Publication Details

Boyde, MJ, The poet and the ghosts are walking the streets: Hope Mirrless - life and poetry, Hecate: an interdisciplinary journal of women's liberation, 35(1/2), 2009, 29-41.


Hope Mirrlees (1887-1978), a British writer, was until recently perhaps best known for her fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist (1926) which attracted a cult following after its republication in the 1970s. She achieved a measure of celebrity as a result, attested to by the photograph of her, taken with her dog, published in a 1973 Travel and Leisure magazine with the caption: ‘A frequent guest over two decades, poet and novelist Hope Mirrlees and her pug, Fred, are very much at home in the foyer of the Basil’, a Knightsbridge hotel. Mirrlees also wrote two other novels, a biography, several translations and a book of poetry. Early in her career she wrote what has only recently been hailed as ‘modernism's lost masterpiece’ a long, experimental poem Paris (1919), one of the first works published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press. The experimental style and the epic length of Paris fitted the Woolfs’ vision for the Hogarth Press to publish ‘paper-covered pamphlets or small books, printed entirely by our two selves, which would have little or no chance of being published by ordinary publishers’. In every aspect the poem treads new ground – written in English it contains numerous French words and phrases, is interspersed with snatches of conversations, including direct speech, and does not conform to conventions of regular rhyme, stanzas, punctuation or typography. The Woolfs took immense care with the demands of Mirrlees’s innovative layout; it was, by Leonard’s account, ‘printed with our own hands’ – they produced 175 copies. Paris sold well and reviews pointed to its modernity – The Athenaeum highlighted its relation to other modern works calling it ‘immensely literary and immensely accomplished’ and locating it as somewhere ‘between Dada and the Nouvelle Revue Française’.

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