Bagnold, Enid (1889–1981)

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Bagnold, Enid (1889–1981)

English author and socialite whose versatile career encompassed the popular children's novel National Velvet, as well as the immensely successful play The Chalk Garden. Name variations: Lady Jones; (pseudonym) "A Lady of Quality." Born Enid Algerine Bagnold on October 27, 1889, in Rochester, Kent, England; died in St. John's Wood, London, on March 31, 1981; daughter of Arthur Henry (a colonel in the Royal Engineers) and Ethel (Alger) Bagnold; tutored at home; attended Prior's Field, as well as finishing schools in Germany, Switzerland, and France; studied painting and drawing in London with British impressionist artist Walter Sickert; married Sir George Roderick Jones, on July 8, 1920; children: Laurian (b. 1921); Timothy Angus (b. 1924); Richard Bagnold (b. 1926); Dominick (b. 1930).


Arts Theatre Prize, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (resigned 1979), Commander of the British Empire, American Academy of Arts and Letters silver medal.

Selected publications:

A Diary Without Dates (Heinemann, 1918); The Sailing Ship and Other Poems (Heinemann, 1918); The Happy Foreigner (Heinemann, 1920); Serena Blandish (Heinemann, 1924); Alice and Thomas and Jane (Heinemann, 1930); (translator) Alexander of Asia (Heinemann, 1935); National Velvet (Heinemann, 1935); The Squire (Heinemann, 1938); The Loved and Envied (Doubleday, 1950); Two Plays: Lottie Dundas and Poor Judas (Heinemann, 1951); The Chinese Prime Minister (Random House, 1964); Enid Bagnold's Autobiography (Heinemann, 1969); Four Plays: The Chalk Garden, The Last Joke, The Chinese Prime Minister, Call Me Jacky (Heinemann, 1970); A Matter of Gravity (Heinemann, 1978); Letters to Frank Harris and Others (Whittington Press and Heinemann, 1980); Poems (Whittington Press, 1978).

"If you want to do creative, imaginative work—never interest yourself in politics, welfare, or the conditions in which people live. Only in their aspects, their hearts and minds, and what they are." It was advice given to an awkward teenaged schoolgirl by the great Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats. Enid Bagnold never forgot Yeats' words, quoting them many years later in her autobiography. Hers was in fact to be a life filled with people—the gifted, the rich, the exotic, as well as her beloved family—and filled, of course, with writing. "I was not a born writer, but I was born a writer," she said with that hint of enigma which was to characterize much of her work.

Enid Algerine Bagnold's birthplace was Borstal Cottage, Rochester, Kent. The date was October 27, 1889. Her parents, married only ten months, were Ethel Alger Bagnold and Arthur Henry Bagnold, then an instructor at the School of Military Engineering, Chatham. Arthur was brilliant; Ethel was beautiful. Enid was proud of her father's distinguished military lineage; she never doubted his loyalty and love, but it was her mother who adored her without qualification.

Enid's brother Ralph was born when she was six years old. Bagnold felt that the baby—who would grow up to be a gifted engineer like their father—came too late for her. Her childhood world was bounded by "Daddy, Mummie and me" and by her own adventurous and daring nature.

The family moved often, following Arthur Bagnold's rising military career. Posted in a variety of locations around the south of Britain, they went out in 1889 to the most glamorous assignment of all. Lt. Colonel Bagnold became commanding officer

of the Royal Engineers in sun-drenched Kingston, Jamaica. "This was the first page of my life as someone who can 'see.' It was like a man idly staring at a field suddenly finding he had Picasso's eyes," Bagnold would later recall.

The family home for three magical years was Coldspring House, a coffee plantation high on a hill above the city of Kingston. It was a setting of exquisite beauty where Bagnold learned to ride, managed to escape almost all formal instruction from her governess, read very little—she would never be a great reader—but discovered that she liked to write poetry and began imagining herself in love. Colonel Bagnold, who disapproved of the poetry and flew into a rage when he discovered his daughter's love letters, was pacified only when Enid vehemently assured him that the lover was nonexistent. Otherwise the adoring parents seem not to have been greatly concerned about their daughter's unconventional education.

On the family's return to England, more definite steps were taken. Enid was sent for five years to Prior's Field, a small but growing girls' school whose headmistress was Julia Arnold Huxley , daughter of the famous headmaster Thomas Arnold of Rugby and mother of Aldous and Julian, who visited at Prior's Field often. For its day, Prior's Field was an unusually lenient school with a strong emphasis on art, literature, and theater. Bagnold was exceedingly happy there, a plump clown who struggled for attention and played a variety of audacious pranks which included keeping grass snakes in her desk and exploring the tile roofs of her dormitory by moonlight. To her intense delight, she won the school poetry prize and was taken by Julia Huxley, whom she adored, to London for her memorable encounter with Yeats. Bagnold was confirmed in the Church of England but was already beginning her lifelong rebellion against organized religion. Her silent prayer in church at this period was, so she reported later, "Give me fame."

At 17, with little academic accomplishment and her beloved Julia Huxley dead, Bagnold left Prior's Field. In an attempt to give their self-willed daughter some final polish, her parents sent her to the Continent—first to a finishing school in Switzerland where she was miserable and contemptuous of her dull-spirited classmates, then to Villa Leona in Paris where for a year she was once again blissfully happy. Her great love—this time not fictional but distant—was the dazzling actress Sarah Bernhardt .

Still plump and awkward yet filled with a splendid vitality, Bagnold returned to England to her parents' home Warren Wood and was taken by her mother to the requisite provincial dances where, so it was hoped, she would find a husband. The project met with no success. Terrified by her first proposal of marriage and even more frightened by her first kiss, she fled. Despite her awkwardness, Bagnold had other dreams. She was beginning to write. A poem was published in the magazine English Illustrated, another in New Age. Her father equipped a Tower Room up a winding stair from his own dressing room where she could work in private. "Who wants to become a writer?" she would later ask. "And why? Because it's the answer to everything. To 'Why am I here?' It's the streaming reason for living."

Yet even the Tower Room did not offer enough freedom. At last, in 1912, Bagnold persuaded her reluctant father to let her take a flat in London with a new friend, a general's daughter named Dolly Tylden . Her allowance was to be £75, not enough to provide an affluent lifestyle but enough to make her far more comfortable than her new bohemian friends. The gifted and penniless young sculptor Henri Gaudier did a bust of her in clay, a striking portrait reflecting the strong personality of the sitter. The bust was later cast in bronze.

Bagnold took art lessons from the impressionist painter Walter Sickert, then turned to journalism, serving on Frank Harris' short-lived magazine Home and Hearth for which she recklessly turned out reams of both original and plagiarized copy. Harris' second magazine Modern Society ended in disaster, with Harris discredited and briefly jailed. Disillusioned, Bagnold fled home to her relieved parents and to her Tower Room. In 1917, her first book The Sailing Ship and Other Poems was published. World War I brought its own tragic opportunities. Enid joined the Red Cross and served as a nurse's aide in the Royal Herbert Hospital to which the wounded were brought from the battlefields of France. A Diary Without Dates, published in 1918, recounted that experience in a fresh, impressionistic style. Its frankness caused Bagnold's dismissal from the hospital for "breaching military discipline." She joined a corps of ambulance drivers in France and from this experience drew material for The Happy Foreigner, her first novel, published in 1920. Bagnold's writing was always closely linked to events and people in her life. She is even said to have used real life names for her characters in first drafts of her novels, changing only in final drafts to the fictional names.

Her love affair with Prince Antoine Bibesco, Rumanian diplomat and friend of Proust, set new and demanding literary standards for her. Bibesco would call Bagnold's novel Serena Blandish, published in 1924, his "spiritual child." It was, however, her marriage in 1920 to Sir Roderick Jones, head of the great news agency Reuter, which brought her into a glittering world of wealth and power. The marriage also brought her motherhood which would prove to be an immensely important aspect of her life. Within six years, she gave birth to a daughter Laurian and three sons, Timothy, Richard, and Dominick. These children, about whom she kept extensive records, would scarcely be mentioned in her autobiography. The omission was not the result of indifference but rather, it would seem, respect for their privacy.

In 1930, Heinemann published Alice and Thomas and Jane, a children's book based on the activities of the Jones family at North End House, their home in the seaside village of Rottingdean. In 1935, Alexander of Asia, a translation of Alexandre Asiatique by Marthe Bibesco appeared, as well as Bagnold's great popular success, National Velvet, a traditional narrative reflecting the author's and her children's love of horses. In the novel, Velvet, daughter of a small-town butcher, trains a piebald horse and wins the Grand National with him, an award withdrawn when the rider is discovered to be a girl. The characters were closely patterned after citizens of Rottingdean and caused some resentment in the village. Elsewhere, the book was highly acclaimed, and Hollywood producers jockeyed for movie rights. In the end, Paramount won out and cast a beautiful 13-year-old who had the appropriate English accent and loved horses. With National Velvet, Elizabeth Taylor became a star. Bagnold sold the rights for an initial fixed sum and earned no royalties from the film's success.

Writing of situations so close to her own experience, Bagnold obeyed Yeats' dictum never to write about politics or public life. For a time, she worked enthusiastically for the Babies Club, the first private welfare clinic in London, but otherwise never took part in organized charity despite much personal generosity. Her brief schoolgirl flirtation with the cause of women's suffrage

faded quickly. Now, in 1938, she made her only—and unfortunate—foray into the world of public affairs. In an article published by Reuter, she lauded Hitler, finding Germany a vibrant and healthy contrast to Europe's pallid Western democracies. She was not, however, interned with Sir Oswald Mosley and other leading Nazi sympathizers when World War II broke out, and she spent the war years caring for her homes and family in London and Rottingdean. One son, Timothy, lost a leg fighting in Italy. She admitted after the war that there were "great gaps" in her intelligence, but she seems never to have apologized explicitly for her Nazi leanings.

I shall continue to explore—the astonishment of living!

—Enid Bagnold, The Chalk Garden

Bagnold wrote one more novel, The Loved and the Envied, first published in 1950, with a heroine based on her great friend Lady Diana Duff Cooper . With this single exception, Bagnold's postwar career was devoted to the theater. There she met with both disaster and success, and there she fought ferociously to preserve the integrity of her own artistic vision. She also made dear and lasting friends, Irene Selznick , Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne , and Katharine Hepburn among them.

Both Dottie Dundass, an English murder mystery play which opened in California in 1941, and Poor Judas, 1946, explore the lives of failed artists with central characters that are unsympathetic. Both plays also had a limited success. Bagnold's skill with language was perhaps their major strength. Gertie, later renamed The Little Idiot, followed in 1951. Bagnold, in a humorous article printed in the Atlantic Monthly later that year, called the play "a flop."

Now, however, came her greatest theatrical success. With the creative help of Irene Selznick, Bagnold wrote The Chalk Garden, which was first produced by Selznick at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York in October 1955 and starred Siobhan McKenna and Gladys Cooper . The play met with instant critical acclaim and wide public acceptance. At its London opening in 1956, the critic for the London Observer declared, "On Wednesday night a wonder happened. The West End Theatre justified its existence." The Chalk Garden came directly from Bagnold's life. The setting is a manor house in a Sussex "village by the sea." Bagnold even insisted in the original production that the garden, seen upstage from the manor, be a replica of her own garden at Rottingdean. The characters are wealthy, upper class. The plot is slight, the characterization strong in a manner somewhat akin to that of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Subtly comic, the play is notable for its elegant and expressive dialogue. It had a splendid filming in England in 1964 with a cast including Hayley Mills, Deborah Kerr , and Edith Evans .

In 1962, Roderick Jones died after a lengthy and distressing illness through which Bagnold nursed him faithfully. Theirs had been a long marriage, marked by loyalty and respect rather than strict fidelity, wrote Bagnold, but satisfying and necessary to both. Bagnold's life as a playwright continued, though never again with the dazzling success of The Chalk Garden. The Last Joke, produced two years before Sir Roderick's death, had a noted cast which included John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, but received exceedingly bad reviews. The Chinese Prime Minister, the story of an aging actress coming to the end of her career, starring Margaret Leighton , was a hit in New York in 1964. Call Me Jacky opened in 1968 at the Oxford Playhouse. A revised version, entitled A Matter of Gravity, produced in New York in 1976 starred Katharine Hepburn. The strong-willed actress and the strong-willed playwright liked and understood each other at first meeting, and Hepburn gave a dazzling performance. The 86-year-old Bagnold joyously attended opening night but returned to England to serious illness. A later hip replacement, performed when the procedure was still new, failed to relieve her pain, and during her remaining years she became strongly addicted to cocaine. She died on March 31, 1981, feeling, according to her biographer, that her children, not her written works, were her major achievement.

Cooper, Diana Duff (1892–1986)

English actress. Name variations: Lady Diana Duff Cooper; Lady Duff Cooper; Lady Diana Manners. Born in 1892; died in 1986; daughter of the 8th duke of Rutland; sister of LadyViolet Charteris ; married Alfred Duff Cooper (1890–1954), 1st viscount Norwich (a politician, diplomat, and author), in 1919.

As an actress, Diana, Lady Duff Cooper, used the stage name of Lady Diana Manners. She appeared as the madonna in The Miracle, her most notable role.

Enid Bagnold was a woman of immense energy, possessed of a true gift with words and a fierce loyalty to friends, family, and her own vision. National Velvet, The Chalk Garden, and The Chinese Prime Minister are likely to have their admirers for many years.


Arkin, Marian. Longmans' Anthology of World Literature by Women. White Plains, NY: Longmans, 1989.

Bagnold, Enid. Enid Bagnold's Autobiography. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1969.

——. Four Plays. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1970.

Friedman, Lenemaja. Enid Bagnold. Boston, MA: Twayne, 1986.

Sebba, Anne. Enid Bagnold. NY: Taplinger, 1986.


The Henry W. and Albert G. Berg Collection of English and American Literature in the New York Public Library; The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Connecticut; The Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin; the McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Department of Special Collections, University of California at Los Angeles.

related media:

Chalk Garden, film produced in England by Universal, starring Deborah Kerr, Hayley Mills, and Edith Evans, directed by Ronald Neame, 1964.

National Velvet, film produced by MGM, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, screenplay by Helen Deutsch and Theodore Reeves, 1944.

International Velvet (125 min.), screenplay by Bryan Forbes, starring Tatum O'Neal and Anthony Hopkins, MGM, 1978.

Margery Evernden , Professor Emerita, English Department, University of Pittsburgh, and freelance writer