Charlotte Mew: The dandy poet and writer
Almost forgotten now, the English poet and writer Charlotte Mew was well-regarded during her time with fellow writers Virginia Woolf and Thomas Hardy lauding her works.
Charlotte cut a striking figure despite her short stature, thanks to her hair cut short and her tailored men’s suits.
Though she wasn’t known for having relationships– either with women OR men– she had been described as a “chastely lesbian” and a “dandy.”
Charlotte Mew: A tragic home life
Tragedy seemed to follow Charlotte “Lotti” Mary Mew, born on 15 November 1869 in Bloomsbury, London.
She was the eldest daughter of Anna Kendall and architect Frederick Mew, whose spendthrift ways left them in poverty.
It didn’t help that Charlotte’s family was large– seven children in all. But three of them died when they were young: two brothers at infancy and another brother at the age of five.
Charlotte attended Gower Street School. There, she became infatuated with Lucy Harrison, the school’s headmistress.
Charlotte then went on to take up classes at the University College in London. She wrote her first short story, “Passed,” which was published in July 1894 in the journal called the Yellow Book.
Charlotte Mew: Highs and lows
In 1898, her father died without leaving money for them. Because of this, they had to rent out the top part of their family home.
Later on, two of Charlotte’s siblings suffered from mental illness (probably schizophrenia) in their twenties. They were later committed to mental institutions.
This scarred Charlotte and her remaining sister, Anne, that both of them made a pact never to marry. This was because they were afraid of passing on the insanity in their family to their offspring.
Charlotte continued to write her short stories, being published in outlets like the Temple Bar, Englishwoman, the Egoist, and the Chapbook.
She then garnered attention with the publication of a poem, “The Farmer’s Bride,” in the Nation in 1912.
Charlotte Mew’s literary introduction
This poem ushered her in the literary circles of London in her time. Her work soon drew praises from Hardy, Woolf, Siegfried Sassoon, Sara Teasdale, and Ezra Pound.
She also found literary patrons with Amy Dawson Scott and the couple Harold and Alida Monro, the latter two helping to compile and publish her first poetry collection.
The literary community loved Charlotte even more with The Farmer’s Bride, published in 1916.
This collection was enlarged and reprinted as Saturday Market to be distributed in both England and the United States, which had critics and writers raving.
Unfortunately, Charlotte’s successes was not enough for her to earn a living. There was also speculation that her feelings were rejected by two women writers: Ella D’Arcy and May Sinclair.
Charlotte Mew’s slide to death
Charlotte, her sister, Anne, and her mother were forced to move out of their family home when it was condemned.
In 1923, some of her literary friends– Hardy, Walter de la Mare, helped Charlotte by recommending her for a Civil List pension amounting to seventy-five pounds per year.
However, within that same year, her mother died. Then Anne was diagnosed with cancer in 1926 and Charlotte was forced to take care of her.
The next year, Anne died and left Charlotte utterly distraught. She entered a nursing home in 1928 but decided to commit suicide by drinking cheap disinfectant.
She died on 24 March 1928 at the age of 58.