OBITUARY : Lady Caroline Blackwood

Caroline Blackwood was a writer with a small number of books to her name. These have an intensity, a black and humorous concentration on the pitilessness of experience, which should ensure their survival. They are also very funny.

Ireland was in her blood and upbringing. Ireland suffers Blackwood's forensic surgery in her first book, For All That I Found There (1973), a collection of short stories and meditative pieces. With courage and a certain breathtaking cruelty she followed it with two autobiographical novels. The Stepdaughter (1976) is a miniature Greek tragedy, done as farce, about an unhappy relationship with your child. The title is the only figleaf permitted; the book is based on her eldest child, Natalia Citkowitz, who died through addiction before the book was published. There is something of Evelyn Waugh in Blackwood's ability to make you laugh reluctantly at her ruthlessness: Waugh done over by the painter Francis Bacon. Great Granny Webster is lighter and funnier. Here the Anglo- Irish world of Elizabeth Bowen is allowed no smidgen of decadent charm; water drips relentlessly through the roof, room after oppressive room of the statutory mansion. Yeats, you feel, would have had a nervous breakdown had he lived to read it. The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1977 and was greatly admired by Philip Larkin.

Subsequent novels such as The Fate of Mary Rose (1981) and Corrigan (1984) were less successful, though they well repay re-reading. A further collection of short stories, Good Night Sweet Ladies (1983) and a sympathetic yet merciless account of the predominantly female protest at Greenham Common, On the Perimeter (1984), confirmed her talent. If her last book, an account of the last days of the Duchess of Windsor, The Last Duchess (1995), betrays some signs of Caroline Blackwood's cancer and alcoholism, it does contain one of the greatest pieces of comic writing I know: her own attempts at interviewing Maitre Suzanne Blum, the terrifying French lawyer who took charge of the Duchess's fortune and bedridden body before dying herself in her nineties.

Caroline Blackwood's dark temperament, perfectly realised in her writing, is in some ways a puzzle, given the facts of her life. It was a rich life literally and metaphorically She was one of the most beautiful women of her generation (a more intense and fascinating version of the film star, Michelle Pfeiffer, I found). Even in the last years, when life and illness ravaged her, you could not look at anyone else when she was in the room. She was loved by some of the most talented men of the age and married two of them, the painter Lucian Freud and the poet Robert Lowell. She was well-off (her mother was Maureen Guinness, now Maureen, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava) and aristocratic in a period when that added rather than subtracted glamour. Her father, who died when she was 13 was Basil Dufferin, eulogised in a Betjeman poem; her brother Sheridan Dufferin, whom with her sister Perdita she loved, was the kind of man whose charm, generosity and modesty give aristocrats a good name.

As well as passion, Caroline Blackwood experienced love both giving and receiving. In some ways a difficult mother, she was always close to her daughters Eugenia and Ivana Citkowitz and her son Sheridan Lowell. She made great and enduring friendships with men and women: I was lucky enough to enjoy her friendship for nearly 35 years. She was very funny because polite and well-mannered on the surface, in no sense a person who shocked in order to make an effect, she mercilessly cut straight through to the core of things. Like Lucian Freud, and her friend Francis Bacon, she hated padding. You could not pretend in her company. Even on her deathbed, black Blackwood gold was mined. One of the women she loved most, a Catholic and fellow novelist, had brought water from Lourdes. Some of it spilt on the sheets. "I might have caught my death," she muttered.

Lucian Freud's portraits of her are in my view his greatest paintings. She was pleased to get a recent long telephone call from him. "I had forgotten how funny Lucian can be," she said. Some time after leaving him, she married Israel Citkowitz, a talented composer and delightful man who sadly suffered most of his career from a debilitating writer's block.

Without turning into a figure of tragic suffering, Citkowitz followed her to England after her marriage to Robert Lowell and continued as a father to his children, and as a kind of nanny-duenna to Blackwood for the rest of his life. She was his great achivement. He always registered a quiet pride in it.

Robert Lowell's life with Blackwood and his traumatic parting and final reunion with his previous wife, the writer Elizabeth Hardwicke, is relived in three books of poems. A long sequence of love poems, The Dolphin, praises and anatomises Caroline as the Muse who put an end to his philanderings.

Any clear thing that blinds us with

surprise,

your wandering silences and bright

trouvailles,

dolphin let loose to catch the

flashing fish . . .

They lived in London, in a manor she bought in Kent and later in her cousin Desmond Guinness's great house Castletown in Co. Kildare. The marriage ran aground on the shoals of Blackwood's drinking, Lowell's sense that he had little time he had to live and terror of his bouts of manic depression - ironically less persistent after their meeting. Their love affair never floundered. Lowell lived with Elizabeth the last year of his life, but visited Blackwood.

Three days before he died I delivered to him in Ireland a picture I had procured, a Freud of Caroline. He died clutching it in a cab on his way to Elizabeth in New York. At his graveside the two women clung to each other.

Grey Gowrie

Caroline Maureen Blackwood, writer: born 1931; married 1953 Lucian Freud (marriage dissolved), 1959 Israel Citkovitz (marriage dissolved; three daughters, one deceased), 1972 Robert Lowell (died 1977; one son); died New York 14 February 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor