Wednesday, May 5, 2021

510. Michael Field, Prostitution and The Hague

In an article about Michael Field, pseudonym of Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper, Anna Gruetzner Robins wrote about the pair's erotic dreams and poems, but also about their study of Walter Pater's work in which 'male-male desire' predominates and in which images of women, such as Venus, are described in terms of prostitution: 'An undercurrent of revulsion runs through his comments. He imagines Venus to be a worn-out sex worker, a woman of the streets, up before dawn, with "sorrow in her face" at the thought of the whole long day of love yet to come.' ('A Woman's Touch: Michael Field, Botticelli, and Queer Desire' was published in Botticelli Past and Present, an open access publication of UCL Press, 2019). 

Michael Field had a crush on Botticelli's paintings, until Charles Ricketts convinced them that Edward Burne-Jones was a better painter. Apparently, he did not see that Burne-Jones could not help them have pleasant dreams. 

Capitoline Venus (Capitoline Museum, Rome)

Paintings such as Botticelli's 'Primavera' and sculptures such as the Venus of the Capitol triggered Michael Field's erotic fantasies. Katherine Bradley wrote from Rome to her lover Edith that, happily, the statue of Venus was unshrouded and unmutilated, but that 'the real beauty of the waist is only seen in the back', and she therefore hoped that someone would turn the statue around so that the 'beauty of the loins' could be engraved in her memory.

Her thoughts on the female body were firmly opposed to those of Pater and other nineteenth-century men. Gruetzner Robins briefly discusses Bradley's knowledge of prostitution. 

Josephine Butler (1876)

While living in Bristol, she had become acquainted with a group of Quakers around Josephine Butler who successfully opposed derogatory laws and measures against women in prostitution:

In September 1883 she travelled together with a group of women, including Josephine Butler, to attend the Third Annual Congress of the British and Continental Federation for the Abolition of State Regulation of Vice, at The Hague. There Katherine gave a speech herself and listened to five days of speeches about prostitution.
(Gruetzner Robins, p. 154)

From The Hague she wrote three long letters to Edith about her experiences in the Netherlands where the congress was held from 17 to 22 September 1883. She was one of the many attendees. It has to be said that most of the speakers were men and that there were special sessions where women were not allowed to participate and others that were organised exclusively for women, in addition to which Butler herself held meetings in her own chambers - and it was at one of those intimate meetings, an early-morning prayer-meeting, that Katherine Bradley manifested herself as a speaker. She did not make a speech, for it was during a prayer session that she said a prayer of thanks that won praise in the small devotional circle. This explains why her presence had escaped the notice of the Dutch journalists. There is nothing about these private meetings in the newspaper reports. In a letter of 23 September 1883 Bradley wrote to Edith:

I prayed in the midst of the people, and as I found from the loving gratitude of the Dutch ladies, was understood. I tried to say how that gathering made clear to me the meaning of the day of Pentecost, how though we could not all understand the words of some of the prayers we had heard each man speak in the tongue in wh. he was born, through the presence of the Holy Spirit. And bye the bye I prayed for the women of The Hague, when we left to begin the hard work, and especially gave thanks for these, who had adopted a tongue not their own for our sakes, and received us with such love and kindness. And the dear homely yet withal impressive and dignified ladies came to me and thanked me in a way I shall never forget.
(Sharon Bickle (Ed.), The Fowl and the Pussycat. Love Letters of Michael Field, 1876-1909. Charlottesville and London, University of Virginia Press, 2008, pp. 105-106).

Despite the hustle and bustle of the conference with speeches in English, French and Dutch, Katherine Bradley still saw something of the city and its surroundings. On 15 September, two days before the start, she arrived at Hotel Paulez.

Hotel Paulez [left], c.1880 (Collection Munipical Archives, The Hague)

In the centre of The Hague, opposite the Royal Theatre and on the corner of Korte Voorhout - where, after a bombing in 1945, the American Embassy designed by Marcel Breuer was to be built - stood the Hotel Paulez, which was a proud second on the list of luxury hotels in The Hague. The hotels that would later lead the ranking, such as Hotel des Indes where Pavlova stayed, did not yet exist at that time. Bradley therefore made an expensive choice, probably inspired by the stay of the entire delegation at the Hotel Paulez.

On her first day, she went with a delegation colleague to Scheveningen for a sea bath:

They gave me as it were a chemise in white flannel with no drawers: the experience though not very safe was delicious [...] The drive to ... the little sea-side place was through Magnificent alleys [...].
(letter, 19 September 1883)

That evening, she attended a busy reception given by the mayor of The Hague, J.G. Patijn, probably in the old city hall on the Groenmarkt.

Town Hall, The Hague (c.1900)

There were 'little glasses of foaming Champagne', 'little patties - wicked looking little things', 'tea in apparently blue Delft ware', after which she got into a conversation with a young Dutch woman with whom she talked about her dress, and Bradley tried to explain 'the high art position'. She was 'relieved to find she had heard of Morris'. Katherine and Edith 'rejected corsets and crinolines in favour of daringly clinging dresses in arty colours such as peach, gold or green, with hair loosely knotted at the nape of the neck' (see Emma Donoghue, We Are Michael Field, 1998, p. 33).

On the first day of the conference, she and Mary Priestman were helped by 'Pastor Pierson' in their search for a place to have lunch. Hendrik Pierson was one of the leading figures in the Dutch debate on prostitution and, according to Bradley, he spoke 'good' English and was 'serviceable'. 

Portrait of Hendrik Pierson (1896)
[Lithograph by Jan Pieter Veth]

Katherine described him as a man with long hair, a socialist who was to speak that evening. A group photo was taken of the participants that afternoon, but Mary and she 'remained obscure  in the background'. This photograph is depicted in The Fowl & the Pussycat, where the location is said to be the Zoological-Botanical Gardens. However, the company would only walk to the zoo after the photograph was taken, and the buildings in the background correspond to the environment of the place where the conference was held. The opening was held in the parliamentary buildings, in the famous Trèves hall, but the congress afterwards took place in the building of 'Kunst en Wetenschappen' (Arts and Sciences) on Zwarteweg. On such occasions, group photos were often taken in the gardens behind the building - some of those can be seen on the website of the Municipal Archives of The Hague. (This district, between Herenstraat and Schedeldoekshaven, was later demolished and replaced by new buildings.)

Kunst en Wetenschappen, c. 1880
[Collection Municipal Archives, The Hague]

Bradley bought some grapes, and the party moved to the Zoological Gardens where they 'sat by a pond, and watched the stork on one leg!' 

A delicious place this garden, with the most exquisite foliage plants, and nice brilliant coloured birds [...].
(19 September 1883)

The Zoological Gardens, The Hague
(map, c.1870)
[Collection Municipal Archives, The Hague]

In the gardens (located opposite today's central station), many plants and birds could be viewed, but there were also various animal species including kangaroos, deer, a camel, squirrels, antelopes, mouflons, zebras, marmots and bears.

On 22 September, a closing reception was held at the home of Henrik Count van Hogendorp (1842-1924) and his young wife Alice Ellen, born Gevers Deijnoot (1857-1905).

Henrik Count van Hogendorp
[Collection Municipal Archives, The Hague]

Katherine described the reception in a letter of 23 September 1883:

And then at half-past eight to the Count van Hogendorp's - the last great reception at one of the grand aristocratic old families of Holland.  [...] The young and beautiful wife had a word for each, - graceful and full of frankest charm [...] Tea in exquisite Delft ware - no handles to the cups - was passed round. I was introduced to a Dutch gentleman - then to his wife, and then in a quiet time looked round at the brilliant Assembly, and at the room, with its Delft wall-plate, its probably family miniatures, and soft tinted curtains. Afterwards in an adjoining room we gathered to hear Mrs Butler speak. There looked down the great  ancestral Hogendorps - approvingly I should think [...].

During Butler's speech, Bradley's gaze wandered to a small Dutch painting of a knitting girl in a white dress. Afterwards, many of the Dutch ladies approached her: 

I am to them a Dutch Madonna - their chosen, as it seems to me of all England's delegates.

And that was because of her prayer of thanksgiving the day before.

The next day Mary Priestman and Katherine Bradley travelled to Amsterdam and from there via Rotterdam back home. Whether Bradley, after this trip, ever spoke again at meetings of the Ladies National Association is unclear. But ethical subjects had the interest of both Michael Fields. They spoke out in favour of votes for women, supported a local anti-vivisection society, and Katherine Bradley had subscribed to John Ruskin's utopian Guild of St. George. Although public activism was set aside for literature; Bradley continued to attend lectures on socialism, and charity, and attended meetings of the Fellowship of the New Life, but 'appeared to have been more of a bystander than an involved member' (Diana Maltz, in Michael Field and Their World, ed. by Margaret D. Stetz and Cheryl A. Wilson, 2007, p. 198).

The prayer of thanks must have been an exceptional expression of faith for a poet who later adhered to pantheism (with a pagan temple in the garden) and still later converted to the Roman Catholic faith.