Hope Mirrlees wrote a novel that has influenced many of the best writers of modern fantastic and speculative fiction, and one long poem that rightfully stands alongside classic examples of Modernist and experimental poetry of the early 20th century. She also wrote quite a bit of other stuff, collaborated with the most famous female classicist of all time on several literary projects, and was an all-around interesting person who responded in unusual and frequently beautiful ways to an especially traumatic period in the history of the Western world.

To date, Mirrlees remains all but unknown in the literary world. There are a few stray academic articles that deal with her work (only two of much substance, both by Woolf scholar Julia Briggs) floating around, along with a lot of informal appreciations written by fantasy writers and readers. There’s a slowly growing Wikipedia article and another article on the Feminist SF wiki — and, as of this month, there’s a slender book on Mirrlees’ “extraordinary career and mysterious life” written by SF novelist Michael Swanwick.

None of these texts, valuable as many of them are, present a sustained analysis of Mirrlees’ work or of her position within the literary and cultural circles in which she moved. Some of the essays on Lud-in-the-Mist are excellent, and Swanwick’s book provides a small though precious horde of biographical details from letters and other archival documents, but I think Mirrlees’ work deserves more.

Furthermore, although I’m working on my own Mirrlees project—a master’s thesis on the uses of art, history, and transcendence in Lud—I’m well aware that there’s far too much for any single person to do. One of the most promising things about the current version of the web is that it’s very easy to collect and interlink information—and the cost of publication is tiny. In the process of researching my thesis, I’ve learned far more about Mirrlees’ work and cultural milleu than I’ll ever be able to use in a single article or thesis, and I know there are others out there working, quietly, on similar projects.

My aim here is to build a central place in which information on Mirrlees can be collected, analyzed, and discussed. Not because centralization is intrinsically better, but without a central list of resources, I fear that the efforts of our small community of readers and enthusiasts will spread so thinly as to be invisible. If you’re interested in contributing, please do send in relevant links and leads, and stick around as our discussions begin to develop. (Eventually, I’d love to publish some guest posts as well.)

Here we go.

8 Responses to “Welcome!”

  1. Astrid Nagl says:

    Dear Erin,
    Congratulations on both the idea and the beautifully accomplished site! I stumbled on it while searching for a Mirrlees biography and was dismayed to find that there isn’t any. Still, the detailed resources page is very helpful and saved me a lot of time :)
    As I would like to read a biography of Jane Harrison, which of the three mentioned would you recommend (as the least adversarial towards Mirrlees)?
    Also, am I right in assuming that Hope-in-the-Mist (Swanswick) can only be obtained directly from Temporary Culture?
    Thanks in advance and best wishes for your future work

  2. Erin says:

    Hi Astrid,

    Thanks very much for the kind words! I too am disappointed at the lack of a full-length bio of Mirrlees — I’m hoping this site can help fill the gap till someone writes one.

    In my opinion, Mary Beard’s Harrison bio is by far the most sophisticated (and the least anti-Mirrlees) . Annabel Robinson’s has a few details that Beard doesn’t, but Robinson’s strong distaste for Mirrlees oozes though in every mention. Michael Swanwick’s book collects the Mirrlees-specific details from all the Harrison bios into one place, and I’d recommend reading the Beard as well for general context. (I’ll have a full review of the Swanwick book up within the week.)

    Temporary Culture does seem to be the only place to get Hope-in-the-Mist, and Henry Wessells (the publisher) warns that they’ll probably sell out by late fall.

    I hope that helps!

  3. Astrid Nagl says:

    Dear Erin,
    Thanks for the quick (and helpful!) reply, it makes it much easier to decide! I’m looking forward to your review of the Swanwick.
    It is really high time someone wrote an extensive biography. And it’s such a pity that so few of Mirrlees’ original texts are available. There’s the British Library, of course… I gather from your resources list that you are planning to put “Madeleine” online as E-Text yourself?

  4. Sandeep Parmar says:

    Dear Erin,

    So glad to see this project on the web. I’m currently writing Hope Mirrlees’ biography and have just finished editing her Collected Poems at the University of Cambridge for Carcanet Press. The Collected Poems will be out in 2011 or possibly earlier. The biography will take a bit longer to complete and is based on Hope’s archived papers at Newnham College. Michael’s book is certainly a great start to the rediscovery of Mirrlees’ life. I look forward to reading more of your blog and if you’d like to be in touch please do email me (sandeep613@gmail.com).

    PS. Astrid—if you want to read about Harrison and haven’t already done so, read her own memoir Reminiscences of a Student’s Life. Better than the rest. Otherwise, Beard is probably the most accurate.


  5. caroline payne says:

    Well done for this beautiful site. I have undertaken some recent, postgrad research into Paris (not fantastic, but accurate at least), and would be willing to share it if you are interested. It explores feminine voice and sensory experience. Please let me know if it would be useful for you.
    Very best wishes

  6. Erin says:

    Hi Caroline,

    Thanks for the kind words! I’ve been unsuccessful at locating any contact information for you, but yes indeed, I’d love to know more about your research. (Sorry for the long delay!) You can reach me at erin at blissbat dot net.


  7. Al Simms says:


    I don’t know if you are aware of this but there is film in existence of Hope Mirrlees. Sometime here in the UK last year BBC4 showed a documentary about T S Eliot and about halfway through I was amazed to see a short extract of an interview with Ms Mirrlees in which she spoke briefly about her memories of Eliot. I think it said the interview was recorded in the early 1970s.


  8. liz milner says:

    Your site is beautiful and a very worthy tribute to Ms. Mirrlees. I think you do me an injustice though your description of my review. My intent was not to show that “Mirrlees was insufficiently Tolkienian” (whatever that means). I wanted to convey my sense of wonder at the fact that Tolkien and Mirrlees invented imaginary worlds that were remarkably similar in many respects though the two had never met or read each others’ writings. I was also intrigued by the main difference between the two. While Tolkien would have jumped feet-first into Middle-earth and never looked back, Mirrlees conveyed a sense of distrust toward her fantasy land.

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