Previous Post
Next Post

image by
Walker Evans

Lady Caroline Blackwood,England ,1973

According to Wikipedia:

“A well-known figure in the literary world through her journalism and her novels, Caroline Blackwood was equally well-known for her high-profile marriages, first to the artist Lucian Freud, then to the composer Israel Citkowitz and finally to the poet Robert Lowell, who described her as “a mermaid who dines upon the bones of her winded lovers”. Her novels are known for their wit and intelligence, and one in particular is scathingly autobiographical in describing her unhappy childhood.

Ann Fleming, the wife of “James Bond” author Ian Fleming, introduced Caroline to Lucian Freud, and the two eloped to Paris in 1952. In Paris she met Picasso (and reportedly refused to wash for three days after he drew on her hands and nails), and after her and Freud’s marriage on 9 December 1953 she became a striking figure in London’s bohemian circles; the Gargoyle Club and Colony Room replaced Belgravia drawing rooms as her haunts. She sat for several of Freud’s finest portraits, including Girl In Bed, which testifies to her alluring beauty.

Although these articles were elegant, minutely observed and sometimes wickedly funny, they had, according to Christopher Isherwood, a persistent flaw: “She is only capable of thinking negatively. Confronted by a phenomenon, she asks herself: what is wrong with it?”

Blackwood returned to live in London in 1970 and that April began a relationship with the manic-depressive poet Robert Lowell. Lowell was at the time a visiting professor at All Souls College, Oxford. Their son, Sheridan, was born on 28 September 1971, and after obtaining divorces from their respective spouses, Blackwood and Lowell were married on 21 October 1972.

Her third husband Robert Lowell was a crucial influence on her talents as a novelist. He encouraged her to write her first book, For All That I Found There (1973), the title of which is a line from the Percy French song ‘The Mountains of Mourne’, and formed a coruscating memoir of her daughter’s treatment in a burns unit. Blackwood’s first novel The Stepdaughter (1976) appeared three years later to much acclaim, and is a concise and gripping monologue by a rich, self-pitying woman deserted by her husband in a plush New York apartment and tormented by her fat stepdaughter. It won the David Higham Prize for best first novel. Great Granny Webster followed in 1977 and was partly derived on her own miserable childhood, and depicted an austere and loveless old woman’s destructive impact on her daughter and granddaughter. It was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

They lived in London and Milgate in Kent. The sequence of poems in Lowell’s The Dolphin (1973) provides a disrupted narrative of his involvement with Blackwood and the birth of their son. She was distressed and confused in her reactions to Lowell’s manic episodes, and felt useless during his attacks and afraid of their effect on her children. Her anxieties, alcohol-related illnesses, and late-night tirades exacerbated his condition. Lowell died clutching one of Freud’s portraits of Blackwood in the back seat of a New York cab, on his way back to his second wife, Elizabeth Hardwick. This heartache was followed a year later by the death of her daughter Natalya from a drug overdose at the age of 18.

During her final illness Blackwood never lost her dark, macabre humour. On her deathbed Anna Haycraft brought her some holy water from Lourdes which was accidentally spilled on her bed sheets. “I might have caught my death,” she muttered.”

# # #

November 26