New Scholarship: Sarah Parker on the Lesbian Muse

May 29, 2014

By Nancy Kuhl

Sarah Parker, The Lesbian Muse and Poetic Identity, 1889-1930, Pickering & Chatto, Gender and Genre Series (Series Ed. Ann Heilmann), 240pp: 234x156mm: 2013.
Summary: Throughout history the poetic muse has tended to be (a passive) female and the poet male. This dynamic caused problems for late Victorian and twentieth-century women poets; how could the muse be reclaimed and moved on from the passive role of old? Parker looks at fin-de-siècle and modernist lyric poets to investigate how they overcame these challenges and identifies three key strategies: the reconfiguring of the muse as a contemporary instead of a historical/mythological figure; the muse as a male figure; and an interchangeable poet/muse relationship, granting agency to both.
Through detailed study of the work of six late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century British and American women poets — Michael Field (Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper), Olive Custance, Amy Lowell, H.D. and Bryher — Parker argues that women poets found a number of innovative ways of negotiating the tradition of the muse. Radically re-imagining the muse, these poets resolve a number of the issues associated with this concept. However, their experiments also engender new challenges, raising differently-inflected questions, such as: how can a woman poet write about lesbian desire without objectifying another woman, and, is it possible to claim a male muse?

Author biography: Dr Sarah Parker is Impact Research Fellow at University of Stirling. She recently published her first monograph, The Lesbian Muse and Poetic Identity, 1889-1930 (2013), as part of Pickering & Chatto’s Gender and Genre Series. Her other publications include ‘‘A Girl’s Love’: Lord Alfred Douglas as Homoerotic Muse in the Poetry of Olive Custance’ (Women: A Cultural Review, September 2011), ‘‘Whose Muse? Sappho, Swinburne and Amy Lowell’ in Algernon Charles Swinburne: Unofficial Laureate (Manchester University Press, 2013) and ‘Fashioning Michael Field: Michael Field and Late-Victorian Dress Culture’ (Journal of Victorian Culture, 2013). She is currently working on her second monograph project, provisionally entitled ‘Women Poets, Celebrity and Photography, 1880-1914’.