In the 1890s the poet Michael Field-the lesbian aunt-and-niece couple, Katharine Bradley (1846 -1914) and Edith Cooper (1862-1913)-were close friends with the art connoisseur Bernard Berenson (1865-1959). Under the influence of Walter Pater, the three avidly discussed the connections uniting the artwork, viewer, and artist. Critics have long known that Cooper fell passionately in love with Berenson, but no one has examined this relationship closely. This essay uses the Michael Field poems, letters, and diaries to explore the impact of falling in love with a man on the Bradly-Cooper relationship and their poetry. Cooper felt that she and Berenson were faun-like creatures who instinctively understood each other on a deeper level than the physical. Berenson sought Cooper's ethereal independence while he was courting a married woman; Cooper turned to him when she wanted a more separate life from her aunt. Berenson never forgot Cooper's intense emotional response to visual art, a response that represented his aesthetic ideal. Cooper experienced a burst of creativity, reliving her intoxicating love in verse and prose. Bradley, as the older woman, struggled to reconcile herself to this attractive, destructive male intrusion into Michael Field's poetic and personal "oneness." The three drew on the emotions that they stirred in each other as a source of inspiration, but each discovered that emotion can outrun aesthetics.
- 2005 by The Regents of the University of California