Charlotte Mew’s strikingly original and passionate poetry remains under-examined by modernist critics, yet it holds great importance in presenting an alternative version of modernism that foregrounds issues surrounding gender, sexuality and otherness. Mew’s work explores key modernist themes such as alienation, fragmentation and psychological disruption from the perspectives of those on the margins of society, and in doing so challenges narrow definitions of the movement by highlighting the multiplicity and plurality of voices and concerns within it. Whilst Mew’s decentred position often informs painful reflections on shame, exclusion and powerlessness, the culmination of so many marginalised voices in the poems and Mew’s overriding compassion for the vulnerable creates a powerful challenge to the centre that contests traditional accounts of modernism as defined by white, European men. This article will explore how female experience informs Mew’s exploration of empathy between the marginalised and how personal experience of gender-based oppression inspires compassion for other vulnerable groups who suffer under similar power dynamics or social prejudices. It will consider how female experience shapes both the content of the poems and her choice of poetic forms that allow for concealment of self against the fear of exposure. It will also draw upon contemporary feminist readings of modernist literature and emotion to examine the ways in which gender informs Charlotte Mew’s treatment of key modernist themes and how this challenges conventional understanding of the movement.
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