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Edith Olivier Biography

(1872–1948), The Love-Child, As Far As Jane's Grandmother's

child agatha life wilton

British novelist of Huguenot descent, born in Wilton, Wiltshire, one of the ten children of the autocratic and conservative Rector (later Canon) of Wilton, educated at St Hugh's College, Oxford. At the age of 55 she produced her first novel, The Love-Child (1927), a vivid, strange, absorbing story of the neurotic, possessive spinster Agatha, haunted by an imaginary child, the bold, alluring Clarissa, who gradually becomes visible to others and whose loss Agatha terribly fears. The novel is a minor classic, strongly influenced by Jane Austen and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and is one of a genre of fantasy novels popular at the time. From 1924, Olivier's life was changed by a deep friendship with Rex Whistler, then a 19-year-old art student. She became a well-loved confidante and hostess in the aesthetic, upper-class homosexual circles centred on country life in Wiltshire, which included Siegfried Sassoon, Osbert Sitwell, and Cecil Beaton. Olivier's four other novels drew on her family background for their emotions and their atmosphere, and showed a curious interest in split personalities: As Far As Jane's Grandmother's (1928), The Triumphant Footman (1930), Dwarf's Blood (1930), and The Seraphim Room (1932). Olivier also wrote a biographical work, some local studies of places and people, and an autobiography, Without Knowing Mr. Walkley (1938). See Penelope Middleboe, Edith Olivier (1989), and The Love-Child (Virago, 1981), with an introduction by H. Lee.

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