My “Mathilde Blind” Oxford Bibliographic article is now onlinehere.
Although this article resides behind a paywall, if your library does not currently subscribe to Oxford Bibliographies you can request that your library request a trial subscription using this form. I can update this bibliograpy at any time, so please let me know of any resources I should add.
Here is my Introduction to Blind, her career, and her importance to Victorian literature for this article and entry:
Mathilde Blind (b. 1841–d. 1896), poet and woman-of-letters, was born in Mannheim, Germany, but moved to London in 1852 after her mother and stepfather were exiled for their participation in the European revolutions of 1848. True to her family’s radicalism, her subsequent writing reflects her cosmopolitan sensibility, her freethinking, and her feminism. Blind rose to prominence in the early 1870s, both as an expert on and proponent of the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley and as one of the few women writers published in the Dark Blue (1871–1873), a short-lived but influential journal that published essays, tales, poems, and illustrations by Britain’s leading Pre-Raphaelites and aesthetes. By the early 1890s, Blind had published five volumes of poetry, a novel, two translations (The Old Faith and the New: A Confession by David Friedrich Strauss and The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff), and two biographies for the Eminent Women series (George Eliot and Madame Roland). Her essays and reviews had also appeared in the Westminster Review, the Athenaeum, Fortnightly Review, National Review, Whitehall Review, New Quarterly Magazine, Examiner, and Art Weekly. A central figure in London’s literary and artistic community, Blind was close to many influential late Victorian writers and artists, including Algernon Charles Swinburne, Ford Madox Brown, Vernon Lee, Arthur Symons, Mona Caird, and Rosamund Marriott Watson. The range, subject matter, and stylistic characteristics of Blind’s poetry embody and serve to highlight both the through-line connecting mid-Victorian aestheticism and fin-de-siècle decadence and the intersections and underground alliances linking the New Woman and Decadent movements. Like many of her fellow late-century women writers, Blind was little read during much of the 20th century, but is now attracting renewed attention in the wake of the resurgent interest in aestheticism, cosmopolitanism, the fin de siècle, and New Woman writers.
Today a new section of the website has been added, featuring letters from Mathilde Blind to various correspondents. The first of these, in chronological order, is her first known letter to her contemporary and friend Lucy Madox Rossetti (see excerpt above), part of Oscar Wilde scholar Michael Seeney’s personal collection of late-Victorian literary manuscripts.
The next set of excerpts come from a series of letters Blind wrote in 1873 to her friend Richard Garnett, then Assistant Keeper of Books in the British Library, while on an extended visit to the Hebrides archipelago on the west coast of Scotland. These letters are of particular interest because three of Blind’s poems–“The Prophecy of St. Oran,” The Heather on Fire, and “The Ascent of Man,” drew inspiration from this trip.
The 1889 letter is the only known letter from Blind to Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s mother, born Jane Francesca Agnes in 1821 (she became Lady Wilde in 1864, when her husband, the surgeon Dr. William Wilde, was knighted for his involvement with recording births and deaths in Ireland). This letter is also reproduced thanks to the generosity of Michael Seeney, who has granted me permission to publish it here along with the letter to Lucy Rossetti.
In “Making Peace with Mathilde Blind,” Drabble re-reads Blind’s poetry, and also acknowledges one reason for the neglect that Blind and other late-Victorian women writers suffered in the early to mid-20th century–and in universities and colleges:
Reading her works, and reading of her life, I became acutely aware of how much our sense of literary history has evolved since my undergraduate days in the late 1950s. Although Newnham was (and is) a women’s college with a confident sense of its own female identity, in my day it had little interest in its connections with women’s literature. Feminist criticism had hardly been invented, and poets such as Mathilde Blind were far beyond our reach. We touched on the classicist Jane Harrison’s pioneering views of the matriarchy when we were studying Greek tragedy, and we were encouraged (and permitted by F. R. Leavis) to revere George Eliot and the Brontës, but feminist objections to D. H. Lawrence, which were to be articulated so formidably a decade later by Kate Millett, had hardly begun to emerge. . . . We had never heard of Amy Levy, the poet and novelist and the first Jewish woman to matriculate at Newnham, who committed suicide in 1889 at the age of twenty-seven; some critics have suggested that her death may in part have been prompted by the “homosexual panic” that peaked with the Oscar Wilde trial of 1895, . . . .
Confessing that she looks back on her years at Newnham “with some embarrassment [about] my complete lack of interest in the woman who had endowed the benefaction which was bestowed upon me by the college,” Drabble writes that “before the feminist rewriting of the canon,” she assumed that Blind “was a minor fin-de-siècle poetess, long forgotten and never to be revived. But she proved to be far more interesting than that.” She continues:
Drabble notes that when she initially approached Blind’s poetry through anthologies (which typically misrepresent 19th-century women poets by reproducing only their shorter lyrics) “I didn’t get on with it very well.” But when she sought out her longer poems, she was struck by Blind’s scope and intellectual reach:
“Heather on Fire” (1886) is an impassioned and well-informed narrative poem protesting against the Highland Clearances, then well within living memory. Blind had visited the Isle of Arran in the summer of 1884, had seen the ruined villages and heard the “simple story” of “a solitary old Scotchwoman, who well remembered her banished countrymen”. Her magnum opus, “The Ascent of Man” (1889), is a long and intellectually challenging poem, written in several verse forms, some of them Homeric and reminiscent of Walt Whitman, whom she greatly admired, and some in more conventional metres. It is nothing less than an attempt to write an epic about evolutionary theory. She confronts “nature red in tooth and claw” in stanzas such as these:
War rages on the teeming earth; The hot and sanguinary fight Begins with each new creature’s birth: A dreadful war where might is right; Where still the strongest slay and win, Where weakness is the only sin.
There is no truce to this drawn battle, Which ends but to begin again; The drip of blood, the hoarse death‐rattle, The roar of rage, the shriek of pain, Are rife in fairest grove and dell, Turning earth’s flowery haunts to hell.
Drabble observes: “These lines are conventional enough, in terms of poetic diction, but the sweep of her narrative is grand, and Diedrick provides convincing contemporary evidence that many found the story she told gripping, one reader even missing her stop on the Tube in her absorption.”
Drabble also expresses pleasant surprise that “my hero,” the novelist Arnold Bennett (see Drabble’s 1974 biography) praised Blind’s poetry:
I was astonished to discover that my hero Arnold Bennett had given a favourable (though anonymous) review to her last volume of verse, Birds of Passage, which appeared when she was already very ill with uterine cancer. Bennett was assistant editor, then editor, of Woman (from 1894 to 1900). The magazine had published a profile of Blind in 1890 (July 3), and in his “Book Chat” column written under the name of Barbara, Bennett wrote that “Miss Blind sings in many modes — she is probably more various than any other woman-poet in English literature” (May 1895). He singled out the first poem in the volume, “Prelude”, for particular praise, and also “Noonday Rest”, written on Hampstead Heath under the willows.
Near the end of her essay Drabble reports on an unsuccessful search for Mathilde Blind’s grave, noting that
I went to look for Blind’s grave recently, but I went to the wrong cemetery. I went to St Pancras Old Church, just north of the British Library and the station, which I had visited before. I assumed she would be there because I knew Mary Wollstonecraft was there, and Blind had written about her. But I couldn’t find her memorial and nobody there had heard of her. She is in fact in the St Pancras and Islington Cemetery which is a huge plot, miles away. She was one of its first inmates, and she was cremated, when cremation was newly legalized. I don’t know if I have the energy to make another effort to look for her there.
In case Dame Drabble is reading this essay, I can satisfy her with both a description and a photograph of the impressive stone monument to Blind–both from my biography:
Two years after her death the Ludwig Mond family commissioned an imposing marble monument to Mathilde Blind, erected near the graves of Ford Madox Brown and his family in Islington and St Pancras Cemetery in East Finchley. . . . Blind’s monument, nine feet high and four feet wide, was carved from Carrara marble by the French sculptor Edouard Lanteri, an expatriate like Blind and a professor at the National Art Training School in Kensington. Near the top of the edifice is a life-size medallion profile of Blind (based on the smaller bronze medallion Lanteri cast the same year). Appropriately, given the ways in which she unsettled Victorian gender codes, her face resembles that of a Roman emperor, while her luxuriant, Pre-Raphaelite hair prominently proclaims her female beauty, spilling down outside the frame of the medallion. She is facing west, and two full-length female figures are flanking her: the classical goddesses of Philosophy and Poetry. Blind’s name is carved at the top of the marble frame of the urn receptacle, and beneath it are the same words she had inscribed on Brown’s memorial wreath: “Death is the Mercy of Eternity.” (Mathilde Blind: Late-Victorian Culture and the Woman of Letters 255-56)
Drabble’s essay ends by imaginatively revivifying the woman whose generosity smiled on Drabble at Newnham, and whose writing still speaks to us in the 21st century:
It took me a long time to catch up with her in person, but now I can see her dancing wildly in St John’s Wood and striding boldly through the Alps and declaiming dramatically to an eager audience. She has come back to life.
In making the award, Adam Wood, Chair of the SAMLA Studies Book Award, had this to say about the book:
“James Diedrick in Mathilde Blind: Late-Victorian Culture and The Woman of Letters provides a highly readable biography of an important but overlooked intellectual of the late-Victorian era. His thoroughly researched book illuminates politics and history as it shows Blind’s multi-genre literary influence. This biography sheds new light on writers and a time period that we thought we knew well.”
Linda Wetherall reviewed Mathilde Blind in the Fall 2017 issue of The Victorian Periodicals Review (pp. 666-69). I am happy to see the book reviewed here, since Victorian periodicals provided both a home and proving ground to Mathilde Blind as she was establishing her reputation as a cosmopolitan woman of letters. In fact, this is something I discuss in one of my first essays on Blind, which appeared in the VPR in 2003 (“A Pioneering Female Aesthete: Mathilde Blind in the Dark Blue“).
Wetherall’s review begins with this assessment and overview:
The biography is a pioneering work that uses periodical reviews of Mathilde Blind’s literary works, as well as letters from her circle of friends to create a highly detailed account of her life. Diedrick, who has spent nearly two decades meticulously researching Blind’s life, . . . identified two main goals for this biography. First, he aimed to show that “Blind’s story has a historical as well as literary significance, illustrating the complex affiliations linking radical thought, revolutionary politics, and aestheticism in the mid- to late nineteenth century” (xii). Diedrick’s second goal was to demonstrate how “feminist theory and theories of cosmopolitanism” are “rooted in and linked to Victorian discourse—on aesthetics, citizenship, nationhood, imperialism, gender, and sexuality—and how Blind herself contributed to this discourse” (xii). Diedrick succeeds in accomplishing these goals through the passionate and thorough research encompassed by this 336-page biography.
She concludes her review thus:
As Blind’s first biographer, Diedrick undoubtedly had a challenging task before him. But this book skillfully balances extensive historical research into Blind’s life and the lives of those within her social circle with thoughtful and thorough literary analysis of her writing and critical reception. Furthermore, this biography contains a wealth of information on late Victorian periodicals for scholars interested in feminism, aestheticism, and cosmopolitanism, as well as contemporary critical reactions to those ideologies and movements. Mathilde Blind is a welcome addition to the scholarship on women writers and intellectuals at the fin de siècle.
Victorian Periodicals Review is published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. For access to the full review and information about the journal go to: https://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/victorian-periodicals-review