On Carrington – A Life: An Overview of Gretchen Gerzina’s Dora Carrington Biography

carringtonWhen the British painter, Dora Carrington is discussed, the name Lytton Strachey is not too far behind. Carrington was associated with the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of artists who worked near Bloomsbury in London during the first half of the twentieth century. Its famous roster not only included Strachey, but Virginia Woolf as well.

During her lifetime, Carrington was not a well-known artist, and rarely exhibited any of her work. She did, however, work at the Omega workshop for a short time. It would not be until the 1970’s that a renewed interest in her work would begin.

In many ways she was a woman ahead of her time. She bobbed her hair, wore a mix of men and women’s clothing and despite having later married, she kept residence with the love of her life, who just happened to be gay. Either way, Carrington epitomized the Bohemian lifestyle that was very much a taboo during the time in which she lived.

Lytton Strachey

Strachey was a homosexual writer who Carrington falls completely in love with early on in her life. Gerzina heavily documents these feelings in the biography through a reproduction of sketches and letters that were sent between the two. Gerzina’s biography heavily focuses on this relationship more so than Carrington as a painter. Though, such an approach is interesting, it robs from art history as readers have to look towards other sources to learn more about Carrington the painter and not Carrington, the admirer of a homosexual artist.

Marriage to Ralph Partridge and the Affairs

There is no doubt that Partridge loved Carrington as Gerzina depicts their relationship with a sort of glow. Partridge would save Carrington from her first suicide attempt while never forgiving himself for failing to come to her aid in her second, fatal attempt. Gerzina also shows another side of Carrington, the one that often dabbled in lesbian affairs of her own while creating strong attachments and attractions to other artists such as Gerald Brenan.

Portrayal of Carrington, the Painter

Despite Gerzina’s approach to the biography, included are several chapters and photo inserts of and on Carrington’s work that help the reader to better understand Carringon as a painter outside of her absurd and often peculiar relationships with fellow artists.

The Movie

Gerzina’s biography was made into a movie entitled Carrington in 1995 and it stared Emma Thompson.

Another book that discuss Bohemia, Bloomsbury and people from Carrington’s circle is Virginia Nicholson’s Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939.

Carrington: A Life by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina is available through purchase online with ISBN 039331328X through W. W. Norton & Company.

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Book Review: The Swan Thieves

Elizabeth Kostovaswans was first published in 2005 with her best-selling historical vampire thriller, The Historian. Today, there are more than 1.5 million copies in print and a Sony film adaptation is in the works. Much like that novel, Kostova sets up The Swan of Thieves.

The Artist and the Academic

Here, Kostova creates a central, academic hero that becomes engrossed within a mystery. Each chapter ranges in time from past to present, encompassing the lives of painters Beatrice de Clerval and her uncle Olivier Vignot, whose lives are beautifully described and played out through their art and letters.

Juxtaposing the past with the present, Kostova creates her academic hero in Andrew Marlow, a trained psychiatrist who is bent on asking the tough, prying questions and unraveling the mystery that is key to the plot of the novel. The mystery being that one of Marlow’s patients, renowned painter Robert Oliver, tried to slash a painting in the National Gallery. Marlow becomes increasingly obsessed with Oliver and his reasons for attempting to do what he did, when he uncovers Oliver’s obsession with a stolen batch of letters written in French that he continually reads and obsesses over himself.

Living Up to The Historian

Fans of Kostova have waited with great anticipation for her next novel. Fans of The Historian will not be disappointed by The Swan Thieves, in fact, it is rather easy to see much of Kostova’s budding writing style continue on into her latest novel.

The intrigue and ability to build a deep and entangled plot is clearly evident in Kostova’s second novel. Accompanied with the lush world of Impressionism and 19th century life, Kostova delivers with The Swan Thieves: A Novel. Kostova has a great gift for writing. It will be a long wait to see what her third novel will bring to her already impressive quality of work.

About the Author – Elizabeth Kostova

Kostova was born New London, Connecticut and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee where she graduated from the Webb School of Knoxville. She went on to complete her undergraduate degree from Yale University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan.

According to a press release, in May 2007, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation was created to help support Bulgarian creative writing, the translation of contemporary Bulgarian literature into English, and friendship between Bulgarian authors and American and British authors.

The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova was published by Little, Brown and Company on January 12, 2010 with ISBN 0316065781.