Figuring Animals: Essays on Animal Images in Art, Literature, Philosophy and Popular Culture

pp 195-205

To the Other: The Animal and Desire in Michael Field’s Whym Chow: Flame of Love

  • David Banash


There is a growing critical interest in Michael Field, and it should come as no surprise. Few overlooked poets of the nineteenth century offer both lives and works so relevant to the urgencies and vocabularies of cultural criticism and identity politics. Throughout their thirty-year partnership, Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper chal- lenged, escaped, or reinvented the definitions and roles available to women in the fin-de-siécle. While their intense connection to each other was socially sanctioned by the fact that they were aunt and niece, they reinvented these roles as they developed a relationship as lovers. As poets, they took the name Michael Field, writing and publishing verse dramas and collections of poetry that trouble both traditional notions of author- ship and gender. Throughout their career they were tireless supporters of animal rights as active members of the anti-vivisection movement. Thus, just as their lives and work challenge traditional ideas about the family and heterosexual normativity, they also question the all too human presump- tion that homo sapiens has the right to inflict its will on the other creatures of the world. The growing critical recuperation of Michael Field in the work of Yopie Prins, Christine White, Holly Laird, and others has focused on the transgressive nature of their lives and the pivotal role of Sappho in their poetry.1