Charlotte Mew was born in Hampstead in Victorian and Imperial England and she took her own life in tragic circumstances in 1928, in a post-war and Modernist world. She is regarded as both a Victorian and Modernist poet and prose writer. Her work, published in The Yellow Book and by The Poetry Bookshop, crosses the borders of both the late Victorian era and the early years of the Modernist 20th century. Her contemporaries often saw an odd, quiet, miniature woman strolling through Bloomsbury in clouds of cigarette smoke and a bowler hat. Despite her traditional Victorian upbringing in a professional middle class family Charlotte was fascinated by the bohemian, engaged in risqué escapades in Modernist Paris but found herself and her selfhood trapped within the social conventions of Victorian England, as an onlooker of the Fin de siècle and its rich cultural underbelly.
Charlotte Mew’s poetry is encoded with notes of repressed homosexuality, an interest in exoticism and an obsession with Charlie Chaplin’s films. Her life she conducted as if she was a changeling living in Victorian England and in her poetry she discovered a place where she defined her identity when all around threatened to repress it.
Her poem ‘On the Road to the Sea’ deals with impossible unions — love without return, control without power, fantasy without fulfilment. Nicola Rowlands’s series of photographs by the same title explore these issues and those of Charlotte's two other poems — ‘Rooms' and 'Fame' — navigating feelings of desire, sexuality, whimsy, and frustration, with Charlotte as her guide and experience as her landscape.
These images viewed as an elegy do not attempt to resolve the issues confronting Charlotte Mew, but offer them as they might be today, showing the fleeting intersection of people, place and time in a dichotomy of pleasure and pain, and an underlying and infinite struggle to return to the sea. Charlotte needs to be remembered not merely for what she was like but for who she was.
Nicola Rowlands is an artist from Los Angeles dividing her time between working in Southern California and in London. She studied fine art photography and film at Central Saint Martins and UCLA. Her work is published in the UK, USA, and Asia in both editorial and literary contexts. She has participated in group and solo exhibitions in Derbyshire, London, Los Angeles, and New York.
For this project, On the Road to the Sea, Nicola Rowlands worked closely with award winning poet and Modernist scholar and designer Jane Weir in recovering Charlotte’s her-story and life’s work.
On the Road to the Sea is published in a limited edition Art Book by Templar Poetry, juxtaposing Nicola Rowlands’s images with Charlotte Mew’s original poetry and incorporating a monograph by Jane Weir.