OTTOLINE MORRELL by Miranda Seymour


Life on the Grand Scale
Age Range: 1873 - 1938
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 Ottoline Morrell (1873-1938), benefactor to and social catalyst of the Bloomsbury Group, has found in Seymour (Ring of Conspirators, 1989, etc.) a sharp eye and fine sense of irony to tell, for the first time, her side of the story (her memoirs, which appeared shortly after her death, were edited by her husband)--and it's an amazing one, including nearly every artist and writer in early 20th-century England. With a title, a small inheritance, but little education, talent, or even good health, Ottoline married Philip Morrell, who became an MP. Through a devoted but asexual marriage that survived their many infidelities, the two created the most famous salon in modern England, first in London and then on the great country estate of Garsington, outside of Oxford. There, between the wars, among exotic birds and flowers, Bertrand Russell, D.H. and Frieda Lawrence, Eliot, Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Katherine Mansfield, Aldous Huxley, E.M. Forster, Graham Greene, Walter de la Mare, Oxford undergraduates, and a clutch of painters and dilletantes enjoyed their freedom, Morrell's hospitality and admiration, and the ``spirit of active benevolence'' in which she sheltered, fed, amused, comforted, and loved this unruly crowd--who repaid her with scurrilous letters, betraying her even as they used her. Over six feet tall with red hair and a taste for wearing bizarre costumes, Morrell was an easy mark for parody, but as Lawrence--who in Women in Love offered the most painful one--said, she ``moved men's imaginations.'' And her range was encompassing: She could enjoy a Henry James or Joseph Conrad, a Wittgenstein or the young stonemason with whom, late in life, she had her first successful sexual experience after a lifelong romance with Bertrand Russell. Social history at its best. Ottoline confided that ``life on a grand scale'' was ``damnably difficult''--and Seymour has captured that life splendidly. (Photographs)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-374-22818-3
Page count: 452pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1993


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