Katherine Harris Bradley (1846–1914) and Edith Emma Cooper (1862–1913) had a triple relation: aunt and niece, lovers, and collaborative authors of poetry and drama. Their correspondence has been gathered by Sharon Bickle, and I will refer to their letters by their number in that collection. Many of them express their love in a lyrical way, and this is most striking for the year 1885.
A secret marriage
Indeed, it seems that in the year 1885, Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper engaged in a form of private marriage ceremony. In letter 105 to Katharine Bradley (October 1885), Edith Cooper writes “We have been wo fully married this year, save for that brief dear time of wh: my adored Apollo is the pledge.” According to the editor Sharon Bickle, the ceremony probably involved the gift of a copy of Apollo Belvedere. The letter ends with “And I have given myself to you as your spouse forever. May we be soon fully re-united!”
Several other letters from that year show that they considered each other as spouses. First, in those from Edith Cooper to Katharine Bradley: in letter 96 (August 1885), she signs as “Thy P. and Spouse” (P. stands for Pussicat); in letter 106 (October 1885), she writes “I’ll read Past and Present and in every way be your True Spouse;” in letter 111 (October 1885), she ends with “Dearest love, my Own husband. I send you this blue flower—I, your spousa, and so make you a brillant compliment;” in letter 114 (October 1885), she signs as “From the Spouse and Persian Puss.” Next, in those from Katharine Bradley to Edith Cooper: in letter 101 (September 1885), she signs as “Thy own Spouse;” in letter 109 (October 1885), she calls her “My Pretty Spouse;” in letter 119 (October 1885), she calls her “Darling Wife.”
I give here excerpts from three letters from Edith Cooper to Katharine Bradley. Of the two lovers, she was the most lyrical.
From letter 78 (April 1885) (here A.W.F. means All-Wise-Fowl, a nickname for Katharine Bradley):
May the Pussy be a little worthy of your sovereign love! The mild eyes are almost misty with delicious wonder and tremulous joy at being so richly loved. The tender morning dew-drops of song are safe in the bosom of Aganippe. It did not think, when yesterday it sighed for a song, that two such were flying to it, from the great, triumphing wings of the A.W.F. How dear and mighty you are and how your Pussy loves you deeper than anything but Art!
From letter 108 (October 1885):
My own dearest, I am very grieved you have gone through such trials. Your Pussie weeps in its heart. Yes, Pussie is coming to be your tear-bottle when your tears must flow, and your wine-cup when you are for joy. You shall always say what you really think and write it, even if it results in such sad, tho’ beautiful, little poems as those that came to me this morning. I am going to be your Mr Greatheart and fight your lions and Appolions, and take your hand up hill. Also I shall take you to refreshing meadows where you can hear the shepherd boy and see the rosy apples overhead.
From letter 117 (October 1885) (here Sim is a nickname for Katharine Bradley):
How thankful I am that you have been so brave and that the worst is known. It is a relief for me, for I was beginning to vaguely fear worse things. Of course the old Pussie wept with the Shock of Knowledge, but as I stood on the open moors I felt how blessed it was that nothing was hidden. Yes, my most Deare, we shall have beautiful times together and when you are sad and changed, your old grey Pussie will purr you back into comfort and never make its tail stiff. These illnesses are sent to make us love one another more fully, and we shall be sweeter and better for nursing and cherishing the darling Sim who has always been mighty and boundless in love to us.
Source of the letters: Sharon Bickle (editor), The Fowl and the Pussycat: love letters of Michael Field, 1876–1909, University of Virginia Press (2008).