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Ottoline Morrell

Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873-1938) was an English socialite, friend and patron of many artistic people, including Aldous Huxley, Siegfried Sassoon and D. H. Lawrence. Born Ottoline Violet Anne Cavendish Bentinck, she acquired the title of "Lady" when her half-brother inherited the duchy of Portland in 1879, and the family moved into Welbeck Abbey[?] in Nottinghamshire. Ottoline was a cousin of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later to become queen, and a direct descendant of Bess of Hardwick.

Throughout her life, Ottoline was an incurable romantic. Her first love affair was with an older man, the doctor and writer, Axel Munthe, but she rejected his impulsive proposal of marriage because her religious fervour was incompatible with his atheism - only to find that he had already lost interest in her.

She married the would-be Liberal politician, Philip Morrell[?], in 1902, with whom she shared many views and interests. The marriage, though it lasted for the rest of her life, was fraught with difficulties. Both partners had affairs, Ottoline herself dallying with Bertrand Russell among others; and Philip was mentally unstable. Nevertheless, their home at Garsington Manor near Oxford became a haven for like-minded people. During World War I, they were notable pacifists, inviting conscientious objectors to take refuge on their home farm at Garsington. It was there, also, that Siegfried Sassoon, recuperating after a period of sick leave, was encouraged to go absent without leave in 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.

Perhaps Lady Ottoline's most interesting legacy is the caricatures of her that appear in 20th century literature. She was the inspiration for Mrs Bidlake in Huxley's Point Counter Point[?], for Hermione Roddice in Lawrence's Women in Love (a caricature which outraged her), 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.

Biography: Ottoline Morrell: Life on a Grand Scale by Miranda Seymour (Hodder & Stoughton, revised edition 1998).

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