Edith Olivier

Edith Olivier (Edith Maud Olivier. December 31st, 1872 – May 10th, 1948) was an English writer.

Olivier was educated at home by her mother, and later by governesses and tutors. In 1895, she won a scholarship and briefly attended St Hugh’s Hall, Oxford University, for four non-consecutive terms, but had to leave due to asthma.

Olivier dreamed of pursuing a career in the theatre, but her strict, domineering father (who, for nearly fifty years, was Rector of Wilton, on the estate of the Earls of Pembroke) would not allow it.

During WWI, she worked for the Women’s Land Army in Wiltshire and for the local St John Ambulance Brigade. Her father died in 1919 and, in 1920, upon the invitation of the Earl of Pembroke, Olivier and her sister Mildred moved to the old Dairy House on the Wilton estate. Olivier would later become the first woman to serve as mayor of Wilton, and she held the position from 1938 to 1941.

In 1924, after her sister died of breast cancer, Edith noted in her journal: “I cannot realize that I am going to be lonely always”. Olivier was 52. She considered entering a convent, but was precluded by the Mother Superior, who told her she was “too rebellious of mind”.

Olivier went on to become a central figure in the 1920’s group of Bohemian young aristocrats known as the Bright Young Things. Members of the group include Siegfried Sassoon, Cecil Beaton, Rex Whistler, Diana and Nancy Mitford, Anthony Powell, Edith Sitwell, Clive Bell, Eleanor Furneaux Smith, Henry Green, Elizabeth Bibesco, Caroline Blackwood, Mary Butts, Dora Carrington, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and many others.

Olivier never married. Her first novel, The Love Child, was published in 1927, when she was 55.

She died of a stroke in 1948.

Books

Novels

  • The Love Child (1927)
  • As Far As Jane’s Grandmother’s (1928)
  • Underground River (1929)
  • The Triumphant Footman (1930)
  • Dwarf’s Blood (1930)
  • The Seraphim Room (1932, published in the USA as Chilvester’s Daughters)

Short stories

  • Moonrakings (1930)

Non-fiction

  • The Eccentric Life of Alexander Cruden (1934, biography, published in the USA as Alexander the Corrector)
  • Mary Magdalene (1934, biography)
  • Without Knowing Mr Walkley (1938, memoir)
  • Country Moods and Tenses (1941)
  • Four Victorian Ladies of Wiltshire (1945)
  • Night Thoughts of a Country Landlady (1945)
  • Wiltshire (1951)
  • Edith Olivier from her Journals 1924–48, ed. Penelope Middelboe (1989)

About her

  • A Curious Friendship – The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing, by Anna Thomasson (2015)
  • The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature in English, ed. Jenny Stringer (1996)
  • The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers, ed. Joanne Shattock (1993)

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