Hope Mirrlees and Jane Harrison in "Paris"
Tomorrow, that's Sunday 20th, I have a tiny bit part in a Radio 3 programme, devised by Sandeep Parmar and realised by my friend and excellent BBC impresario Beaty Rubens. Sandeep is one of the BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinkers (ghastly title, good project), who have been commissioned to make Radio 3 programmes, to get their research out to a wider audience.
I first came across Hope Mirrlees when I was writing my biography (well, sort of "biography") of Newnham classicist (and the first professional woman classicist in the UK) Jane Harrison. Mirrlees was one of Harrison's devoted female pupils at Newnham. She more or less lived with Harrison from 1913, and rivalled another of Harrison's devoted pupils (Jessie Stewart) in writing a biography of their teacher. (That's the pair at the top of ths post.)
Stewart's Jane Ellen Harrison: portrait from letters was published in 1959. Mirrlees' biography was never finished, even though she lived until 1978, half a century after Harrison had died. The notes for Mirrlees' biographical project are in the Newnhan archive . To say say that they are off-puttingly cloying would be an understatement ("Jane was always overcome by the sight of washing hung out to dry" and other such rubbish").
So I recall that I did not have high hopes for the poetry that Mirrlees wrote, with the other string to her bow.
But I was wrong. I remember at the time being very struck by Mirrlees' long poem "Paris", a tribute to the city where she and Harrison lived after their escape from Cambridge. It seemed to my unprofessional eye a bit of an early modernist classic -- with clever plays on the classical and the modern, on Aristophanes Frogs and French "Frogs" (and on the sound of the metro as the sound of the frogs brekekekex koax koax).
And I remember at the time, almost 20 years ago, castigating myself for assuming that this slightly crazy woman (yes.. I still think that... come and read her volumes of notes if you doubt) would not write good poetry. But Sandeep Parmar has done the job properly, so I hope you will will listen at 6.45 tomorrow, Sunday, or on catch up.