Obituary: Kathleen Farrell

KATHLEEN FARRELL wrote five novels, but she will be remembered as the friend of writers rather than as a writer herself. And this would have pleased her, and come as no surprise. She delighted in the literary success of others, was absurdly self-effacing about her own efforts, and won thereby the admiration and loyalty of a host of friends.

She was born in London in 1912, the only child of a rich builder, and was spared the necessity all her life of earning a living. This was a blessing, for she never married, doled out money to others, and became so crippled by rheumatoid arthritis that she would have proved unemployable anyway. Small and ultimately bird-like, she was extremely pretty in her youth, and even in her eighties, despite nights of constant pain, her face would light up with the joy of greeting a visitor to her garden flat in Brighton, the years and ill-health being wiped away in a flash.

Her books were written during a 12-year period, between the ages of about 35 and 47, beginning with Mistletoe Malice (1951). Take it to Heart (1953), The Cost of Living (1956) and The Common Touch (1958) followed, and in 1962 she published her last novel, Limitations of Love. By that time she had decided to live alone after 20 exhilarating years with Kay Dick, a personal and literary partnership that did however provide much entertainment and many heady parties for their friends, many of whom were roped in by Dick, who worked for a time as a magazine editor.

Kathleen Farrell's books very much reflected her personality. They were intelligent, witty and amusing but essentially lightweight, the work of an inspired amateur who would have benefited from tough editing and the encouragement to study and benefit from her friend Pamela Hansford Johnson's technique.

The two writers were felt by many to run in tandem, Farrell supplying the amusement in her books that so conspicuously escaped the more serious of the two novelists. Farrell's output was of its time and somewhat too autobiographical to allow for serious development. The Cost of Living, for example, depicts a woman who lived in Hampstead and spent her time typing someone else's books - the story of Farrell's life.

Farrell enjoyed, and employed, a genius for friendship. She was immensely witty, shooting off barbed ripostes in her high-pitched, rather squeaky voice. Told that two dinner guests had behaved well and seemed, unlike so many married couples, to be happy, she might say, "A happy marriage is all very well, but it can be rather boring for a whole evening."

She was fascinated by other people's actions and motives, piercingly sharp in her dissection of character, and alarmingly hospitable. Unlike her great friend Ivy Compton-Burnett, Farrell could scarcely be bothered with afternoon tea; she was far too anxious to produce, by five o'clock at the latest, a stiff whisky, and so get the conversation flowing again.

There was no one of consequence in the literary world of her own generation - the only world for which Kathleen Farrell cared - whom she did not know, and most of them long before they were famous: Stevie Smith, C.P. Snow, Isobel English, Neville Braybrooke, Olivia Manning, Joanna Richardson, Frank Tuohy, P.H. Newby, Francis King, Raleigh Trevelyan. And any new discovery, like Quentin Crisp, was instantly invited to a party to meet all the others.

She was a catalyst, who "made things happen". Even when, in old age, she lived alone, her back, feet and hands deplorably deformed, her first priority was to encourage writers in whose work she believed, and her coffee-table was always piled high with inscribed first editions and discarded review copies. Reading, smoking, drinking (she ate hardly at all, but there was usually smoked salmon for lunch), bridge and talking for hours with friends were the pleasures that kept her mind and spirits alert.

Her closest relationship was with her sybaritic mother, with whom she lived next door until Mrs Farrell died at the age of 90, attended, to the end, by a maid (herself so decrepit she had to walk down the stairs backwards). She drove a specially adapted motor car until it rusted away in the salt air and she managed to brush a young man off his motor-bike. Her inordinate devotion to an endless succession of dogs, mainly dachshunds, eventually took precedence over all else, and kept her happy and occupied long after she was able to change a light-bulb or draw a cork.

No one who knew and loved Kathleen Farrell will have failed to gain inspiration from her courage, enjoyment from her humour, and profit from her advice. Hers may have been a minor literary talent, but as a person she enlivened the lives of others to a rare and remarkable degree.

Her last two years of increasing immobility were lightened beyond measure by the selfless care taken of her and her affairs by the novelist Sebastian Beaumont.

Kathleen Amy Farrell, novelist: born London 4 August 1912; died Hove, East Sussex 25 November 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Arts and Entertainment
Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the Mersey
booksAn early draft of ‘Atrocities’ shows the anti-war sentiment was toned down before publication
Arts and Entertainment
Actors and technicians on the march against changes made by Hollande
theatreOpening performances of the Avignon theatre festival cancelled as actors and technicians walk out
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West performed in a chain mail mask at Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park
Rapper booed at Wireless over bizarre rant
Arts and Entertainment

They're back, they're big – and they're still spectacularly boring

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil