The British Library holds the papers of Lady Ottoline Morrell, consisting of diaries, notebooks, letters and photographs. This is Morrell’s journal for 15 September 1922 to 24 September 1924, 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.
Photographs and thoughts on Virginia Woolf
Until their reconciliation in the 1930s, Morrell and Virginia Woolf had an ambivalent, conflicted relationship. In the journal entry for 10 June 1923, shown here, Morrell is at her most damning towards Woolf. Yet, after accusing Woolf of ‘having no humanity’, Morrell admits in a telling moment of self-reflection, ‘But she has an exquisite pen and style of writing and is most lovely to look at – so it is very difficult really to know whether one is jealous and sees her only in a very unjust light… I fear as I grow older and uglier I may be growing more envious’. Such criticisms and grievances were, in part, defence mechanisms; Morrell knew that she was mocked and caricatured by people within her circle.
Morrell regularly took photographs, which she pasted into her journal entries. These photographs of Woolf at Garsington in June 1923 show the novelist sat in the garden smoking, laughing and holding conversations with Lytton Strachey and groups of men.