Victorian Literature Mathilde Blind
James Diedrick
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0170


Mathilde Blind (b. 1841–d. 1896), poet and woman-of-letters, was born in Mannheim, Germany, but moved to London in 1852 after her mother and stepfather were exiled for their participation in the European revolutions of 1848. True to her family’s radicalism, her subsequent writing reflects her cosmopolitan sensibility, her freethinking, and her feminism. Blind rose to prominence in the early 1870s, both as an expert on and proponent of the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley and as one of the few women writers published in the Dark Blue (1871–1873), a short-lived but influential journal that published essays, tales, poems, and illustrations by Britain’s leading Pre-Raphaelites and aesthetes. By the early 1890s, Blind had published five volumes of poetry, a novel, two translations (The Old Faith and the New: A Confession by David Friedrich Strauss and The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff), and two biographies for the Eminent Women series (George Eliot and Madame Roland). Her essays and reviews had also appeared in the Westminster Review, the Athenaeum, Fortnightly Review, National Review, Whitehall Review, New Quarterly Magazine, Examiner, and Art Weekly. A central figure in London’s literary and artistic community, Blind was close to many influential late Victorian writers and artists, including Algernon Charles Swinburne, Ford Madox Brown, Vernon Lee, Arthur Symons, Mona Caird, and Rosamund Marriott Watson. The range, subject matter, and stylistic characteristics of Blind’s poetry embody and serve to highlight both the through-line connecting mid-Victorian aestheticism and fin-de-siècle decadence and the intersections and underground alliances linking the New Woman and Decadent movements. Like many of her fellow late-century women writers, Blind was little read during much of the 20th century, but is now attracting renewed attention in the wake of the resurgent interest in aestheticism, cosmopolitanism, the fin de siècle, and New Woman writers.


The only full-length biography is James Diedrick’s book. Diedrick 2016 draws on archived and published letters, family records and memoirs in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada to create a chronological narrative of Blind’s life in letters that also analyzes her engagement with late-century artistic movements and cultural debates. Biographical information on Blind that precedes Diedrick 2016 can be found in a variety of 19th- and 20th-century sources. The most useful, but also gender biased of these include Garnett 1900 and Garnett’s 1901 Dictionary of National Biography entry, both of which are informed by Garnett’s close friendship with Blind and his knowledge of her family and social networks. Rossetti 1990 also provides essential information about Blind’s life, career, and social circles. Hueffer 1896 and Hueffer 1911 offer invaluable insights into Blind’s close relationship with Hueffer’s uncle, the painter Ford Madox Brown, and Brown’s extended family. In addition, the letters, diaries, and memoirs of many of Blind’s contemporaries contain revealing details about Blind’s personal and professional life, most notably Conway 1904 and Swinburne 1959–1962. In the late 20th century, McCrimmon 1989 details the relationship between Garnett and Blind, noting Garnett’s romantic feelings for his lifelong friend. Thirlwell 2010 provides important biographical information about Blind’s relationships with Ford Madox Brown and his extended family, especially William Michael Rossetti, Lucy Rossetti, and Catherine Hueffer.

  • Conway, Moncure Daniel. Autobiographical Memories and Experiences. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1904.

    Conway, the American expatriate, abolitionist, and freethinker, met Blind in the late 1860s when he was the minister of the South Place Religious Society in London, and his autobiography contains important observations about Blind, her family, and the many artists and writers in her circle.

  • Diedrick, James. Mathilde Blind: Late-Victorian Culture and the Woman of Letters. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016.

    This critical biography analyzes Blind’s life and career chronologically, while also identifying themes and movements (cosmopolitanism, aestheticism, secularism, the New Woman, the Decadent movement) that characterized the various phases of her career.

  • Garnett, Richard. “Memoir.” In The Poetical Works of Mathilde Blind. Edited by Arthur Symons, 1–46. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1900.

    Garnett’s memoir was the first to survey Blind’s entire life and career, and provide assessments of her major works, though he tends to slight her nonfiction and misrepresent some aspects of her literary sensibility (her intellectual rigor, her formal experimentation, the subversive strains in her writing).

  • Hueffer, Ford Madox. Ford Madox Brown: A Record of His Life and Work. London: Longmans, Green, 1896.

    Hueffer’s recollections of Ford Madox and Emma Brown’s “at homes” in the late 1860s and 1870s are particularly valuable for placing Blind in the milieu of the painters and poets he labels “Aestheticists,” calling the gatherings “historic” because the guest list included the likes of Dante Gabriel, William Michael, and Christina Rossetti; Edward Burne-Jones; Holman Hunt; William Morris; Algernon Swinburne; Richard Garnett—and Blind herself.

  • Hueffer, Ford Madox. Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections: Being the Memories of a Young Man. London: Chapman and Hall, 1911.

    The son of Francis Hueffer and Catherine Madox Brown, Hueffer (later Ford) spent some of his formative years in the presence of Blind, a frequent guest at the home of his uncle Ford Madox Brown, and his descriptions of Blind’s fierce independence and occasional imperiousness are revealing.

  • McCrimmon, Barbara. Richard Garnett: The Scholar as Librarian. Chicago: American Library Association, 1989.

    McCrimmon’s thoroughly researched biography of Garnett was the first to make the case for Garnett’s romantic attraction to Blind, while also emphasizing her reliance on his literary advice.

  • Rossetti, William Michael. Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti. Edited by Roger W. Peattie. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990.

    An essential source of information concerning Blind’s political allegiances, her relationship with Ford Madox Brown and his extended family, and key stages in her literary career.

  • Srebrnik, Patricia. “Blind, Mathilde (1841–1896).” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online. Edited by David Cannadine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Solid overview of Blind’s life and career that would benefit from updating given the significant scholarship on Blind since 2004.

  • Swinburne, Algernon Charles. The Swinburne Letters. Edited by Cecil Y. Lang. 6 vols. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959–1962.

    Swinburne’s letters to and about Blind provide important details about their relationship, and a “Confidential Paper” by Edmund Gosse appended to Volume 6 makes the claim—deserving of skepticism—that Blind hoped Swinburne would propose marriage to her.

  • Thirlwell, Angela. Into the Frame: The Four Loves of Ford Madox Brown. London: Chatto & Windus, 2010.

    Thirlwell devotes six chapters to Blind and her long-term relationship with Brown, often interpreting Blind’s poetry reductively in order to press her case that the poems express the poet’s unrequited love for the painter.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.