Award-winning novelist and towering figure of the 20th century British literary landscape, David Garnett was a Bloomsbury insider ultimately pushed to the margins. In this, the first biography of Garnett, (known as Bunny), author Sarah Knights – who has had unprecedented access to Garnett’s papers – goes beyond stereotype and myth to present a clear sighted account of this often contradictory figure.
Trained as a scientist, Garnett worked as a novelist and wrote exquisite prose. Lady into Fox was made into a Rambert ballet and Aspects of Love into an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. In the First World War, he was a conscientious objector whereas in the Second he worked for British intelligence. A free love enthusiast, he nevertheless married. He loathed literary criticism but became a leading literary critic.
Born into the Victorian period, Garnett’s life spanned two World Wars, the Swinging Sixties and beyond. From pre-Revolutionary Russia, by way of Indian Nationalists in London and carefree Neo-Paganism, Garnett’s early life was packed with adventure. Propelled by a desire to be constantly in love, he dazzled men and women, believing the person mattered, irrespective of gender. An overnight literary sensation in the 1920s he was at the centre of literary London. Confidante and mentor of many writers, T. E. Lawrence, Rupert Brooke, D. H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells, were among his friends. Garnett felt most at home with the Bloomsbury Group, in particular with Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, his lover, with whom he lived during the First World War. Their long friendship was threatened, however, when Garnett’s cradle-side prophecy to marry their daughter Angelica came true.
LADY INTO FOX
This short and enigmatic work won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Hawthornden Prize a year later. It’s a real gem.
The Tebricks, a charming, young, upstanding couple, move to Oxfordshire to begin their married life, happily unaware of the future awaiting them. When Sylvia turns suddenly into a fox, their fortunes are changed forever, for all her strenuous attempts to adhere to the proprieties of her upbringing, and resist the feral instincts of her current form. Increasingly cut off from the world, Richard does all he can to protect his wife from the dangers inherent in the world outside their grounds, dangers which are impossible to fight, and which inevitably break down the boundaries between them and the world beyond the garden walls…
A MAN IN THE ZOO
On a beautiful day at the local zoo, John Cromartie and Josephine Lackett find themselves falling out of love. Among the animals, Josephine explains that she can no longer explain their relationship to her family, who expect her to marry a man of equal social stature. Insulting John, she tells him he should live in the zoo before storming off. Heartbroken, and perhaps a little vindictive, John resolves to remain at the zoo with the animals she thinks he belongs with.
DOPE DARLING: A Story OF Cocaine
A story of sex, drugs, and music set just before the outbreak of the First World War. “She was always asked to all the parties in the flashy bohemian world in which she moved. No dance, gambling party or secret doping orgy was complete without her, Under the effect of cocaine which she took more and more recklessly, she became inspired with a wild frenzy, and danced like a bacchante, drank off a bottle of champagne and played a thousand wild antics.” Claire is the talk of the town when she meets Roy at a London nightclub. Leaving his fiancée Beatrice, Roy marries the bohemian starlet in only three weeks, entering a world of excess and excitement beyond his wildest dreams. As the cocaine and booze begin to wear him down, and as Britain prepares for war with Germany, he begins to wonder if enlistment could provide him a means of escape.