Lady Hermione

Miranda Seymour, literary critic, novelist, and biographer (eg author of Ottoline Morrell: Life on the Grand Scale), was born in an ancestral country house in England, and still lives there, together with her mother, her American husband, Ted, and a cat called Simpkins. She runs the house, Thrumpton Hall, as a wedding and corporate business, and has written a book (In My Father’s House) about her life there.

Garsington Manor is a hundred miles away, travelling south. From 1989-2010 it was the home of Garsington Opera.

On 25.7.14, Seymour wrote about Garsington Manor in The Guardian:

“…Garsington Manor never lacked either attention or comment during the 14 crowded years it was the home of Lady Ottoline Morrell and her husband, Philip. Rumours proliferated: that Ottoline had dispatched her live-in lover, Bertrand Russell, to a house called Conscience Cottage; that Philip had fathered two illegitimate children in a single summer; that DH Lawrence, one of Garsington’s most faithful visitors, had used his latest novel (Women in Love) to mock his aristocratic hostess for treating her guests “like prisoners marshalled for exercise”. And had Ottoline (in fact dressed in a perfectly respectable bathing costume) really invited a young man, Duncan Grant, to dive and see that she was quite naked in the dark waters of Garsington fishpond?…

War, to which both of the Morrells were unanimously opposed from the start, provided Ottoline with a cause. Garsington – the beautiful ruined manor house into which the couple moved during the summer of 1915 – provided her with a means of response to that moral issue. In January 1916, following the Military Service Act by which all males between 19 and 41 were required to defend their country, Ottoline and Philip took action. Philip, drawing on his legal training, successfully represented friends such as Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant and David Garnett at their tribunals. Ottoline offered Garsington as a farm that would provide employment for the conscientious objectors (farmwork was deemed to be of national importance), pleasantly combined with free hospitality and sympathetic companionship. In wartime England, there would be no refuge to compare with Garsington…

Lawrence, despite the cruelty of his portrait of Ottoline as Lady Hermione, fell hopelessly in love with Garsington. “My God it breaks my soul,” he wrote to Cynthia Asquith from Garsington one soft November day: “this England, these shafted windows, the elm trees, the blue distance … ” Clive Bell, discontentedly settling into the cottage that the Lawrences had rejected (and bitterly resenting the demotion of a Bloomsbury intellectual to the status of a farm worker), however, had no kind words to say. Ottoline’s decor reminded him of a parrot house. Her love affairs, from the viewpoint of one of Bloomsbury’s most promiscuous spouses, were pathetic and outrageous…

…to friends – writing from the comfortable first-floor bedroom which was reserved solely for his personal use – (Lytton Strachey) grumbled about detestable guests, abysmal food, hateful parlour games and brainless hosts. (“They’re so stupid, so painfully stupid … “)

Why, then, did he visit Garsington so frequently, and for so long, inquired a sincerely puzzled Virginia Woolf. Unable to answer, he redoubled his malice. The honest answer, as with so many of Ottoline’s guests from the Bloomsbury circle, was that Strachey felt embarrassed by his indebtedness to a woman for whom he felt, deep down, a genuine affection. Alas, how his intellectual friends would laugh at him! How much easier to allow them to laugh at Morrell…”

Sarah Watling: Noble Savages (2019):

“In the autumn of 1915, Daphne (Olivier) found a short refuge at Garsington Manor…Ottoline was a society hostess with an artistic bent; a tall lean woman with masses of red hair and an equally distinctive nose and chin…

Garsington was an Elizabethan Manor House, which Ottoline had transformed with a colour scheme of bright red, sea-green and grey paint on the dark oak panelling and an excess of soft furnishings, incense and pot-pourri. Over the vibrant walls hung a collection of paintings by her friends, lovers and acquaintances…a great ilex tree presided over the lawn…

…Daphne, who had turned twenty-six just before her visit, found herself getting very sleepy, she told (her sister) Noel, “unaccustomed as I am to conversation – but it’s nice”.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s