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This Rare Spirit

This Rare Spirit

2021 . Julia Copus

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This Rare Spirit

About the book

The first comprehensive biography of this undervalued writer, who was considered far and away the best living woman poet in her day. The British poet Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) was regarded as one of the best poets of her age by fellow writers, including Virginia Woolf, Siegfried Sasson, Walter de la Mare and Marianne Moore. She has since been neglected, but her star is beginning to rise again, all the more since her 150th anniversary in 2019. This is the first comprehensive biography, from cradle to grave, and is written by fellow poet Julia Copus, who recently unveiled a blue plaque on Mew's childhood house in Doughty Street and was the editor of the Selected Poetry and Prose (2019). Mew was a curious mix of New Woman and stalwart Victorian. Her poems speak to us strongly today, in these strangely mixed times of exposure and seclusion: they reveal the private agony of an isolated being who was forced to keep secret the tragedies of her personal life while being at the same time propelled by her work into the public arena. Her poetry transfigures that very private suffering into art that has a universal resonance.

Year:

2021

Language:

English

Publisher:

Faber & Faber

Pages:

464

ISBN:

0571313531 (ISBN13: 9780571313532)

Reviews

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Los Angeles Review of Books image

7 months ago

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A Solo on the Pipe: On Julia Copus’s “This Rare Spirit: A Life of Charlotte Mew” Copus saves Mew from a fate as a pitiable, travel-sized sprite of legend and rounds her out, showing an intelligent writer with an aversion to “highbrows” and enough steel to repel the unasked-for advice of even her most eminent correspondents with a nicely timed allusion, or by slipping into French. A few of her poems are marked by a sort of cri de coeur, a phenomenon which fascinated her more broadly in literature, as shown among the correspondence quoted here, and it’s this aspect — an unswallowable, passionate intensity — that continues to carry a powerful charge. She published relatively few poems in her lifetime, but those she did seem almost miraculously wrung from the stultifying grind of duty and penny-pinching. Not coincidentally they have the authority of poems which had to be written, and still strike the modern reader — as they did her contemporary “discoverers” — as bearing the mark of the real thing. As a review of her posthumous second book, The Rambling Sailor, put it, “People are apt to think that in a highly organized civilisation genius is not overlooked. They forget the crowd, the hurry, and the noise, which combine to drown a solo on the pipe.” Copus’s diligent, scholarly, sensitive work should help Mew’s pipe play on for years to come. About the author: Declan Ryan’s debut pamphlet was published in the Faber New Poets series in 2014.

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