Michael Field – Edith Cooper & Katherine Bradley

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Ivywell Road, Sneyd Park, BS9 1NX

Ivythorpe, and later Stoke Green, were home to Edith Cooper and her aunt and partner Katherine Bradley.1 Here Bradley and Cooper began to publish under the pseudonym of Michael Field – a shared identity that persisted long after their sex had become an open secret.2

Symonds was ‘introduced’ to Cooper by letter in 1881, his removal to Davos already being well underway. Robert Baker Girdlestone wrote to Davos suggesting that Symonds review Bellerophon (then published under the names Arran and Isla Leigh.) Symonds declined, but told Girdlestone he was “much interested in the book – chiefly for the sake of what you tell me about the authoresses.”3 Symonds was later to correspond with both Cooper and Bradley,4 and wrote to congratulate them on their first publication as ‘Michael Field’:

“Your secret is quite safe with me. I was amused (before I saw your book) with the reviews. I knew that Michael Field meant you two. I wish I knew how you worked together.”5

Symonds and ‘the Fields’ had numerous contacts in common, including Vernon Lee and Mary Robinson, who Symonds corresponded with simultaneously with Cooper and Bradley. The Fields’ friend and publisher Charles Ricketts designed the beautiful first edition of Symonds’ In The Key of Blue (Ricketts was less pleased when Symonds, ever persistant, pressed him to explicitly define his private life with Charles Shannon — an incident later Ricketts recalled with amusement.)6

  1. Matthews Bristol Directory, 1883, 1884 []
  2. Emma Donoghue, We Are Michael Field, 3rd edn (Bath: Absolute Press, 1998), p. 36. []
  3. John Addington Symonds, The Letters of John Addington Symonds, Vol 2, ed. by Herbert M. Schueller & Robert L. Peters (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1968), p. 675. []
  4. Symonds, Letters, p783 []
  5. John Y. Lebourgeois, ‘ J. A. Symonds to Katherine Bradley: An Unpublished Letter’, Notes and Queries, 18.3, (1971), 102. []
  6. J. G. Paul Delaney, Charles Ricketts: A Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 25. []