‘We are all lonely wanderers in a very barren land,’ Ottoline Morrell wrote in her private journal in the autumn of 1919. She was feeling miserable after packing up the furniture of the ‘darling old house’ in Bedford Square, which was being put up for sale. Her comment derived, however, from a dinner she had just attended with the couple she had come to regard as her dearest friends, Tom and Vivienne Eliot. In 1919, the Eliots had been married for four years and The Waste Land (which might have been the inspiration for Ottoline’s comment) had not yet been written. Carole Seymour-Jones’s deeply felt biography demonstrates how well that reflection already applied to both members of this unhappy partnership.
Vivienne Eliot’s first biographer does not believe that her subject went, or ever was, mad. ‘She was as sane as I was,’ her stepbrother said in 1980, over forty years after he arranged for her committal to the asylum where she died in 1947. But he immediately went on to