The British Library holds the papers of Lady Ottoline Morrell, consisting of diaries, notebooks, letters and photographs. This is Morrell’s journal for 27 March 1917 to 2 September 1918, recording life at Garsington.
Born into an aristocratic family in 1873, Morrell was a society hostess and influential patron of the arts. At her homes in Bedford Square, London, and Garsington Manor, Oxfordshire, Morrell hosted writers including D H Lawrence, T S Eliot and Virginia Woolf, and artists such as Mark Gertler, Augustus John and Jacob Epstein. During World War One Morrell turned Garsington into a refuge for pacifist artists and writers by providing them with employment on the estate’s farm. Farm work was deemed to be of national importance in wartime, and therefore exempted men from combat. Morrell’s husband, Philip, also successfully represented several friends in tribunals for conscientious objector status. With the jumble of temporary and permanent guests working, partying and carrying on relationships under the same roof, life at Garsington in the war years could often be intense.
At six foot tall with copper hair, Morrell had a reputation for being a unique, flamboyant dresser, deeply religious and an excellent gardener. She was also known for having several affairs with men and women from literary, artistic and political circles. She was generous, and friends confided their secrets in her. Morrell’s eccentricities, however, also attracted mockery and cruelty. Famously, she appears in caricature form in several novels, including Lawrence’s Women in Love. Later, however, many acknowledged that Morrell was a remarkable and influential figure within their lives and careers.
Accounts of Virginia Woolf
In the first extract, dated 7 and 8 May 1917, Morrell records her impressions of Virginia Woolf after the novelist’s first visit to Garsington. Morrell is clearly impressed, writing, ‘She entered with such energy and vitality and seemed to me the most competent and imaginative intellect that I had met for many years’. Later that year, however, her opinion of Woolf appears ambivalent and conflicted. In the entry for 17 November, Morrell writes of how she admires Woolf’s intellect, talent and beauty, but accuses her – and other ‘Bloomsberries’ such as Lytton Strachey – of ‘contempt’ and snobbery. In turn, letters reveal that Woolf was also unkind towards her friend and host. Happily, in the 1930s they reconciled and exchanged letters until Morrell’s death in 1938.
Accounts of Siegfried Sassoon
Poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon had been wounded while fighting in France in spring 1917. He found sympathetic company at Garsington, where his opposition to the war grew. Morrell’s journal entry for 10 June 1917 provides an intimate view into his disillusionment. She records, ‘He hated the war. He could not train others to go on with it etc.’, and reveals that, ‘he talked more of his plans of rebelling’. A few days later, with Bertrand Russell’s assistance, Sassoon sent out his ‘Soldier’s Declaration’ – a statement of open protest against the continuation of the war.