Ottoline Morrell

Lady Ottoline Morrell
Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1902
Born Ottoline Violet Anne Cavendish-Bentinck
(1873-06-16)16 June 1873
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Died 21 April 1938(1938-04-21) (aged 64)
Nationality British
Occupation Aristocrat, society hostess and patron
Portrait of Lady Ottoline Morrell by Adolf de Meyer, c. 1912

Lady Ottoline Violet Anne Morrell (16 June 1873 – 21 April 1938) was an English aristocrat and society hostess. Her patronage was influential in artistic and intellectual circles, where she befriended writers including Aldous Huxley, Siegfried Sassoon, T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence, and artists including Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington and Gilbert Spencer.

Early life

Born Ottoline Violet Anne Cavendish-Bentinck, she was the daughter of Lieutenant-General Arthur Cavendish-Bentinck (son of Lord and Lady Charles Bentinck) and his second wife, the former Augusta Browne, later created Baroness Bolsover. Lady Ottoline's great-great-uncle (through her paternal grandmother, Lady Anne Wellesley) was Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Ottoline was granted[1] the rank of a daughter of a duke with the courtesy title of "Lady" when her half-brother William succeeded to the Dukedom of Portland in 1879, at which time the family moved into Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire. The dukedom was a title which belonged to the Cavendish-Bentinck family and which passed to Lady Ottoline's branch upon the death of their cousin William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck.

Notable love affairs

Morrell was known to have had many lovers. Her first love affair was with an older man, the doctor and writer Axel Munthe,[2] but she rejected his impulsive proposal of marriage because her spiritual beliefs were incompatible with his atheism. In February 1902, she married the MP Philip Morrell,[3] with whom she shared a passion for art and a strong interest in Liberal politics. They shared what would now be known as an open marriage for the rest of their lives.[4] Philip's extramarital affairs produced several children who were cared for by his wife, who also struggled to conceal evidence of his mental instability.[4] The Morrells themselves had two children (twins): a son, Hugh, who died in infancy, and a daughter, Julian.[4][5]

Morrell had a long affair with philosopher Bertrand Russell,[6][7] with whom she exchanged more than 2000 letters.[8] Her lovers may have included the painters Augustus John, and Henry Lamb,[7][9] the artist Dora Carrington, the art historian Roger Fry,[4][7] and in her later years there was even a brief affair with a gardener, Lionel Gomme, who was employed at Garsington.[7] Her circle of friends included many authors, artists, sculptors and poets.[7] Her work as a patron was enduring and influential, notably in her contribution to the Contemporary Art Society during its early years.


Blue plaque, 10 Gower Street, London

The Morrells maintained a townhouse in Bedford Square,[10] in the Central London neighbourhood known as Bloomsbury, and restored Garsington Manor near Oxford. Morrell delighted in opening both as havens for like-minded people.[11] 44 Bedford Square served as her London salon, while Garsington provided a convenient retreat, near enough to London for many of their friends to join them for weekends. She took a keen interest in the work of young contemporary artists, such as Stanley Spencer, and she was particularly close to Mark Gertler and Dora Carrington, who were regular visitors to Garsington during the war.[12] Gilbert Spencer lived for a while in a house on the Garsington estate.

During World War I, the Morrells were notable pacifists, not a popular position then. They invited conscientious objectors such as Duncan Grant, Clive Bell, and Lytton Strachey to take refuge at Garsington. Siegfried Sassoon, recuperating there after an injury, was encouraged to go absent without leave as a protest against the war.

The hospitality offered by the Morrells was such that most of their guests had no suspicion that they were in financial difficulties. Many of them assumed that Ottoline was a wealthy woman. This was far from being the case and during 1927, the Morrells were compelled to sell the manor house and its estate, and move to more modest quarters in Gower Street. In 1928 she was diagnosed with cancer, which resulted in a long hospitalization and the removal of her lower teeth and part of her jaw.[13]

Later life

Monument to Lady Ottoline Morrell by Eric Gill in St Mary's parish church, Garsington

Later, Lady Ottoline remained a regular host to the adherents of the Bloomsbury Group, in particular Virginia Woolf, and to many other artists and authors, who included WB Yeats, LP Hartley, T.S. Eliot, and an enduring friendship with Welsh painter Augustus John. She was an influential patron to many of them, and a valued friend, who nevertheless attracted understandable mockery, due to her combination of eccentric attire with an aristocratic manner, extreme shyness and a deep religious faith that set her apart from her times. Her pioneering work as a decorator, colourist, and garden designer remains, to this day, curiously undervalued, but it was for her great gift for friendship that she was mourned when she died 21 April 1938. She died from an experimental drug given by a doctor. Henry Green, the novelist, wrote to Philip Morrell of "her love for all things true and beautiful which she had more than one can ever know the immeasurable good she did".[14]

Her memorial in St Winifred's Church, Holbeck was carved by Eric Gill.

Literary legacy

Morrell wrote two volumes of memoirs, but these were edited and revised after her death, losing a little of their charm and much of their intimate detail in the process. She also maintained detailed journals, over a period of twenty years, which remain unpublished. But perhaps Lady Ottoline's most interesting literary legacy is the wealth of representations of her that appear in 20th-century literature. She was the inspiration for Mrs Bidlake in Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point, for Hermione Roddice in D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love, for Lady Caroline Bury in Graham Greene's It's a Battlefield, and for Lady Sybilline Quarrell in Alan Bennett's Forty Years On. The Coming Back (1933), another novel which portrays her, was written by Constance Malleson, one of Ottoline's many rivals for the affection of Bertrand Russell. Some critics consider her the inspiration for Lawrence's Lady Chatterley.[15] Huxley's roman à clef, Crome Yellow depicts the life at a thinly-veiled Garsington.

Portrayals in the arts

Non-literary portraits are also part of this interesting legacy, for example, as seen in the artistic photographs of her by Cecil Beaton. There are portraits by Henry Lamb, Duncan Grant, Augustus John, and others. Carolyn Heilbrun edited Lady Ottoline's Album (1976), a collection of snapshots and portraits of Morrell and of her famous contemporaries, mostly taken by Morrell herself.

She is portrayed by Tilda Swinton in Derek Jarman's film Wittgenstein and by Penelope Wilton in Christopher Hampton's film Carrington.


See also


  1. Burke's Peerage (1959). 102nd Edn., p. 1820
  2. Rolphe, Katie. Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages Random House Digital, Inc.: New York, 2008 p.190
  3. "Court circular". The Times (36687). London. 10 February 1902. p. 6.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Rolphe, Katie. Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages Random House Digital, Inc.: New York, 2008
  5. "Julian Ottoline Vinogradoff (née Morrell) (1906-1989), Daughter of Lady Ottoline Morrell; married firstly Victor Goodman (by whom she had three children),and secondly Igor Vinogradoff". Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  6. Moran, Margaret (1991). "Bertrand Russell Meets His Muse: The Impact of Lady Ottoline Morrell (1911-12)". McMaster University Library Press. Retrieved 1 March 2012.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Caws, Mary Ann and Wright, Sarah Bird. Bloomsbury and France: Art and Friends New York: Oxford University Press, 1999
  8. Rogers, N., & Thompson, M. (2004). Philosophers behaving badly. London: Peter Owen.
  9. Felix, David. Keynes: A Critical Life, Greenwood Press: Westport, CT, 1999. p.129
  10. Plaque #1089 on Open Plaques.
  11. "The Life of D.H. Lawrence". Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  12. Haycock, David Boyd (2009). A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War. London: Old Street Publishing.
  13. Curtis, Vanessa (2002). Virginia Woolf's Women. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 108. ISBN 0-299-18340-8
  14. Miranda Seymour, Ottoline Morrell: Life on the Grand Scale, p. 416.
  15. Kennedy, Maev (10 October 2006). "The real Lady Chatterley: society hostess loved and parodied by Bloomsbury group", The Guardian.

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lady Ottoline Morrell.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/24/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.