British author and publisher
Born 1892 Died 1981
David Garnett, sometimes known to his friends as 'Bunny', was born on the 9th March 1892 at Brighton in Sussex into a literary family.
His father Edward William Garnett (1868–1937) was an author and a reader for Jonathan Cape and his mother Constance Clara Garnett was a Russian translator responsible for popularising many of the classics of Russian literature.
He was educated at University College School and then went to study botany at the Royal College of Science in South Kensington where he specialised in fungi. Thanks to his father's connections with the publishing industry he became acquaintainted with various members of the Bloomsbury group from 1910 onwards, and came to be regarded as a 'regular member' in 1914 when he became Duncan Grant's lover. With the outbreak of World War I he spent some time in France with the Friends' War Victims' Relief Mission, and then returned to Britain where he and Grant moved to Wissett in Suffolk in an effort to become farm labourers and so claim exemption from military service. This didn't quite convince the tribunal which judged such matters, but fortunately their fellow Bloomsburyite John Maynard Keynes used his influence to obtain a military exemption for his friends.
After the war Garnett and his friend Francis Birrell opened a bookshop in Soho, leaving him plenty of time to try his hand at writing. His first novel, Dope Darling: A Story of Cocaine was published under the name of 'Leda Burke' in 1919, but his first serious novel was Lady into Fox which appeared in 1922 under his own name. This the story of man who finds his wife transformed into a vixen during a fox hunt, was an immediate success, and won both the Hawthornden Prize and the James Tait Black memorial prize for 1923. Encouraged by the response he brought Hilton Hall, near Huntingdon, and devoted himself to writing full time. A succession of further novels followed.
By the time World War II started in 1939, he had abandoned or at least modified his earlier pacifism and signed up as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He joined the Air Ministry and became an intelligence officer in the Political Warfare Executive, and wrote a handful of propoganda accounts of the war. He returned to writing fiction after the war and having earlier written acccounts of his experiences in the book trade (Never Be a Bookseller) and of how he learned to fly (A Rabbit in the Air) he produced a further three volumes of autobiography.
He was also responsible for editing The Letters of T. E. Lawrence (1938), and for producing editions of The Novels of Thomas Love Peacock] (1948), and Dora Carrington's Letters and Extracts from her Diaries (1970), as well as being involved in two successful publishing ventures; the Nonesuch Press which he began in partnership with Francis Meynell in 1923, and later Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd in 1946.
His first wife was Rachel Alice Marshall who wrote and illustrated children's books, as well as producing illustrations for Garnett's own books. They had two sons together but she died of breast cancer in 1940. His subsequent second marriage is a good example of the kind of complicated entanglements that members of the Bloomsbury Group got themselves into, as on the 8th May 1942 Garnett married the painter and writer Angelica Vanessa Bell, the daughter of two other prominent members of the Bloomsbury group, Clive and Venessa Bell. Not only was Angelica, born in 1918, many years his junior, but when she was only a day old Garnett had written to his friend Lytton Strachey; "I think of marrying it. When she is 20, I shall be 46 - will it be scandalous?" To this hint of paedophilia was added a whiff of incest as Angelica's biological father was in fact Garnett's former lover Duncan Grant.
Angelica's mother Vanessa Bell, certainly disapproved of the relationship, and refused to speak to Garnett afterwards, but they were married despite her opposition and together they had four children but they separated in 1970. Garnett spent the last ten years of his life at his cottage in Charry, Montcuq in France. It was there that he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on the 17th February 1981. He left his body to science and there was no funeral as his remains ended up at a French teaching hospital.
Awarded a CBE in 1952, Garnett was elected a fellow of the Imperial College of Science and Technology in 1956. Interest in Garnett's work is mainly driven by the fact that his 1955 novel Aspects of Love was turned into a musical by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, while Lady into Fox became an opera in 1996. Both Lady into Fox and The Sailor's Return were also performed as ballets by the Ballet Rambert.
Garnett's secret account of the Political Warfare Executive, which had been consigned to the archives was finally published in 2002 some fifty years after it had been first been written.
Memoirs and Autobiography
David Garnett, a biographical note
David Garnett at
Frances Partridge, ‘Garnett, David (1892–1981)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004