Gordon Bottomley

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Gordon Bottomley wrote nondramatic poetry, much of it published privately, in anthologies and in the small literary magazines of his time. Bottomley also favored minor dramatic poetry that appears in the form of monologues, “duologues” (his term), and preludes. He also wrote many one-act plays, a form fashionable in small theaters and theater festivals, religious and secular, in the early part of the twentieth century. Examples of such miniatures of dramatic experimentation include Ardvorlich’s Wife, in Scenes and Plays, and the short plays with Celtic themes in Lyric Plays and Choric Plays and a Comedy.

In addition to his lyric poetry and poetic drama, Bottomley took an active interest in visual arts and the careers of colleagues in a wide range of the arts. Therefore, he introduced works by Sir James Guthrie, the graphic artist, and poetry by William Morris and Isaac Rosenberg, prominent poets of his time. He also left a lengthy correspondence with the painter and illustrator Paul Nash. It was Bottomley’s conviction that serious drama must embrace music and the visual arts.

Bottomley also practiced the art of the dedicatory poem or prologue. Nearly every one of his theatrical works is dedicated in verse to a prominent artistic friend or colleague, including those mentioned above. In this practice, the playwright followed and enlivened a long-standing tradition. Often Bottomley’s prologue poems contain not only the standard praise for their recipient but also a brief apologia for his work.


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Gordon Bottomley was the recipient of the Femina Vie Heureuse prize, given in Paris in 1923, and three honorary degrees, from the universities of Aberdeen, in Scotland, and Durham and Leeds, in England. Perhaps, however, the playwright’s achievement should be measured less by official acknowledgment than by his influence on contemporaries and disciples. The intense artistic friendships that Bottomley maintained helped give momentum and focus to the efforts of the Georgian poets and to aid the movement of poetic and dramatic theme, structure, and language toward a distinctly modern mode. Bottomley was a recognized leader of his contemporaries, reading other playwrights’ work in progress, writing frequent letters in response, and providing opportunities for stimulating work to designers, producers, and actors.

One of Bottomley’s principal contributions to the arts was his insistence on proper vocal training and delivery of lines of verse on the stage. Seeking to reestablish verse as a proper medium for drama, Bottomley was active in the formulation of a verse-speaking society whose efforts were copied elsewhere in Britain, Ireland, and the United States. By working with this society—with John Masefield, the poet laureate, who maintained a small theater in Oxford, and with experimental groups at the theater at Dartington Hall in Devon—and by aiding in the production of his and others’ works by smaller groups and amateur groups, such as the Festival Theatre in Cambridge and the Yale University Drama School, Bottomley revived emphasis on the words used by playwrights to convey their dramatic ideas. A Stage for Poetry: My Purposes with My Plays, published in the year of his death, encapsulates Bottomley’s views on the necessity for an artistic theater, definitely not aimed at mass audiences and their tastes. Appendices in this text delineate his views on the need for the spoken word, in formal verse lines, to predominate on the stage.


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Demastes, William W., and Katherine Kelly, eds. British Playwrights, 1880-1956: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. This volume includes a discussion of Bottomley’s life and works.

Kirkpatrick, D. L., ed. Reference Guide to English Literature. 2d ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. This guide contains an entry describing Bottomley’s life and works. Bibliographical references.

Thomas, Edward. Letters from Edward Thomas to Gordon Bottomley. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. This collection of correspondence from Edward Thomas, the poet who encouraged Bottomley, to Bottomley sheds light on the relationship between the two writers. Includes bibliography.

Whitmore, Charles Edward. The Supernatural in Tragedy. Mamaroneck, N.Y.: Appel, 1971. An examination of the supernatural as it is used in drama. Contains reference to Bottomley.

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