Mopsa (Dora Carrington)

Mopsa was [Dora] Carrington – she was never known after her teens by her first name –  born in 1893, the painter who lived with Lytton Strachey (although she had affairs with men, and married one), and the sexual side of her relationship with Strachey, himself homosexual, was limited; and her victory in the competition she entered was at Strachey’s expense.

Although the name ‘Mopsa’ has a literary connection (Shakespeare), it was also the main pet name that  Carrington used for Strachey (two months after whose death, she committed suicide).


Dora Carrington in 1926


Wins 69A: £2.2s.0d

In Michael Holroyd’s biography of Lytton Strachey (the 1994 edition, pages 653 and 684), Holroyd, mistakenly calling the WR  the ‘Week-End Observer’, notes that ‘Signing herself ‘Mopsa’, Carrington sent in an imaginary death scene which won first prize… It is an apt mimicry of Lytton’s style, with its planted mots, its insinuations, and its flippant moment of extinction, composed with the loving malice of someone [i.e. Carrington] who was moved at times by a furtive wish to escape’; and later, after Strachey’s death, ‘Had she not felt a premonition that Lytton might die after writing her parody death-scene for The Week-[end Review]? She blamed herself …’

This seems a little melodramatic, given that ‘Mopsa’ was commended for making Strachey die, as he would have made his subjects die, on the page. We do know that (note to page 653) ‘Carrington cut out her winning entry and pasted it into HER BOOK (her scrapbook) on 18 July 1931. Lytton sent her a congratulatory telegram and she replied ‘Darling Lytton, My most venerable Biographer, knitter of coatees, most dissipated of masters, do you know your wire gave me more pleasure than anything in the world? … Terrible to think I nearly lost my guineas through cruelty! [This is a reference to Dyneley Hussey’s judgement.] Ralph is really more delighted than I am, I believe!” Ralph (Partridge) was her husband, a complication too complex to relate here! However, I doubt if a correspondence between the parodist and the parodied has ever been so affectionate during the history of these competitions. And it is worth noting that Strachey, who was pedantic about grammar and spelling, was generous in his affection to Carrington, who was normally reckless with both. She’d obviously put in a special effort.

Or – and I am amazed Holroyd did not suggest this – perhaps Carrington did not really parody Strachey at all. She was not a great writer. It seems to me increasingly that the writer must have been Strachey, and that, years before Greene won a prize imitating himself, Strachey wrote a pastiche of his own work and entered it via Carrington.

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