yet Mew was far from unknown in her own lifetime: she was admired by Walter de la Mare, Edith Sitwell, and Virginia Woolf; Lady Ottoline Morrell tried (and failed) to collect her for her London literary salon; and Thomas Hardy believed her to be ‘the best living woman poet’. Among her friends and acquaintances were Henry James, Aubrey Beardsley, May Sinclair, and Ella d’Arcy, while her writing appeared in influential periodicals including The Yellow Book, The Egoist, and Temple Bar. Throughout her life, Mew lived in Bloomsbury – the traditional heart of modernism’s queer and artistic networks – where she was close friends with Harold and Alida Monro, proprietors of the Poetry Bookshop on 35 Devonshire Street. Mew’s work is elusive, idiosyncratic, and stylistically diverse, from the decadent short stories ‘Passed’ (1894) and ‘A White Night’ (1902) to her best-known poetry collection The Farmer’s Bride (1916; 1921), which plays with the conventions of the pastoral in poems that are rhythmically and typographically experimental. Both her short fiction and her poetry trouble straightforward distinctions between the heady ennui of the fin de siècle and modernism’s spirit of novelty, revealing instead the porousness of such periodic markers and the literary forms they appear to denote. 

This one-day symposium will open up fresh conversations about Mew’s writing and her position within the literary cultures and networks of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Initially associated with the spirit of the ‘yellow nineties’ and the figure of the New Woman, Mew found new readers during the First World War, and her output provides a fascinating counterpoint to traditional understandings of periodization and genre, signalling important continuities between the fin de siècle and the age of modernism. Marking 150 years since her birth, a new edition of Mew’s Selected Poetry and Prose (Faber & Faber, 2019) has 

recently been released, while a forthcoming biography by the poet Julia Copus (Faber & Faber, 2021) promises to offer a comprehensive account of Mew’s life, building on Penelope Fitzgerald’s experimental biography Charlotte Mew and her Friends (1984). This symposium will therefore provide new scholarly contexts to support this renewed interest in Mew, which will undoubtedly bring her work to a wider readership. As an author who defied easy categorisation in both her life and her writing, Mew speaks to contemporary debates around gender and sexuality, while offering an intriguing case study for scholars working within the elastic parameters of the ‘long nineteenth century’ and the ‘new modernist studies’. Papers may address, but are not limited to, the following topics: 

  • Mew, periodicals and publishing networks
  • Queerness, gender and sexuality
  • Decadent Mew and the ‘Yellow Nineties’
  • Mew and the short story form
  • The pastoral and the ecological in Mew’s work
  • Reading Mew and modernism
  • Bloomsbury networks
  • Mew and the New Woman writers
  • Mew’ s poetic voice, form and dialect
  • Mew and the dramatic monologue
  • Mew and other late Victorians
  • Embodiment and the senses in Mew’s work
  • Health, illness and care in Mew’s work
  • Mew, religion and the spiritual
  • Mew, travel and colonialism
  • Mew and First World War poetry
  • Mew and childhood
  • Loss, longing, death and memorialisation in Mew’s work
  • Mew, history and periodisation
  • Mew’ s afterlives, influence and reception
    Papers should be 15 minutes in length. Please send 300-word abstracts and a brief biography to by 31 January 2021.