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Amaryllis Garnett

Amaryllis Garnett
Born (1943-10-17)17 October 1943
St Pancras, London
Died 6 May 1973(1973-05-06) (aged 29)[1]
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,[2] 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.[3]

In 1946 T. H. White, a friend of Amaryllis Garnett's parents, wrote his book Mistress Masham's Repose for her,[4] 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."[5]

Cranborne Chase School, main building

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.[6] The Garnett household at Hilton was described by a friend and contemporary, Liz Hodgkinson, as "a magic garden, like nothing I'd seen before".[7]

In 1967, Garnett joined the Royal Shakespeare Company.[8] 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).[9][10] Spotlight 1973 gave her height as 5 feet 8 inches and her eye colour as blue.[11] Her mother described her as "very beautiful and deeply intelligent".[12] In 1969, according to Frances Spalding, she was much admired by Cyril Connolly.[13]

Houseboats at Chelsea

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.[14] 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!"[15] 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.[16] Thought to be probably a case of suicide, it is also possible that her death was simply an accident.[17][12] She left behind a diary, which remains unpublished.[18]


  1. ^ Register of Deaths for Westminster Registration District, vol. 5E (April/June 1973), p. 1,908: GARNETT, Amaryllis Virginia
  2. ^ "Garnett, Amaryllis V." in Register of Births for St Pancras Registration District, Oct–Dec quarter of 1943, vol. 1B, p. 11a
  3. ^ Frances Spalding, "Angelica Garnett obituary" in The Guardian dated 7 May 2012
  4. ^ Martin Kellman, T. H. White and the Matter of Britain: A Literary Overview (London: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989), p. 769
  5. ^ Kellman (1989), pp. 769–777
  6. ^ Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant (Chatto & Windus, 1997), pp. 210-215
  7. ^ Liz Hodgkinson, Poisoned legacy of the Bloomsbury Set dated 23 May 2012 at, accessed 1 February 2017
  8. ^ Russell Jackson, Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare at Stratford Series (2003), p. 203
  9. ^ Spalding (1997), p. 270
  10. ^ "Go-Between, The", in James Monaco, ed., The Movie Guide (1992), p. 294
  11. ^ Spotlight, Issue 131, Part 3 (1973), p. 1,946
  12. ^ a b Angelica Garnett (obituary) dated 7 May 2012 in The Daily Telegraph online, accessed 2 February 2017
  13. ^ Spalding (1997), p. 447
  14. ^ Spalding (1997), p. 420
  15. ^ Spalding (1997), p. 440
  16. ^ Spalding (1997), p. 458
  17. ^ Anne Chisholm, Frances Partridge: the Biography (Hachette UK, 2009), p. 200
  18. ^ Spalding (1997), pp. viii, 536

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