Caroline Blackwood 1931–1996
(Full name Lady Caroline Maureen Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood) Anglo-Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, biographer, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry provides an overview of Blackwood's career. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 6 and 9.
An Angio-Irish writer and journalist, Blackwood is best known for her short stories and novels, which offer gothic descriptions of modern relations told with sharp wit and black humor. She is known as well for her journalistic accounts of such controversial subjects as nuclear arms protesting and fox hunting.
Blackwood was born in Northern Ireland on July 16, 1931, to aristocratic parents. Her mother Maureen was heir to the Guinness fortune and Blackwood's father Basil was a friend of Evelyn Waugh's and the grandson of Lord Dufferin, rumored to be the illegitimate son of Disraeli. Blackwood was educated in boarding schools and embarked on a career in journalism after completing her education. She published her first collection of short stories and essays, For All That I Found There, in 1973 and her first novel, The Stepdaughter, three years later. Blackwood was married three times: to the painter Lucian Freud, whom she divorced in 1956; to the American composer and pianist Israel Citkowitz with whom she had three daughters and divorced in 1972; and to late poet Robert Lowell with whom she had a son. Blackwood lived in Paris, London, and Northern Ireland before settling in the United States. She died of cancer in Manhattan in 1996.
Blackwood published ten books, including three short story collections, three novels, three works of nonfiction, and a cookbook. In 1973 she published For All That I Found There, a collection of short stories and autobiographical accounts of her life in Ulster. She followed this with the epistolary novel The Stepdaughter in 1976 and a collection of short stories Great Granny Webster (1977). Both works focus on women and their struggles to deal with family members. She published a third short story collection Good Night Sweet Ladies in 1983; many of these stories also deal with family relations. Blackwood employed a similar narrative device in her two novels The Fate of Mary Rose (1981) and Corrigan (1984). In each the narrator calls into question the events of the story, adding an element of suspense which is instrumental in establishing a dark, gothic mood. Blackwood also published three works of nonfiction: On the Perimeter (1984), which concerns a group of women protesting nuclear weapons at an American military base in England; In the Pink (1987), an anecdotal account of fox hunting in England; and The Last of the Duchess (1995), an account of the life of Wallis Simpson and Blackwood's efforts to interview the ailing Duchess. Blackwood employs a faux-naifstyle in her non-fiction, feigning naivete as a means of circumventing controversial opinions about her subject matters.
Blackwood's first book, For All That I Found There, garnered much favorable attention. Critics admired her keen observations about her fellow humans and her biting wit. She received similar accolades for her novel The Stepdaughter, which some critics consider to be her best work. Commentators were particularly impressed with the novel's dark humor. Many critics did not believe that Great Granny Webster and The Fate of Mary Rose measured up to the standard Blackwood set in her earlier works. In particular, reviewers were critical of Blackwood's element of suspense in The Fate of Mary Rose. Critics have praised Blackwood's objectiveness in her first two nonfiction works. While some critics believe that In the Pink contributed little new knowledge about fox hunting, they praised the author for providing a balanced view of the sport. However, reviewers criticized Blackwood for inaccuracies and speculation in In the Pink and particularly in The Last of the Duchess. In her review of The Last of the Duchess, Zoë Heller claims that Blackwood's "… ill-advised response to her lack of hard facts, is to fill in the holes with speculation and gossip … as if her duty as a journalist did not extend beyond reproducing hearsay."