Enid Bagnold

Enid Bagnold

Enid Bagnold, the daughter of Colonel Arthur Henry Bagnold, the Commander of the Royal Engineers, was born in Rochester, Kent on 27th October, 1889. Her early childhood was spent in Jamaica but was educated at Prior's Field School in Godalming.

According to Nigel Nicolson she was "a tomboyish, dramatic, outdoor, beautiful girl who soon escaped the conventionally respectable life of her parents by taking a flat in Chelsea". While living in London she studied art under Walter Sickert.

In August 1913, Frank Harris began a magazine entitled, Modern Society. He employed Enid as a staff writer. She later recalled: "He was an extraordinary man. He had an appetite for great things and could transmit the sense of them. He was more like a great actor than a man of heart. He could simulate anything. While he felt admiration he could act it, and while he acted it, he felt it. And greatness being his big part, he hunted the centuries for it, spotting it in literature, in passion, in action."

In August 1913, Frank Harris began a magazine entitled, Modern Society. He employed Enid as a staff writer. She later recalled: "He was an extraordinary man. He had an appetite for great things and could transmit the sense of them. He was more like a great actor than a man of heart. He could simulate anything. While he felt admiration he could act it, and while he acted it, he felt it. And greatness being his big part, he hunted the centuries for it, spotting it in literature, in passion, in action."

In her Autobiography (1917) she admitted that Harris took her virginity. "The great and terrible step was taken... I went through the gateway in an upper room in the Cafe Royal. That afternoon at the end of the session I walked back to Uncle Lexy's at Warrington Crescent, reflecting on my rise. Like a corporal made sergeant.... And what about love - what about the heart? It wasn't involved. I went through this adventure like a boy, in a merry sort of way, without troubling much. I didn't know him. If I had really known him I might have been tender." During dinner with Uncle Lexy she later wrote that she couldn't believe that her skull wasn't chanting aloud: "I'm not a virgin! I'm not a virgin".

Harris introduced her to people like Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murry and Claud Lovat Fraser. Gaudier-Brzeska asked her to pose for him. She later recalled: "He didn't want to know what people were like. He rushed at them, held them, poured his thoughts over them, and when in response, they said ten words his impatience overflowed; he jabbed and wounded and the blood flowed."

Bagnold has left an interesting account of what it was like to be sculptured by Gaudier-Brzeska: "I went to his room in Chelsea - a large, bare room at the top of a house - it was winter, and the daylight would not last long. While I sat still, idle and uncomfortable on a wooden chair, Gaudier's thin body faced me, standing in his overall behind the lump of clay, at which he worked with feverish haste. We talked a little, and then fell silent; from time to time, but not very often, his black eyes shot over my face and neck, while his hands flew round the clay. After a time his nose began to bleed, but he made no attempt to stop it; he appeared insensible to it, and the blood fell on to his overall."

Enid Bagnold in her early twenties.
Enid Bagnold in her early twenties.

On the outbreak of the First World War Bagnold joined the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) and worked as a nurse at the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich. Her account of this experience, Diary Without Dates (1917) was so critical of hospital administration that the military authorities arranged for her dismissal. H. G. Wells described it as one of the most human books written about the war. Determined to help the war effort, Bagnold went to France and worked as a volunteer driver. Later she wrote about this in The Happy Foreigner (1920).

In 1920 Bagnold married Roderick Jones, the head of Reuters News Agency. They moved to North End House, Rottingdean. The writer, Anne Sebba, has argued "Their partnership was marked by loyalty, not fidelity, respect but not passion". The couple had four children. three sons and a daughter. Her friend Vita Sackville-West wrote of her in an unpublished poem: "And then came Jones, and flesh succumbed to Jones and domesticity destroyed you in the end."

Bagnold continued to write and in 1924 published the highly acclaimed novel, The Difficulty of Getting Married. Her biographer, Nigel Nicolson has argued: "Enid Bagnold thus achieved fame while still in her twenties, and her ambition never slackened. Her vitality, humour, audacity, and grace made her an exhilarating companion. She was ebulliently communicative, in talk as in writing, as lavish with words as a pianist is with notes, loving the inexhaustible variety of human experience as much as the language which expressed it."

This was followed by the commercially successful, National Velvet (1935), the story of a butcher's daughter who wins a horse in a raffle and, disguised as a boy, she rides to victory in the Grand National. It was later made into a hugely successful film, with Elizabeth Taylor in the starring role. Her next novel, which she considered to be her best, was The Squire (1938).

Bagnold also wrote several popular plays including Lottie Dundass (1943), The Chalk Garden (1951), The Chinese Prime Minister (1964) and a Matter of Gravity (1975).

Enid Bagnold died of bronchopneumonia on 31st March 1981 at 17a Hamilton Terrace, London. Her ashes were buried at Rottingdean, Sussex, after her cremation at Golders Green.

Primary Sources

(1) Enid Bagnold, Autobiography (1917)

Claud Lovat Fraser was the first to be excited by Gaudier's extraordinary talent. But soon he drew away from him. Lovat, most indulgent of men, would never express dislike, but he would not waste time on Gaudier's burning, voluble, cascading talk, though he deeply respected his art.

I didn't like him either; and Gaudier on his side found us both middleclass. We had no idea then of his crippling poverty. He had no time for talk because he was out of work. Too proud to say so he talked instead of eating. He didn't want to know what people were like. He rushed at them, held them, poured his thoughts over them, and when in response, they said ten words his impatience overflowed; he jabbed and wounded and the blood flowed.

(2) Enid Bagnold, quoted in Savage Messiah (1971)

I went to his room in Chelsea - a large, bare room at the top of a house - it was winter, and the daylight would not last long. While I sat still, idle and uncomfortable on a wooden chair, Gaudier's thin body faced me, standing in his overall behind the lump of clay, at which he worked with feverish haste. We talked a little, and then fell silent; from time to time, but not very often, his black eyes shot over my face and neck, while his hands flew round the clay. After a time his nose began to bleed, but he made no attempt to stop it; he appeared insensible to it, and the blood fell on to his overall. At last, unable to stand it any longer, I said: "Your nose is bleeding". He replied: "I know, you'll find something to stop it in that bag on the wall"; and all the time he went on working, while the light got less and less. The bag was full of clothes belonging to Gaudier and Miss Brzeska, most of them dirty, most of them torn. I chose something, long-legged drawers, I think, and tied them round his nose and mouth and behind his neck. "Lower!" he said impatiently, wrenching at it, unable to see properly. I went to my seat, but after a time the cloth became soaked through with blood. The light had gone, and in the street outside there was a terrific noise. It was a dog-fight, one large dog pinning another by the throat, and Gaudier left his work to come and watch it. He watched it to the finish with dark, interested eyes, his head against the window, and the street-lamp shining on his bloody bandages.

(3) Enid Bagnold, Autobiography (1917)

He (Frank Harris) was an extraordinary man. He had an appetite for great things and could transmit the sense of them. He was more like a great actor than a man of heart. He could simulate anything. While he felt admiration he could act it, and while he acted it, he felt it. And greatness being his big part, he hunted the centuries for it, spotting it in literature, in passion, in action...

For what happened, of course, was totally to be foreseen. The great and terrible step was taken. What else could you expect from a girl so expectant? "Sex," said Frank Harris, "is the gateway to life." So I went through the gateway in an upper room in the Cafe Royal.

That afternoon at the end of the session I walked back to Uncle Lexy's at Warrington Crescent, reflecting on my rise. Like a corporal made sergeant.

As I sat at dinner with Aunt Clara and Uncle Lexy I couldn't believe that my skull wasn't chanting aloud: "I'm not a virgin! I'm not a virgin".

It was a boy's cry of initiation - not a girl's.

And what about love - what about the heart? It wasn't involved. I went through this adventure like a boy, in a merry sort of way, without troubling much. I didn't know him. If I had really known him I might have been tender.

"In love" doesn't make one tender. It makes one furious or jealous, or miserable when it stops. It's the years that make one tender. Time, affection, knowledge. "In love" is the reverse of knowledge.

I went home every week-end. Once home it seemed it hadn't happened. Lies were told. You can't grow up without lies. A child is so much older than her mother thinks she is. I risked so much. It was their happiness I risked: not mine. Nothing could have foundered me - I thought. But if they had known (that's what I risked) could things ever have been the same?

There was plenty to tell at week-ends, without thinking of sex. The office was so thunderingly alive, F.H. in and out, struggling in despair, or blazingly optimistic.

(4) Enid Bagnold, A Diary Without Dates (1917)

I suffer awfully from my language in this ward. I seem to be the only VAD nurse of whom they continually ask, "What say, nurse?' It isn't that I use long words, but my sentences seem to be inverted.

"An antitetanic injection for Corrigan," said Sister. And I went to the dispensary to fetch the syringe and the needles.

"But has he any symptoms?" I asked. In the Tommies' ward one dare ask anything; their isn't that mystery which used to surround the officers' illnesses.

"Oh, no," she said, "it's just that he hasn't had his full amount in France."

So I hunted up the spirit-lamp and we prepared it, talking of it.

But we forget to talk of it to Corrigan. The needle was into his shoulder before he knew why his shirt was held up.

His wrath came like an avalanche; the discipline of two years was forgotten, his Irish tongue was loosened. Sister shrugged her shoulders and laughed; I listened to him as I cleaned the syringe.

I gathered that it was the indignity that had shocked his sense of individual pride. "Treating me like a cow" I heard him say to Smiff - who laughed, since it wasn't his shoulder that carried the serum.

(5) Enid Bagnold, A Diary Without Dates (1917)

In the bus yesterday, I came down from London sitting beside a Sister from another ward, who held her hand to her ear and shifted in her seat.

She told me she had earache and we didn't talk, and I sat huddled in my corner and watched the names of the shops, thinking, as I was more or less forced to do by her movements, of her earache.

What struck me was her own angry bewilderment before the fact of her pain. "But it hurts. You've no idea how it hurts!" She was surprised.

Many times a day she hears the words, "Sister, you're hurting me. Couldn't you shift my heel? It's like a toothache," and other similar sentences. I hear them in the ward without some such request falling on one's ears.

She is astonished at her earache; she is astonished at what pain can be; it is unexpected. She is ready to be angry with herself, with her pain, with her ear. It is monstrous she thinks.

The pain of one creature cannot continue to have a meaning for another. It is almost impossible to nurse a man well whose pain you do not imagine.

(6) Enid Bagnold, A Diary Without Dates (1917)

It was the first time I had a man sing at his dressing. I was standing at the sterilizer when Rees's song began to mount over the screen that hid him from me.

It was like this: "Ah... ee... oo, Sister!" and again: "Sister... oo... ee... ah!" Then a little scream and his song again.

I heard the Sister's voice: "Now then, Rees, I don't call that much of a song. " She called me to make her bed, and I saw his left ear was full of tears.

Oh visitors, who come into the ward in the calm of the long afternoon, when the beds are neat and clean and the flowers out on the tables and the VAD's sit sewing at splints and sandbags, when the men look like men again and smoke and talk and read... if you could see what lies beneath the dressings!

(7) Enid Bagnold, Autobiography (1917)

He (Frank Harris) was an extraordinary man. He had an appetite for great things and could transmit the sense of them. He was more like a great actor than a man of heart. He could simulate anything. While he felt admiration he could act it, and while he acted it, he felt it. And greatness being his big part, he hunted the centuries for it, spotting it in literature, in passion, in action.