Gordon Bottomley

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Gordon Bottomley was the son of Alfred and Ann Maria Bottomley (née Gordon). The senior Bottomley worked as a cashier in a Yorkshire worsted mill and sent his son to Keighley Grammar School. After he left school, the young Bottomley worked as a bank clerk until illness caused him to go into near seclusion. He married Emily Burton of Arnside in 1905 and lived quietly, settling permanently in 1914 in The Shieling, Silverdale, near Carnforth in Lancashire. The Bottomleys took lengthy holidays in North Wales and often stayed with literary friends. Although Bottomley shunned the literary life of London, he was always current with literary and artistic trends, enjoying frequent communication and correspondence with such scholars as Lascelles Abercrombie, a fellow Georgian poet-dramatist; John Drinkwater, who wrote poetic plays and produced one of Bottomley’s; Paul Nash, the painter, who produced sketches and studies of scenes from those plays; and Sir Edmund William Gosse, who would eventually respond negatively to the work of Bottomley and the Georgians. Perhaps Bottomley’s greatest literary friend and supporter, however, was Sir Edward Marsh, the editor of several volumes bearing the title Georgian Poetry (1912-1922), in which Bottomley’s work figured prominently.

For all of his Georgian traits, it should be noted that Bottomley was deeply influenced by the Celtic Twilight movement of the late nineteenth century, as well as by the closely related Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood . These movements were both interdisciplinary; both celebrated an idyllic, nearly prelapsarian, era of innocence and a setting in the more remote Celtic regions of Britain. Much of Bottomley’s work is set in Scotland and draws from its folklore and mythology. In this, he is seen often as imitating or paralleling the dramatic experiments of William Butler Yeats, who found his inspiration in specifically Irish material.

There is little of event to record of Bottomley’s personal life, but the publication and performance of one of his plays brought him a certain notoriety. When King Lear’s Wife was first published, it appeared as the first offering in one of Marsh’s anthologies, Georgian Poetry II, 1913-1915 (1916). The preceding volume had been published to nearly unanimous acclaim, and literary critics hailed the harder, cleaner images of the modern Georgian poets, who were self-proclaimed anti-Victorians. The young poets of the new century were successfully freeing themselves from the limitations of the past. When Georgian Poetry II, 1913-1915 was issued, however, the general critical response was negative—in some cases outraged—by what was judged to be excessive realism. The works of Bottomley and Abercrombie in particular were singled out as being representative of a new form of ugliness that offered violent and negative images of nature and humankind. Following productions of King Lear’s Wife in Birmingham in 1915 and in London the next year, this negative response continued, with its focus on a corpse-washing sequence and a song, based on a child’s nursery rhyme, which was considered shocking. It should be noted, however, that later critics, such as Frank Lawrence Lucas and Priscilla Thouless, have not been offended by Bottomley’s harshness, generally viewing his work as transitional: He was aware of and influenced by the past, but he looked to the modern age.

Although Bottomley was in poor health for most of his life, he lived to see literary fashion change a number of times and to witness a small rekindling of interest in his drama in the 1940’s, shortly before his death.

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