OTTOLINE: The Life of Lady Ottoline Morrell by Sandra Jobson Darroch

OTTOLINE: The Life of Lady Ottoline Morrell

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It is too bad that in the past few years there has been such an excess of Bloomsburyana and that in a single season we have not only two works about Bertrand Russell but also Lady Ottoline, tangential figures of this group. In Mrs. Darroch's favor is the fact that this is the first biography of the divine Ottoline and that if you can overlook all the sublime/ridiculous things said about her (as well as her own effusions in the second volume of her memoirs edited by Gathorne-Hardy, p. 746), Mrs. Darroch has managed to restitute some measure of respect and liking for her. Certainly she was the victim of a vendetta of small talk and the butt of endless witticisms. Six feet tall, topped with titian hair, and swaddled in eccentric garb, she looked like, as Gertrude Stein said, ""a marvellous female version of Disraeli."" She was also by inclination more than just a hostess to the great; by intention she was what used to be called their divine afflatus. Among her constantly changing circle of admirers, from Augustus John and Axel Munthe at the beginning to Eliot at the close, were three who were paramount: Russell, who after years of abstinence with Alys, pursued her with his fierce nature and pyorrhetic teeth; Lytton Strachey, almost ""part of the furniture""; and Lawrence who, sparked by Frieda, managed to destroy her to some degree. . . . All her acts of kindness--some of them were genuine--forgotten, all those voltes-face. Mrs. Darroch has based her story on the official correspondence, now in Austin, Texas, and handles it with gentle amusement, good taste and sympathy. For all of that Lady Ottoline remains a peacock feather bizarrerie.

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1975
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan