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Love between the lines : paradigmatic readings of the relationship between Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey

Loedolff, Janine (2007-12)

Thesis (MA (English))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


This thesis focuses on the relationship between Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey and offers three models for reading their unconventional relationship. Carrington was in love with the homosexual Strachey and the two lived together at Tidmarsh, and later Ham Spray House, for more than fourteen years. The three models make extensive use of primary sources, namely the letters and diaries of Carrington and Strachey. Furthermore, I draw on two seminal biographies of Carrington and Strachey written by Gretchen Gerzina and Michael Holroyd respectively. The first model I examine is a form of pederasty. I argue that, soon after they met, Carrington and Strachey began a friendship which was based on his educating her in a variety of ways. He served as a mentor both intellectually and sexually. Strachey was familiar with the concept of pederasty as a result of his involvement with the Cambridge Conversazione Society, better known as the Apostles, and used his knowledge to induct a rather naïve Carrington into new ways of thinking. This pederastic relationship also allowed Carrington a certain amount of freedom as it enabled her to pursue her art without the demands a heterosexual male would make of her. The second model for reading their relationship is that of parody. While Carrington and Strachey’s relationship resembles a heteronormative relationship, it can, at times, be read as parodic. I argue that they both subvert heteronormativity in humorous ways as a means to critique their parents’ Victorian marriages and to interrogate notions of masculinity vi and femininity. I discuss the roles they played within their domestic environment, and pay particular attention to how this intersected with Carrington’s artistic endeavours. This parodying of heteronormativity was, I suggest, also one of the only ways they could find of expressing the love they felt for one another. The last model I offer draws on theories of kinship. I examine how Carrington and Strachey resorted to familial constructions of descent as a means to veil the love they had for one another and to avoid criticism and ridicule from the Bloomsbury group and beyond. When they established a home at Tidmarsh, they altered their form of kinship to utilise principles of alliance. However, another shift took place with the introduction of Ralph Partridge, Carrington’s husband, and I argue that the terms they used to address each other changed to constructions, once again, of descent, at least until the dissolution of the Carrington-Partridge marriage. Carrington and Strachey’s relationship is often viewed as unconventional and she is often depicted as being utterly subservient towards him. However, the three models I have used demonstrate that their love was mutual. The models also reveal their relationship to be quite conventional in the manner in which Carrington and Strachey expressed their love for one another and how these expressions of love developed during the different phases of the life they spent together.

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