James Roose-Evans on the works of Edith Olivier

Such Devoted Sisters

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Edith Olivier, born in 1872, was one of ten children whose father was for nearly fifty years Rector of Wilton, on the estate of the Earls of Pembroke, outside Salisbury. After the death of their parents, Edith and her beloved sister Mildred were invited by the Earl of Pembroke to live, at a peppercorn rent, in the old Dairy House (which Edith renamed as the Daye House) in Wilton Park. When, in 1924, Mildred died of cancer, Edith was desolate. She wrote in her journal, ‘I cannot realize that I am going to be lonely always.’ Being a devout Anglican – each day of her life she went to an early Eucharist – she considered entering a convent, but at 52 she was told by the Mother Superior not only that she was too old but also that she was ‘too rebellious of mind’.

The following year changed everything for Edith. She was invited by her neighbour, 19-year-old Stephen Tennant, the beautiful son of Lord Glenconner, to join him and a fellow student from the Slade School of Art on holiday in Italy, and it was then that she met the brilliant young artist Rex Whistler. He was to become like a much-loved son to Edith, and would illustrate eleven of the books she was to write.

Soon a whole galaxy of writers, artists and mu

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About the contributor

James Roose-Evans is a theatre director, and founder of the Hampstead Theatre. His most recent books include a memoir, Opening Doors and Windows, and Finding Silence: 52 Meditations for Daily Living. He has just adapted for the stage Philippe Besson’s novella En L’Absence des Hommes, newly translated by Carl Miller.

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