At the beginning of the 1st World war, Dora Carrington graduated from the Slade school of fine art in London, where, after winning a number of prizes, she was regarded as a painter of exceptional promise. This is the story of her life.
Lytton & Carrington
Lytton: Vanessa, who on the earth is that ravishing boy?
Vanessa: I take it you’re not referring to either of my sons.
Lytton: I’m devoted to Ottoline. She is like the Eiffel Tower: she is very silly, but she affords excellent views.
...Do you think knitting scarves for the troops would be classified as essential war work? One’s so busy nowadays. I’ve been learning German as well. I must say it’s a most disagreeable language.
Vaness: Then why learn it?
Lytton: My dear, I mean, suppose they win?
Lytton: Do you really like to be called Carrington?
Carrington: My first name is Dora.
Lytton: I see.
The chairman: Tell me, Mr. Strachey, what would you do if you saw a German soldier raping your sister?
Lytton: I believe I should attempt to come between them.
I will not assist by any deliberate action of mine in carrying on this war. My objection is based nor upon religious belief, but upon moral considerations. & I will not act against those convictions, whatever the consequences may be.
Lytton: When it comes to a creature with a cunt, I’m always infinitely desorienté.
Lytton: Keats’ letters, of course, are very poignant on the subject of virginity.
Lytton: In other words, I’m obscure, decrepit, terrified, ill-favoured, penniless, & fond of adjectives.
Carrington: Surely it’s not that bad.
Lytton: No, you’re quite right. Look at another way. I’m a perfectly respectable elderly bugger of modest means.
Carrington: I suppose you ought to be going soon before it gets dark.
Lytton: Oh, no, no, I adore the blackout. The most thrilling encounters.
Lady Ottoline Morrell: You know as well as I do it's a sickness with Carrington. A girl of that age still a virgin. It's absurd.
Lytton Strachey: I was still a virgin at her age.
Lady Ottoline Morrell: But that's my whole point. Don't you see? So was I. Is there to be no progress?
Carrington: The – would you believe it? Pipsey harangued me for a half of an hour of the perils of virginity. He got more and more breathy, and the hairs in his nostrils became horribly agitated. Finally he told me it was one like me had driven his brother Hugh to suicide.
Lytton: Ah. Semen. What is it about that ridiculous white secretion that pulls down the corners of an Englishman’s mouth?
Carrington: I love being with you. You’re so cold & wise. … Your skin is like ivory.
Lytton: Thousand of boys are dying every day to preserve this. God damn, blast, confound and fuck the upper classes.
Mark Gertler: How can you have freedom when you’re frightened to use your own body?
Carrington: Keats’ letters…
Mark Gertler: Don’t talk to me about Keats’ letters!...
Lytton: I’ve been teaching her French. We’re about to get to the French poets. I have a feeling they may prove decisive.
Lytton: Perhaps we should set up a house together… I tend to be impulsive in these matters like the time I asked Virginia Woolf to marry me.
Carrington: She turned you down?
Lytton: No, she accepted. It was ghastly.
Carrington: An electric light in every room. Look.
Lytton: Yes. This is blessing.
Carrington: I told him I’m in love with you.
Lytton: Aren’t you being rather romantic?
Carrington: There’s nothing romantic about it.
Mark Gertler: Haven't you any self-respect?
Carrington: Not much.
Mark Gertler: But he's just a disgusting pervert!
Carrington: You always have to put up with something.
Lytton [on his book Eminent Victorians]: I can’t claim that was my intention to destroy Victorian values once and for all, but if that’s what I’ve done, I’m not in the least sorry.
Lytton: Terrible review by Gosse. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be denounced at last. It hasn’t been easy remaining calm in the face of hysterical praise from the Daily Telegraph.
Carrington: I’m your pen wiper.
Carrington [about Partridge] His conversation is so dull. He’s like a Norwegian dentist.
Lytton Strachey: I don't know what the world’s coming to. Women in love with buggers and buggers in love with womanizers... And what of the price of coal?
Gerald Brenan: Rex, that is to say, Ralph tells me you’re a Bolshevik.
Carrington: He tells me you’re an idealist.
Carrington: I hope you will write to me.
Gerald Brenan: Of course I’ll write to both of you.
Carrington: [voice-over, a letter]
My dearest Lytton,
There is a great deal to say, and I feel very incompetent to write it today. You see, I knew there was nothing really to hope for from you, well, ever since the beginning. All these years, I have known all along that my life with you was limited.
Lytton, you're the only person who I ever had an all-absorbing passion for. I shall never have another. I couldn't, now. I had one of the most self-abasing loves that a person can have.
It's too much of a strain to be quite alone here, waiting to see you, or craning my nose and eyes out of the top window at 44, Gordon Square to see if you were coming down the street. Ralph said you were nervous lest I'd feel I have some sort of claim on you, and that all your friends wondered how you could have stood me so long, as I didn't understand a word of literature. That was wrong. For nobody, I think, could have loved the Ballards, Donne, and Macaulay's Essays and, best of all, Lytton's Essays, as much as I.
You never knew, or never will know, the very big and devastating love I had for you. How I adored every hair, every curl of your beard. Just thinking of you now makes me cry so I can't see this paper.
Once you said to me - that Wednesday afternoon in the sitting room - you loved me as a friend. Could you tell it to me again.
Lytton Strachey: [voice-over, his written reply]
May 21 1921
My dearest and best,
Do you know how difficult I find it to express my feelings, either in letters or talk?
Do you really want me to tell you that I love you as a friend?
But of course that is absurd. And you do know very well that I love you as something more than a friend, you angelic creature, whose goodness to me has made me happy for years. Your letter made me cry. I feel a poor, old, miserable creature. If there was a chance that your decision meant that I should somehow or other lose you, I don't think I could bear it.
You and Ralph and our life at Tidmarsh are what I care for most in the world.
Lytton: Shouldn’t you be wearing a ring?
Carrington: I’ve lost it. Somewhere in Italian Alps.
Carrington: Do you ever get terrified of dying?
Lytton: People in love should never live together. When they do, the inevitable result is that they either fall out of love, or drive one another insane. Idealists are nothing but trouble. You can never convince them there’s no such thing as the ideal.
Lytton: I can’t bear the thought of leaving this house the orchard, the millrace, my wonderful room. The Garden of Eden.
Carrington: Yes. But the rheumatism, the lumbago, the raising damp and the falling plaster. The rats in the wainscot.
Ham Spray house
Lytton: Your key.
Roger: Oh no, Lytton. You know me, I’d only lose it. You keep it.
Lytton: Are you sure you don’t want it?
Carrington: I could never have a child. Unless it was yours.
Lytton: Have you told Beacus?
Carrington: It’s no good telling him. I would only make him angry. I don’t know why he puts up with me as it is.
Lytton: I don’t know why you put up with him.
Carrington: Because he’s the most exciting man I’ve ever slept with. Because I’m getting old.
Lytton: Now you know what it feels like.
Carrington: I always did.
Lytton: I’ve had a letter from Roger. He says I’ve let him mean too much to me. He says I’ve oppressed him.
Carrington: I’ve told you before, I don’t want an exhibition. That isn’t why I do it. I paint when I feel well. It makes me feel even better. I’m not interested in selling them. They’re for us.
Lytton: I have heard rumours to the effect that there are people who actually enjoy writing. Can this be true? I loathe it. All that work and at the end of it some slim volume. “What is the point?” I ask myself.
Carrington: Think of posterity.
Lytton: Why? What’s posterity ever done for me? I’ve done my best to keep it quiet, but I’m an ambitious man. I thought if I could cut though all that atrocious fog of superstition that poisons so many people’s lives, I might be able to do some good in the world. But the truth is, I’ve always been better at living than I ever was at writing.
Carrington: What’s wrong with that? I don’t think you have any idea how happy you’ve made me.
Lytton: If this is dying, I don't think much of it.
Carrington [a letter]:
It is to you I owe the happiness, probably, of my life with Lytton. I thank you for those days at Garsington, when I grew to love him.
Carrington: It is impossible to think that every day of my life, you will be away. I write in an empty book. I cry in an empty room.