“Grouses, Gossip and Greetings”

Lady Ottoline Morrell

December 21, 2018 
The following is from Lady Ottoline Morrell's memoirs, excerpted in The Faber Book of Christmas, edited by Simon Rae. Morrell was a member of the Bloomsbury Group which often met at one of her homes at Bedford Square, Gower Street, or the country home at Garsington. Rae has published W. G. Grace: A Lifeand It’s Not Cricket: A History of Skulduggery, Sharp Practice and Downright Cheating in the Noble Game.

Garsington, 1916

Our Christmas party that year (1916) was gay and interesting. The house was made lovely with bright coloured paper garlands and evergreen swags and Chinese lanterns. We acted a play which Katherine Mansfield hurriedly wrote called The Laurels. Dr Kite, the chief character, was played by Lytton Strachey, who was a wonderful actor. I don’t remember it very vividly, except that he wore a great fur coat and a paper mask with a red worsted beard, made for him by Carrington. Maria and Juliette and Carrington and Clive Bell and the children acted in it. Middleton Murry and Bertie Russell and Aldous and the household and Philip and myself were audience.

Another evening we had a delightful fancy-dress dinner, which Fredigond Shove organized. She was in one of her very witty, wild moods and we were all full of fun. Gerald was King George V bowing pompously with his head, Clive a fat repulsive old woman. I a Masher in Philip’s evening suit and opera hat.

What a work these parties were; to provide food for a large company at this time of food shortage was difficult enough, and the guests, although they had doubtless to put up with meagre diets in their own homes, when at Garsington expected to find food very richly and plentifully supplied, and to have plenty of wine and spirits. There was a dreadful scene one morning at breakfast, when Lytton came down very late and I suppose the appetites of the other guests had been healthy, for he did not find all he required. He lost his temper and turned and rated me angrily for not providing him with sufficient breakfast. Murry and Katherine and several others were present, and we looked at each other surprised and aghast, for there was really ample food. I went to the kitchen and fetched him enough for six men. I know that next day and the succeeding days he had breakfast sent up to his room, piled high with six eggs, ham, fish, scones and everything that could be collected together. It was best to ignore this scene and to heap large hot breakfasts on his head.

I wish I could remember this party in more detail. I know that all the guests were lively and that sparks and currents and cross currents flew about. Carrington began to set her roving eye on Lytton, and shake her sun-bleached, shaggy head of hair at him. Bertie and Katherine had long talks together, so late into the night in the red room, which was under my bedroom, that the sound of their voices kept me awake most of  the night. I made them look uncomfortable next day by telling them that I had heard all their conversation, which of course wasn’t true.

Long afterwards Bertie told me that Katherine had talked very maliciously against me. Actually what she had said had some effect on him. I did not know this at the time, and was surprised when he warned me against Katherine! He said that she was by nature so jealous that she would try and alienate me from all my friends, so as to be the only one left in possession. Whether this was true I don’t know. Bertie certainly seemed to mistrust her after a time.

–Lady Ottoline Morrell, Memoirs


Excerpted from THE FABER BOOK OF CHRISTMAS, Edited by Simon Rae. Used with permission from Faber & Faber. Copyright © 2017 Simon Rae.

More Story
Lit Hub Daily: December 20, 2018 Margaret Atwood: if we lose a free press, we cease to be a democracy. | Lit Hub Politics, preventative care, and a giant...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.