Obituaries: Mary Lutyens

Sarah Anderson
Monday 12 April 1999 23:02

MARY LUTYENS, who became the acknowledged world expert and writer on the Indian spiritual philosopher Krishnamurti, was only two years old when her mother, Lady Emily Lutyens, became a theosophist.

In 1911 Annie Besant, president of the Theosophical Society, which based its teaching on Hindu ideas and philosophy, brought Krishnamurti, a brahmin child named after the Hindu divinity, and his brother Nitya, to England. Lady Emily took the two boys "under her wing" and the young Mary grew up knowing them well.

Although in later life she was not a strict theosophist, she was interested in psychic matters and remained dedicated to Krishnamurti, writing several books about him, including Krishnamurti, a three- volume biography (1975-88), and The Life and Death of Krishnamurti (1990). Her determination to preserve Krishnamurti's good name extended to her writing a secret rebuttal of an Indian woman's derogatory account of his life.

Lutyens remembered Annie Besant as being the only person in her life for whom she felt any hero worship, and from her childhood encounters with theosophy she gained a respect for the beliefs of others which stayed with her throughout her life.

She was born in London in 1908, the youngest child of the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and his wife Emily, the daughter of Edward Robert Lytton, Viceroy of India and first Earl of Lytton. At an early age Mary appreciated her vivid imagination and was never bored with her own company. She was naturally secretive, her motto aged 10 was "Know all but be known of none", and she later wrote in her autobiography To Be Young (1959) that she aimed to cultivate a deliberate hardness. This was not however apparent when she fell in love with Krishnamurti's brother Nitya and was much hurt when he seemed to ignore her.

Taking her younger children, including Mary, with her, Emily Lutyens travelled to both India and Australia many times with Krishnamurti, who was proclaimed in 1925 by Besant to be "the coming Messiah". Edwin Lutyens was not a theosophist but was in India every winter watching his city, New Delhi, being built. Mary Lutyens recalled being proud of her father and his work, but she did not have a close relationship with him, although she looked very like him. He loved gaiety and so hated the idea of any silence at mealtimes that he designed a large round blackboard top for the dining table, so that noughts and crosses could be played if the conversation became sticky.

In 1930 Mary Lutyens married Anthony Sewell. The marriage was unhappy from the start as she was in love with his brother, who came with them on the honeymoon. The marriage was dissolved in 1945 and Sewell subsequently died. They had one daughter. In 1945 Lutyens married the art historian J.G. Links, whom she had met through her brother Robert during the Second World War and to whom she remained very happily married. She looked on Links as her rescuer from what had been a rather rackety life and said, "He made me nice again." She objected to their first honeymoon spent on a troopship to New York and so they went on to Venice, a city about which they both became passionate.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Mary Lutyens had written many novels, among which were Forthcoming Marriages (1933), Perchance to Dream (1935), Rose and Thorn (1936) and So Near to Heaven (1943). She went on to write many books, including Effie in Venice (1965), a collection of unpublished letters from Effie Ruskin written between 1849 and 1852, Lady Lytton's Court Diary (1961), Millais and the Ruskins (1967), The Ruskins and the Grays (1972), The Lyttons in India (1979) and a biography of her father, Edwin Lutyens (1980).

Under the pseudonym Esther Wyndham she wrote numerous serials, including Black Prince, a romance for Mills and Boon. (A romance she submitted recently was rejected for being "too middle-class".) She was also an agony aunt and a contributor to the TLS, Apollo, Royalty Digest and the Cornhill. Her last book was a privately printed history of the Lyttons and the Lutyens families. Her first books were published by John Murray and she became a family friend of the Murrays, her later books also being published by them. She was very helpful not only during the Edwin Lutyens exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1985 but also during a recently made television programme on Lutyens in which she appears as a voiceover, having refused to appear in person.

Her research was meticulous; she listened to all Krishnamurti's lectures on tape and she had an original, rather lateral way of looking at things, seeing Ruskin and Effie's relationship differently from other writers. Although her self- discipline and the way she corrected people's grammar could be intimidating, she had a lively twinkle and was good company. She was insatiably curious about everything and was particularly intrigued about people's sex lives, asking very direct questions.

She and her husband Jo Links were very supportive of each other's work. She wrote everything in bed in pencil in an exercise book and he typed all her manuscripts, being the the practical one in the marriage - and the only person who could read her handwriting. Together, until his death in 1997, they created a strong partnership and unit, and from this core they were known for their generosity to others. Mary had a particularly large circle of friends and was a great letter-writer; they had both led very social lives and had entertained many people at their house in Sussex.

She was famous for her dry martinis and her elegance and, although unmusical, danced alone to Cole Porter for exercise.

Mary Lutyens, writer: born London 31 July 1908; married 1930 Anthony Sewell (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1945), 1945 J.G. Links (died 1997); died London 9 April 1999.

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