Sunday, 26 April 2009


I was surprised when the DVD of Carrington arrived on Friday as I had just added to my list of some fifty films I wanted to see over the next year, if I decide to continue with my subscription. I may take a break as I have the 4400 series to view as well as The West Wing and the Jazz history and I have added further trips away arising for an autumn sale of Travel Lodge rooms for £9.

Critics are divided about the merits of the film and after experiencing I reached the conclusion that I agreed with both wings of the debate. I usually agree with what James Berardinelli has to say and I concur when he describes the film about the seventeen year relationship between Lytton Strachey played by Jonathan Pryce and Carrington (Dora) played by Emma Thomson as “a special love story that challenges the intellect with as much vigour as it touches the heart.”

I cannot remember if I acquired my copy of Lytton’s great work Eminent Victorians, the brief biographies of Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold and General Gordon before or after Michael Holroyd’s Lytton Strachey, but it is a decade or two since I read either. Once I reopened the Holroyd and read his account of what happened when he first visited the psychoanalyst younger brother who translated the complete works of Freud into English and whose wife was also a psychoanalyst. I wanted to read his book again.

Lytton Strachey remains known for having created a new approach to the writing of biography which was honest, contained the latest psychological insights and which combined irreverence and wit with a sympathetic understanding (Wikipedia). Born in 1880 to Lieutenant General Sir Richard Strachey, he grew up as part of a large upper class Victorian family. Lady Strachey had a total of thirteen children of which Lytton was the fifth son and eleventh child, ten of whom survived into adulthood. His mother is described as a enthusiast for languages and literature and a leading supporter of the women’s suffrage.

Lytton was a child prone to ill health and his frail, nervous and quiet personality which led to a number of schools before spending six years at Cambridge where he wrote verse and was a member of the Cambridge Apostles who included, Bertrand Lord Russell, the philosopher educationalist, writer and activist, the economist James Maynard Keynes, the writer E M Foster, Leonard Woolf, the political theorist, write and publisher, civil servant and husband of Virginia Woolf and Clive Bell, the Art Critic. Together with Virginia , Bell, artists such as Roger Fry and Duncan Grant they formed what has become known as the Bloomsbury Group which in a addition to representing an important aspect of art and literature between the two World Wars, was also known for their complex bohemian behaviour which at one level was frequent bed hopping crossing sexual boundaries.

Lytton was not typical of the upper classes at this time, because although hopeless at the practicalities of life. used to servants and what to day we describe as “carers” he possessed a genuine concern for the plight of others and maintained a wish to express the realities of life and relationships. He was an open homosexual with a love of young men and a succession of relationships of varying length and quality.

Dora Carrington was an artist who painted for the enjoyment of working and what she achieved and did not wish to exhibit or sell. I know that feeling well. It is my work, it is me, it part of me. She attended, through scholarship, the Slade School of Art in London where she became part of a set who decided to abandon the concept of Christian and Surname and be known by a single name, in her instance Carrington. Boyish in appearance she was sexually chased by male artists from the Slade former students Paul and John Nash, Christopher R W Nevinson and the most passionate suitor of all Mark Gertler with whom she became “engaged.”

In the film she encounters Strachey, thirteen years her senior, at the home of a mutual friend. He was attracted to her seeing her as boy until realising she was female but this led to him testing his sexuality with her. A virgin until her twenties, unique for an art student in that era. Gertler turned to Strachey for advice and help in his seduction of Carrington but this led Strachey and Carrington to set up home and share a bed together straddling the period when Strachey moved from poverty and dependence on family support and his self described dark period to comparative prosperity after the Eminent Victorian and to full independence with his subsequent work on the life of Queen Victoria.

While the film depicts some of her work and approach to art and makes reference to Lytton writings, the film concentrates too much on attempting to portray the sexual life of the duo and complex entanglements which followed. Dora married an army man who is depicted as a fascist who wanted all pacifists shot, yet had a relationship with Lytton despite knowing he had refused the army call up and was saved from imprisonment, unlike Bertrand Russell, whose trial he attended, because of medical unfitness. Later after divorce the husband married Francis who became a fully fledged member of the Bloomsbury set and contributed to the biography once the younger brother and literary executor agreed to the venture. Although he film makes no direct reference, Dora is known to have been a lesbian as well as enjoying heterosexual relationships.

This bring me to the review of Christopher Null who asks who was this Carrington and why make a film about her, and more fundamental, what was the point being made in the film? Why make a film about her and not Lytton Strachey? I asked the same question but agree with Barardenelli that the sex scenes are more artistic tableaux than erotica and to which I add that for me the point of the film is two fold. First that it is possible to love and live with someone without owning them or exploiting them sexually and psychologically and secondly that it is possible to have a rich loving life with someone without having what is regarded as normal sexual relations. The problem with this outlook and behaviour is not religious or moral as such but the impact of such a lifestyle on children if there are children and on others if the individual is a role model of some kind. One can imagine how the international media today would have treated the lives of those in the film and all those part of the Bloomsbury set, however loosely an involvement an individual had.

I wrote this before reading Holroyd’s introduction to his revised work which separates the biography from the Literary Criticism and had to force myself from abandoning the rest of my day and week and reading the work in order to complete my intentions for the day and week. Although I have now a growing pile of books to read or reread before I die in one corner of this room and which I suspect will continue to lat there unless I am able to complete my main work and live on, this one I need to tackle after finishing the book about Durham cricket Club as I am to spend so much time watching matches this season unless the team falls apart and reverts to providing other teams with points and cup final places as of old. I can barely find a passage way across the room to the door or reach some bookshelves because of the quality of stuff on the floor. I need to ration the time between activities as I do not have the inclination or energy to devote myself to just photographing work or attending to half completed work sets and will take off into a flight of fancy. The hardest thing is to ignore something appealing which will stimulate and distract me further away from what I need to do. I need to finish this, wash and get myself out into the sunshine as there is roast chicken for lunch with the Boro at Arsenal on TV the Bahrain Grand Prix, Blackburn and Wigan, The London Marathon highlights, the TV Bafta and a Lost Special, There is also a Friend’s Provident cricket match. Durham have a day off before their trip to Somerset.

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