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17 October 1943|
St Pancras, London
|Died||6 May 1973
River Thames at Chelsea
|Parent(s)||David Garnett (1892–1981)
Angelica Bell (1918–2012)
Amaryllis Virginia Garnett (17 October 1943 – 6 May 1973) was an English actress and diarist.
Born in St Pancras, London, Garnett was the eldest of the four daughters of David and Angelica Garnett. Her father was a writer, while her mother, an artist, was the daughter of Vanessa Bell and the painter Duncan Grant and also a niece of the writer Virginia Woolf. Her other grandfather was Edward Garnett, a publisher and writer, while her great-grandparents included Constance Garnett, a prolific translator of Russian literature, Richard Garnett, author and librarian, Leslie Stephen, biographer, and Julia Duckworth, a pre-Raphaelite artists' model and niece of the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
In 1946 T. H. White, a friend of Amaryllis Garnett's parents, wrote his book Mistress Masham's Repose for her, which for White became the beginning of a new career as a children's writer. A biographer of White notes that in the book "Children are never told that their elders are better than they are or taught Algebra, just Oeconomy, Natural History, and other subjects dealing with life, a situation which would doubtless have delighted Amaryllis Garnett."
The four sisters called their parents "Angelica" and "Bunny" and had a deeply unconventional childhood. While the family was living at Hilton Hall, near St Ives, Amaryllis, Henrietta, Nerissa, and Fanny were all sent, a little improbably, to the co-educational Huntingdon Grammar School, where Amaryllis arrived at the age of eleven. They made few friends there, but took leading parts in school plays and were the most creative pupils. Meanwhile, at home there was a farm, with a herd of Jersey cows, an orchard, a swimming pool, sculptures, and a dovehouse. At the age of sixteen, Garnett went as a boarder to Cranborne Chase School, then trained for an acting career at a drama school in London. The Garnett household at Hilton was described by a friend and contemporary, Liz Hodgkinson, as "a magic garden, like nothing I'd seen before".
In 1967, Garnett joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Later the same year, she had her first screen role in an ITV Play of the Week written by John Mortimer called A Choice of Kings. As an actress, she was taken up by Harold Pinter, who found her a part in his film The Go-Between (1971). Spotlight 1973 gave her height as 5 feet 8 inches and her eye colour as blue. Her mother described her as "very beautiful and deeply intelligent". In 1969, according to Frances Spalding, she was much admired by Cyril Connolly.
In her late twenties, Garnett was living on a houseboat on the River Thames, moored by Battersea Bridge at Chelsea, which had been bought for her by her parents. However, her life was turbulent, the result of combining a high-spending lifestyle with having no income at all. She decided to give up acting and move to Morocco with a boyfriend, causing her father to complain "Surely she ought to get a job and get on with her profession!" At the age of 29, her life fell apart, and in May 1973, while suffering from deep depression, she drowned in the river at Chelsea. Thought to be probably a case of suicide, it is also possible that her death was simply an accident. She left behind a diary, which remains unpublished.