David (Bunny) Garnett (1892 to 1981) writer

I don’t know why but I expected David Garnett to be, well, not that interesting. How wrong I was. From literary parents, botany, bookshops and big houses to women turning into animals, complicated relationships and  Aspects of Love.

Q. Why ‘Bunny’?

A. Garnett, as a child, had a coat made of rabbit skin which earned him the lifelong nickname of ‘Bunny”

Garnett was a student of botany at The Royal College of Science. He was not a Cambridge person but he was a member of Adrian Stephen’s poker group where he met Duncan Grant. David and Duncan became a couple. They both lived with Vanessa Bell who was also having a relationship with Duncan. Vanessa at this time was married to the art critic, Clive Bell but she had a daughter (Angelica) with Duncan. Twenty years later, David married Angelica. Confused? So am I.

David was from a very bookish family. His father, Edward Garnett, was a reader for the publisher Jonathan Cape and his mother was a distinguished translator of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Turgenev which enabled the Russian classics to be introduced to many British readers.

After the First World War, David opened a bookshop in Bloomsbury. It was here that he got to know several members of the Bloomsbury group who met there to discuss art and literature. On 30 March 1921 Garnett married Rachel Marshall and they had two sons.

In 1922 he had great success with a fantasy novel titled:

Lady into Fox.

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Photo: Courtesy of Pixabay (CC0 Public Domain)

This short novel is about a new wife, Sylvia, who, when out walking in the woods with her husband, physically turns into a fox.  He smuggles her home under his coat and dismisses the servants.

If you had asked me to guess what David Garnett had written a book about I would not have guessed this in a million years.

Anyway, Sylvia who started out just a bit foxy in her ways but was still able to eat human food, sit at the dining table and sleep in their shared bed and such like, eventually takes on increasingly wild characteristics and her husband is beside himself, becoming depressed and anxious. You don’t say. Unable to cope any longer he releases her into the wid. He is pleased when she returns to show him her five new cubs. He gives them all names and plays with them every day. In the end, Sylvia is killed by dogs during a hunt. 

This guy certainly has a much more vivid imagination than me and it is certainly one to add to my reading list. Not a genre I would normally choose but I am intrigued with this.

The novel was a huge success and earned him a couple of major literary awards. The money he made from this book enabled him to buy Hilton Hall, an early seventeenth century house near Huntingdon.

Still married to Rachel Marshall, in 1938 Garnett began having an affair with Angelica and after his wife died of breast cancer in 1940 he married Angelica and went on to have four children with her.

Garnett continued to write novels and in 1955 he wrote the best selling Aspects of Love on which Andrew Lloyd Webber based his musical.

Garnett split up with Angelica and moved to France. He died of a brain haemorrhage in 1981. There was no funeral and his body was given to a French hospital for teaching purposes.

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