Morrell, Ottoline (1873–1938)

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Morrell, Ottoline (1873–1938)

English patron of the arts, salonnière, antiwar activist, and memoirist. Name variations: Lady Ottoline Morrell. Born Ottoline Violet Anne Cavendish-Bentinck on June 16, 1873, in London, England; died on April 21, 1938, in London; only daughter and youngest child of Lt.-General Arthur Bentinck and Augusta Mary Elizabeth (Browne) Bentinck (later Baroness Bolsover); attended St. Andrews University, Scotland, 1897; attended Somerville College, Oxford, 1899; married Philip Morrell, on February 8, 1902, in London (died 1943); children: (twins) daughter Julian Morrell and son Hugh (b. May 18, 1906, Hugh died three days later).

Successfully campaigned on behalf of husband Philip Morrell for Parliament (1907); held salon on Bedford Square, London (1908–15); began affair with Augustus John (1908); began affair with Henry Lamb (1909); met Lytton Strachey (1909); began affair with Bertrand Russell (1911); bought Garsington Manor (1913); met D.H. and Frieda Lawrence (1914); held salon on Gower Street, London (1928–38); traveled to India (1935).

"There used to be a great lady in Bedford Square who managed to make life seem a little amusing & interesting & adventurous, [or] so I used to think when I was young & wore a blue dress & Ottoline was like a Spanish galleon, hung with golden coins & lovely silken sails." Virginia Woolf 's description of her friend is accurate but incomplete. Lady Ottoline Morrell was indeed a lady, a titled English aristocrat who spurned her illustrious lineage to become a patron of budding literary and artistic talents of the early 20th century. She was eccentric, flamboyant, possessive, generous, and unconventional, a tall, imposing figure dressed in gaudy, rather disheveled, ornate costumes that drew curious stares even on the streets of London. "She had a heart of gold and a yen for men," another friend remarked.

A descendant of two old, eminent noble families, the Cavendishs and the Bentincks, Ottoline's father was in line to become duke of Portland, to inherit vast estates in England and Scotland, as well as the family manor of Welbeck. However, he died unexpectedly in 1877, when Ottoline was four years old, and her half-brother Arthur assumed the title. Ottoline lived at Welbeck with her mother and three older brothers, Henry, William, and Charles, until the duke married in 1889. Largely ignored by her considerably older siblings, Morrell recalled that she never felt "gay." Welbeck, as she remembered it, was "a place denuded of romance … human love and companionship," where "the air, I am sure, was always cold and dark and melancholy." On the other hand, Welbeck hosted a dazzling array of high society, including the prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). Despite the advantages of wealth and social status, Ottoline was a lonely child. Her maids dressed and groomed her, and governesses educated her. But her early life was not restricted to Welbeck; in London, Ottoline and her mother frequented the theater, opera, and art galleries. Exposure to culture and weekly dance lessons were designed to prepare Ottoline for marriage into an aristocratic family of equal rank. But "the utter vapidity of the life of an upper-class lady" that Morrell witnessed at Welbeck influenced her future decisions.

After the duke's marriage, Ottoline and her mother (Baroness Bolsover ) moved to St. Anne's Hill, Chertsey, and kept a house on Grosvenor Place in London. The baroness was in poor health, and for several years Morrell nursed her while managing their households and traveling to various health spas and clinics on the Continent. At age 19, Ottoline had her "coming out" as a debutante, attending parties, dances and teas, where, she said, she "felt totally out of place." Almost six feet tall, shy and withdrawn, she found refuge in religion; she rejected the artificiality of society which Welbeck represented, a life that was "not just hollow, but evil." In the winter of 1892, when she and her mother were in Florence, Ottoline contracted typhoid fever and convalesced at the villa of her aunt, Mrs. Scott, who had three daughters (one of them, Nina Cavendish-Bentinck , would be the mother of Her Majesty Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon , wife of King George VI). On the journey home, they stopped in Paris, and the baroness bought fashionable clothes for Ottoline, and a pearl necklace that had belonged to Marie Antoinette .

Not long after returning to London, her mother died, and Ottoline went to live with her brother Lord Henry and sister-in-law Lady Henry Bentinck . Once again she became a part of high society, a society which, Morrell regretted, "did not admit of thought or individuality, or indeed of liberty or cherishing any delicate ideas." She did not fit into this world of lavish, elegant house parties, of shooting parties on Portland's estate in Scotland. And the family disapproved of Morrell's serious mien, her "long face." She tried to please, but in her own way; she admired her family's philanthropy and good works, and attempted to emulate them by giving Bible lessons to the farmhands and footmen and doing charity among the cottagers at Welbeck. Friendless, withdrawn, and unhappy, Morrell was shocked one day to realize, as she recounted in her memoirs, "They [her family] do not like me. My presence among them is unwelcome to them."

Morrell still found a certain solace in religion, but it could not compensate for the alienation she felt among her own social class. She enjoyed visits to London where her aunt and cousins entertained interesting society figures. And her narrow view of the possibilities of living changed when a Bentinck cousin took her to meet Mother Julian at an Anglican convent in Cornwall. Mother Julian became her mentor and confidante, assuring Ottoline "that to love beautiful things and enjoy life was not evil." Slowly Morrell began to understand her mother's buying dresses and the pearl necklace for her in Paris. "This discovery was the first step towards her liberation," claimed her biographer, Sandra Darroch .

At age 23, Morrell took another step towards freedom; she decided to go abroad. Her brothers were skeptical at first, but a family conclave finally approved her request. A proper chaperon and a female friend accompanied Ottoline to Brussels, then to Germany, Austria, and Italy from late summer 1896 to March 1897. On returning to London, Morrell announced that she wanted to attend St. Andrews University in Scotland. Another family conference was convened; they feared Ottoline might become a frightful "bluestocking" who would embarrass the family, but they finally gave their consent. For the first time, Morrell was forced to function outside of her upper-class world. Ill-prepared for college-level work, she registered for a class in logic—a poor choice since Ottoline's mind was never logical. She left school and did not return the next year; poor health, the cold climate, and her aversion to logic were all factors in her decision.

Her brothers were anxious for her to marry, but Morrell had already determined not to tie herself to the type of man she met in her social milieu. In fact, she was attracted to men who were ineligible partners; in 1897, she met Herbert Henry Asquith, a leading figure in the Liberal Party, later prime minister (in 1908) and married to Margot Asquith . Their friendship was deep, mutual, and lasting, and it may be assumed they were intimate at some time during their early relations. Less acceptable was Morrell's attraction to a Dr. Axel Munthe who treated nervous disorders in Rome. They fell in love when Ottoline visited him on the island of Capri in August 1898. Often alone together, they scandalized Ottoline's friend Hilda Douglas-Pennant . Only months later, when Morrell saw Munthe in Rome, he was "cold and cutting," saying he could not marry a religious fanatic who was also neurotic. Ottoline fled to her aunt's villa in Florence to recover. Obviously, Morrell's "yen for men" had as yet failed to lead to anything permanent.

Shortly thereafter, Morrell resolved to enroll in Somerville College, Oxford, where she studied history and political economy and was introduced

to socialism by her tutor. At the end of the school term, Ottoline remained in Oxford where she met the man she would marry, Philip Morrell, son of the university's solicitor. The upper-middle class Morrells were well placed in local society. Ottoline left Oxford in December 1899 or January 1900 and returned to London, where she and Asquith renewed their relationship. Whether it evolved into an affair is not clear, but Ottoline was flattered that "a man of the world would pay court to her." Determined to escape from the stifling and artificial lifestyle of her brothers, she left for a tour of Sicily and Italy with her friend Hilda. At age 27, Morrell realized that travel could not satisfy her "inner life"; Hilda saw marriage as the ultimate fulfillment, but Ottoline firmly rejected it as "a new kind of bondage."

It is indeed a damnably difficult thing to live fully, richly, gorgeously and yet courageously. To live on the grand scale.

—Ottoline Morrell

During the winter of 1901, Ottoline again met Philip Morrell at dinner parties. He was impressed with this statuesque woman from "a higher, more rarefied world" than his own, and they shared interests in art, books, and music. Philip had attended Eton and earned a law degree at Balliol. He had set up a branch of his father's law firm in London, but he clearly disliked the practice of law. While spending a weekend at the Morrell family home in Oxford, Philip asked Ottoline to marry him. Her extreme reluctance to commit herself is evident in their correspondence; Ottoline enumerated her several faults—she was deeply religious, strongwilled, and had a mind of her own. She also revealed that she received an allowance of £1,500 sterling from Portland each year, a considerable sum since one could live well in London on less than £300 a year. After Christmas 1901, Ottoline accepted his proposal, and they married the following February, to her family's great relief. Ottoline's brother Charles voiced the family's attitude towards their errant sister when he said to Philip, "Well, I am glad I am not in your shoes. I wouldn't undertake her for anything." Morrell later admitted that she married because she needed "someone or something" to enable her "to escape from the narrow world" in which she lived. In her memoirs, however, she also revealed: "I … clung to my solitary liberty. I believe in many women there is a strong intuitive feeling of pride in their solitary life so that when marriage comes it is, to a certain extent, a humiliation."

After a honeymoon in Italy, the couple settled in a house on Grosvenor Road, in a fashionable section of London. Almost immediately they became involved in national politics. Philip joined the Liberal League and decided to stand for Parliament from South Oxfordshire. Both Ottoline's and Philip's conservative families were outraged, and Philip's father forced him to resign from the family law firm, claiming that his Liberal leanings would alienate clients. Morrell campaigned on behalf of her husband and hoped-for liberal reforms, which she said, "helped me to a greater understanding of life." But political life was too often prosaic, and Ottoline grew bored and restless. Only a year after her wedding, she met John Adam Cramb, a writer with whom she could visit art galleries, bookshops, and attend concerts. Ottoline made every effort to keep their rendezvous from Philip, even though he seldom made a fuss about much of anything; he "was infuriatingly broad-minded," as Ottoline later noted. But Ottoline learned a valuable lesson from her friendship with Cramb—an affair could be as constraining as a marriage. She could not, and would not, allow a man, any man, to dominate her life for any reason. And more important, nothing would be allowed to jeopardize her marriage. Cramb was but a minor figure in her life, a prelude to the great loves that came later. As a married woman, Morrell was free to begin her "real life," in a world revolving around the arts and peopled by many of the most famous artists and writers of the 20th century.

Morrell craved "communication and social contact," and she began inviting interesting people to dine at her house. Henry James and Lytton Strachey were among the first to become her close friends. Unfettered conversation with a free range of ideas appealed to Ottoline and her guests, and, as Strachey's biographer remarked, Morrell's "sensibilities were undisciplined and over-elaborate," but she also had "the power to make artists and writers feel that their ideas were immensely exciting and important to her." It is generally agreed that she herself lacked "enough natural talent to develop into a creative artist in her own right," but her ability to recognize and draw out a nascent artist or writer was widely acknowledged; the range and number of acclaimed persons whom she helped and encouraged is truly astonishing. All Morrell now needed was the proper setting for her social gatherings.

In 1905, there was another reason the Morrells needed a larger house—Ottoline was pregnant, and she was not pleased. She frankly regarded this development as "an assault upon her person, a burden, the breaking into her existence by an unknown foreigner." Philip had a career, and she felt she would have "to bear the burden of a child alone." However, once the Morrells had acquired their spacious, imposing Georgian house at 44 Bedford Square, a few blocks from the British Museum in the Bloomsbury area, Morrell was able to create an exciting, informal, but quietly elegant environment for her famous "at homes," her Thursday evenings. Her entrée into the ethereal Bloomsbury world of art and intellect had come through gatherings at the house of Virginia Woolf (then Virginia Stephen) which Woolf shared with her sister Vanessa Bell , an artist, and two brothers. When Morrell established her Thursday evening salon, she became more than a mere host to the social and cultural elite of London, she became the patron and champion of promising talents. From 1908 to 1915, her house became known "as probably the most civilized few hundred square feet in the world"; however, the "Smart Set" of Morrell's aristocratic circle were unable to fit into this bohemian world. Years later when Morrell was praised as a patron of the arts, an elderly noble-woman responded, "but she has betrayed our Order" (the English patrician class).

Morrell not only entertained artists and writers, she was involved in their private lives, helping them financially, supporting them emotionally, and encouraging their efforts. The eccentricities of artists particularly appealed to Ottoline's passionate, compassionate nature, and she would have a series of affairs with her protégés. Augustus John and Henry Lamb were among her lovers who eventually had to break away from her often smothering attentions; she showered letters and gifts on her favorites who in time came to resent her overly solicitous presence in their lives. When passion was exhausted, Morrell and her former paramours remained close friends. Philip soon recognized that his wife was "addicted to romantic figures" and that he could do nothing to change her ways. In any case, Philip's time was consumed by his political life in which Ottoline participated when necessary; she actively campaigned for him, attended and often spoke at meetings, and got her friend Asquith to support him.

Lady Ottoline Morrell had three great friendships in her life: Lytton Strachey whom she met in 1910, Bertrand Russell, the well-known mathematician and philosopher, and the novelist D.H. Lawrence. Lytton, "the archpriest of the Bloomsbury Group," was an intellectual, a homosexual, and had a devastating wit; Aldous Huxley said of him, "Mr. Strachey is the eighteenth century grown up, he is Voltaire at two hundred and thirty [years old]." Ottoline recognized his literary talent long before he became famous, and for his part, Morrell's "unquenchable, aristocratic air appealed immensely to his eighteenth-century respect for noble birth," writes Darroch; "left to themselves they carried on like a couple of high-spirited, teenage girls." Lytton and Ottoline could be silly and uninhibited in one another's company—even as Lytton tottered around the room in Morrell's high-heeled shoes. And they shared a romantic involvement with men, such as the artist Henry Lamb. Morrell was also close to several other Bloomsbury figures, many of whom in this tight-knit coterie were homosexual. It is to Lady Ottoline's credit that she openly associated with homosexuals at a time when the practice was almost universally condemned as a "perversion." At the same time, she thought Lytton "might be saved for the female sex," and even suggested that he marry her friend Ethel Sands , a lesbian. However, Morrell failed to "convert" him. Lytton was a welcome, permanent fixture in the outré social world Ottoline created in London and would create at her country house, Garsington Manor.

The man who had the most profound effect on Morrell's personal life was the brilliant, passionate Bertrand Russell, known as Bertie. On Sunday, March 19, 1911, she gave a small dinner party on Bedford Square for Russell who was staying the night on his way from Cambridge to lecture in Paris. Ottoline was anxious about her ability to converse with a man of his intellect whom she did not know well. After the guests departed, Morrell and Russell talked for hours; Ottoline realized that he was troubled and encouraged him to talk. He confided that he did not love his wife Alys , that he needed love and was tired of his "puritan way of life and longed for beauty and passion." In a few hours Russell had fallen in love, and no less amazing, they had "agreed to become lovers as soon as possible." On his return from Paris, Russell insisted they each inform their spouses of their love, but Ottoline hesitated and finally refused to confront Philip. She had a great deal to lose, for she loved her husband and her daughter Julian Morrell . Moreover, Ottoline wondered if she could hold Russell's interest in her or if she were out of her depth intellectually. And there was the question of their disparate views on religion. Russell was a staunch atheist. Morrell was admittedly flattered that this learned man would be interested in her, but she found him "strikingly unhandsome," he "lacked charm and gentleness and sympathy," and his insatiable sexual appetite was exhausting. Furthermore, "Bertie suffered from acute halitosis" which made kissing "something of an ordeal." Their relationship was different from the flirtations and sexual flings Morrell had had with Augustus John, Henry Lamb, Roger Fry, and several other attractive male admirers. In this instance, "Russell was competing with Philip not for her love but for her life." It is little wonder that Ottoline suffered from chronic ill health and had to escape to spas and clinics on the Continent, seeking a cure for her debilitating headaches. Other problems beset the lovers; Russell's wife Alys threatened to create a public scandal and his brother-in-law informed Philip of Ottoline's infidelity in the most graphic sexual terms. And Russell disliked, perhaps was jealous of, Lytton with whom Ottoline was able to be "natural and gay"; Russell declared him "diseased and unnatural & only a very high degree of civilization enables a healthy person to stand him." The ever-tolerant Philip was not one of their problems, and soon he came to a mutual understanding with Ottoline which permitted her to indulge her emotional needs.

Despite poor health for which she under-went the most noxious treatments, Morrell kept her Thursday at homes and continued her involvement with Russell and former lovers. In 1912, her doctor recommended that she move to the country for two years; in March 1913, the Morrells bought Garsington Manor, near Oxford, a beautiful Tudor house of Cotswold stone set in 200 acres of gardens and farmland. Here for 14 years, writes Darroch, Morrell would preside over her "celebrated Renaissance court … [an] ornate, other-worldly environment [that] was soon the Mecca of all aspiring young writers and artists" and which became "a cultural legend." In this rarefied air "diplomats and aristocrats, fine ladies and their distinguished escorts" mingled with the Bloomsbury group and with as yet unknown writers and artists—Aldous Huxley, T.S. Eliot, John Maynard Keynes, George Santayana, Katherine Mansfield , Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington , Siegfried Sassoon, Graham Greene, and Stephen Spender. And Lady Ottoline served as patron, promoter, and host for this dazzling galaxy of cultural giants who peopled her house and restful garden at Garsington. The manor, Lytton claimed, was "very like Ottoline herself… very remarkable, very impressive, patched, gilded and preposterous."

Before moving to Garsington, Morrell had enjoyed a brilliant social season in London; her Thursday gatherings attracted London social and cultural lions, but she could still confide in her diary, "For many months I have felt a dire loneliness that nothing will ever relieve. I seem to have tried everyone and found them all wanting." And in August 1914, Ottoline also found the world wanting as Europe plunged into war. While "military fever" engulfed London, the Morrells were in despair. Ottoline was present in the House of Commons when Philip made his protest against British involvement in the conflict, eliciting "hostile murmurs" from his colleagues. Philip knew this might end his career, and it did. Their house became a center for the pacifist cause, and later Garsington would serve as a haven for conscientious objectors who worked on the farm in lieu of military service. To Morrell "war was an ugly, evil force," and she found "the glorification of brutality" repugnant. The war caused rifts in relations with family and friends, but it brought Ottoline closer to the Bloomsbury crowd who shared her views. Morrell aided German nationals living in London who were being harassed and took in some Belgian and French refugees, including Maria Nys who eventually married Aldous Huxley; Morrell also made a large gift of money to equip a field hospital in France. She hated war, but could not ignore those who fought.

In 1914, Ottoline was uncertain about the future; civilization itself was threatened with destruction, and although Philip, and she and "Bertie," were happier together now, she confessed that she was "beginning to feel, if not old, certainly weary." But Morrell continued to attract many of the eminent figures in Britain to her levées despite the war. She was criticized by some who regarded gaiety and the pursuit of pleasure as unfitting behavior during the conflict. But Ottoline needed to cling to habit, to friends, in order to relieve her anxiety about the perils Britain faced. A kind of forced "normality" was imposed upon those who frequented Bedford Square and Garsington Manor. In her usual way, Morrell took charge of promoting the careers of the Jewish artist, Mark Gertler, and of D.H. Lawrence whose novels impressed her and whose "intuitive feel of life" she found compatible. Lawrence's wife Frieda was not as captivated by Morrell as was her husband who was fascinated by Ottoline, a titled woman, the sister of a duke, and generous patron of the arts. Frieda Lawrence considered Morrell "a nice simple person who could be useful," and Ottoline, in turn, thought Frieda unworthy of Lawrence, "a rather blousy hausfrau."

On May 17, 1915, Morrell moved permanently to Garsington, which became the new center for her gatherings. She and Philip had invited the Lawrences to live in a cottage on the estate, but all four thought better of it, and the offer was withdrawn. But Ottoline still lavished them with gifts, even food. D.H. Lawrence's book, The Rainbow, had been banned, then seized and burned by the police, despite Philip's attempts to get the ban lifted. Ottoline gave Lawrence money so he could go to Florida, but he was denied permission to leave Britain and returned to Garsington. There guests from Japan to Chile mixed with the Garsington "regulars," Russell, Lytton, Aldous Huxley, and the Anglican bishop of Oxford, which made for a lively, incongruous amalgamation of minds. At Christmas, Ottoline gave a large party for the villagers, with dancing and games in the large barn and each of the 100 children receiving a gift. As Lytton wrote to his mother, "It takes the daughter of a thousand earls to carry things off in that manner." No doubt Morrell felt an obligation as mistress of the manor to have good relations with the villagers, but she also had to divert her thoughts from the bloody trenches in France.

The 1916 Conscription Bill directly affected several of Morrell's friends, and Garsington became a haven for men who were granted conscientious-objector status. Philip employed them as farm laborers. Housing and feeding them, and their many friends who came to partake of the Morrells' hospitality, put a strain on the Morrells' resources. Lytton, fortunately, was declared medically unfit for military service, and after a tribunal hearing, returned to Garsington to recuperate from his ordeal. (This despite his repeated complaints that Ottoline's economizing did not provide him with adequate meals.) Ottoline had been present at Lytton's hearing, and she was also involved in other legal actions that affected her friends. When Russell refused to pay a fine imposed for writing and distributing an antiwar pamphlet, Ottoline helped raise money to pay the fine and save his library from being seized and sold. However, she was annoyed with Russell for spending his money on dancing lessons for T.S. Eliot's wife Vivienne Eliot , while he could not find the means to save his own books. Morrell also lobbied to save the life of an Irish nationalist, Sir Roger Casement, sentenced to hang for treason for his part in the Easter uprising. She appealed to Asquith to intervene, but when Casement's diary revealed that he was a homosexual, Asquith rejected her plea.

Ottoline Morrell had always been attracted to romantic and sensitive artists, but she felt that she had not yet found her perfect spiritual companion. But in 1916, she met the young poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon, whose work she admired and promoted. He often stayed at Garsington during his leaves from active duty. Sassoon, however, never responded to Morrell's gestures towards greater intimacy. To him, she was too much of an idealist, and he considered her appearance "ludicrous"—when they first met Morrell was wearing "voluminous pale pink Turkish trousers" which shocked his staid British sensibilities. Sassoon was an astute observer and saw how many of Ottoline's intimates at Garsington used her caring nature to benefit their careers. "She had yet to learn that the writers and artists whom she befriended were capable of proving ungrateful," he wrote. Ironically, Sassoon turned out to be one of those who never thanked Ottoline, a bitter disappointment to her. And shortly, ingratitude on the part of other friends would be revealed publicly.

In late 1916, Lawrence sent Ottoline a copy of his new novel, Women in Love, and Morrell was appalled to find herself caricatured as Hermione Roddice, a woman with a "bizarre taste in clothes," certainly an observation made by anyone who knew Ottoline. Worse, he portrayed the character as demonic, envious, and filled with hate. Hermione lusts after Birkin, the narrator of the book who is patterned after Lawrence himself. Birkin shuns Hermione and falls in love with the heroine Ursula, based on Frieda Lawrence. Morrell was devastated by this cruel portrait, because it had been "written by someone whom I had trusted and liked." Further, "I was called every name from an 'old hag' obsessed with sex mania, to a corrupt Sapphist. … My dresses were dirty; I was rude and insolent to my guests." In her memoirs, Morrell noted: "The hurt that he had done me made a very great mark in my life." In addition, Lawrence had satirized Philip, Julian, Russell, and others, as well as the house and garden at Garsington. The fact that Lawrence's portrait contains some kernels of truth only hurt more. The wound took years to heal, and Morrell "vowed that never again would she leave herself so vulnerable." It is hard to imagine that Ottoline would not expect her writer friends to draw on the many eccentric and anomalous characters that inhabited her world for their works. And surely Morrell herself was among the most extraordinary of these characters. A few months later, she discovered that she was again made an object of derision. In early 1917, a play in London had a character called Lady Omega Muddle. Morrell was slowly and sadly coming to the realization that some of her friends "regarded her as a figure of fun." But this was not the last of the disappointments that Ottoline would suffer at this time. Bertie decided to break free from his entanglement with Ottoline; he decided to "kill her love" as he had done with his wife Alys. His frequent sexual forays had been accepted by Morrell who was always available to commiserate with Bertie and to reaffirm her love for him when his affairs proved unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, Russell's abrupt dismissal stunned her, for she was not prepared for it, and she was deeply hurt. "Don't let me go. … You have lost me," she wrote on the envelope of one of his letters. In January 1915, Ottoline had written to Russell, with some prescience, "It is worth all the sufferings of hell to love like this." Now she had experienced the hell that love often brings. But the usual mutually necessary reconciliation ensued; Ottoline and Bertie needed one another—forever.

A more devastating blow was Ottoline's discovery that Philip had been unfaithful. Often ignored and slighted by Ottoline's "clever, sharp-tongued guests," Philip had managed finally to create a separate life of his own. Her life was collapsing. She never fully recovered from what she regarded as a bitter betrayal, and she erected a kind of cordon sanitaire around herself. Darroch described Morrell's condition as "a state of partial sanity." But Philip suffered too; for years he had been regarded as merely a part of the scenery, quiet, unassuming, undemanding. Moreover, ingratitude on the part of the conscientious objectors who were harbored at Garsington and rejection by the Liberal Party which ended his political career affected him. Philip, like Ottoline, collapsed under the stain.

Even Sassoon remained distant and aloof; he was to have been "the sympathetic soul" Morrell had always searched for. During a walk after having lunch in London, he told Ottoline she was "complicated and artificial" and failed to see her off at the train station when she left. Morrell realized sadly that she had deluded herself "with the belief that by giving one will receive something, but it isn't true."

By 1917, Morrell had begun inviting younger people to Garsington, including T.S. Eliot, Robert Graves, and several undergraduate students from Oxford, among them her brother Portland's son. One of her favorites was Aldous Huxley who found it easy to talk to Ottoline; "you and I are some of the few people who feel life is real, life is earnest," he wrote to her. But Morrell grew increasingly unhappy, disillusioned, and cynical. She still needed people despite her disappointments, and she continued to patronize promising talents such as Mark Gertler who was given a studio at Garsington and introduced to the smart society of the time. After the war, Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes returned to London, and Morrell, who had known him previously, renewed their friendship and met Pablo Picasso who was designing the stage sets. Ottoline had always had a discriminating taste in poetry, and she was greatly impressed with the work of W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot who became fixtures in her postwar salon.

Lawrence's cruel portrait of Morrell in Women in Love was not to be the last of such characters modeled on his benefactor. In 1921, Ottoline was horrified to discover herself (as Priscilla Wimbush) and Garsington depicted in Aldous Huxley's Crome Yellow. This "gross betrayal" was followed by another demeaning portrayal by Huxley. In Those Barren Leaves, he produced a savage portrait of Ottoline as Mrs. Aldwinkle who, he wrote, "has sagging cheeks and a prominent chin. … she believes in passion, passionately; … and she has a weakness for great men. It is her greatest regret that she herself has no aptitude for any of the arts." Anyone who knew Morrell would recognize a grain of truth in his characterization, however exaggerated and malevolent. To her credit and her humaneness, Ottoline still tried to help her friends. She provided medical care for Vivienne Eliot (who died insane), offered solace to Russell's cast-off mistresses, and remained close to Virginia Woolf whose mental instability ended in her suicide. Morrell even forgave Lawrence who acknowledged her influence in his life and in others'. By way of a belated apology for Hermione Roddice, he wrote, "there's only one Ottoline. … The so-called portraits of Ottoline can't possibly be Ottoline—no one knows that better than an artist."

In 1928, the Morrells sold Garsington and bought a house in Bloomsbury on Gower Street. Garsington was too large, since their daughter Julian was now married, and too expensive to keep up. When the new owners of the manor asked Morrell where to shop for fish and meat, she replied, "Don't talk to me of fish. You may talk to me about poetry and literature, but not fish." Actually, Morrell knew absolutely nothing about fish or meat or anything associated with shopping for food or cooking; she "could hardly boil a kettle [of water] unaided" which explains why she always had a large house staff. Ottoline hoped to recreate her Thursday evening at homes on Gower Street, and she succeeded. To the familiar figures from her prewar salon, fresh, new talent appeared, including several young women. The gatherings, like Morrell herself, were more quiet, less raucous, than in previous years. If Ottoline had "learned to be content" in this life, she had also come to discern that she was "a magnet for egoists," the vampires that sucked one's life, as she expressed it.

Deafness and ill health plagued her, and her friends were dying: Lawrence died of tuberculosis in 1930, and Lytton died in 1932. Ottoline most likely agreed with Lytton's reflections on their exciting past when he wrote to her: "I don't think I want to go back. It was thrilling, enchanting, devastating, all at once—one was in a special (a very special) train, tearing along at breakneck speed—where?—one could only dimly guess. … Once is enough!" Morrell began to consider publishing her memoirs; it pleased her to be writing something. Russell had already written his autobiography which Ottoline read in manuscript form, but she persuaded him not to publish it until after they were both dead. Morrell thought some revelations would be hurtful to Philip and her daughter. Following a divorce, Russell had married Dora Russell some years earlier, had two children, and left Dora after she had had two children with another man. But "through all the sufferings of hell" their love affairs had brought them, Bertie and Ottoline remained steadfast friends.

During the 1930s, Morrell continued to travel on the Continent, and in 1935, she and Philip went to India where they received a royal reception. Philip planned to write a book on one of Ottoline's ancestors, William Bentinck, governor-general of India, who had suppressed the practice of suttee, the burning of widows on their husbands' funeral pyres. But from 1935 on, Ottoline's health rapidly deteriorated, and she spent long periods in nursing homes and clinics. Her doctor, who was widely regarded as a quack, used questionable methods of treating his patients. He put Morrell on a starvation diet and injected her with the controversial antibiotic Protonsil. When his methods came under investigation, he committed suicide. Ottoline Morrell died on April 21, 1938, after a nurse gave her an injection of the drug. She was buried on the family estate of Welbeck. Philip died five years later and was buried beside her.

Frieda Lawrence had once written to Morrell, whom she had come to admire, "I think the tragedy of your life has been that it was a small age you lived in and the men were small beer & the women too." But Lady Ottoline had made the age in which she lived bigger through devising her own unorthodox lifestyle and through her tremendous efforts on behalf of many of the giant talents of her time. "Conventionality is deadness," Morrell had written in her diary, "Be yet not conformed unto this world." She never was conventional, nor did she rein in her passions in order to conform to this world.


Darroch, Sandra Jobson. Ottoline: The Life of Lady Ottoline Morrell. NY: Coward, McCann and Geohegan, 1975.

Morrell, Lady Ottoline. Ottoline, The Early Memoirs 1873–1915. Vol. 1. Edited by Robert Gathorne-Hardy. London: Farber, 1963.

Seymour, Miranda. Ottoline Morrell: Life on a Grand Scale. London: Sceptre, 1993, NY: Farrar, Straus, 1993.

suggested reading:

Holroyd, Michael. Lytton Strachey: A Biography. London: Penguin, 1971.

Lady Ottoline's Album: Snapshots and portraits of her famous contemporaries. Edited by Carolyn G. Heilbrun. London: Michael Joseph, 1976.

Morrell, Lady Ottoline. Ottoline at Garsington, 1915–1918. Vol. 2. Edited by Robert Gathorne-Hardy. London: Farber, 1974.

Russell, Bertrand. The Autobiography. Vols. 1 and 2. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1971.


Letters written to Lady Ottoline are located at the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin; her letters to Bertrand Russell are at Mc-Master University, Ontario, Canada.

Jeanne A. Ojala , Professor of History, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Morrell, Ottoline (1873–1938)

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