There are a couple of obscure references to Elvira in “Frieda Lawrence and her Circle“, a collection of letters to and from the partner of the once controversial author. They consist of two responses to letters from Martha Gordon Crotch – one from Lawrence’s sister, Ada, and one from Frieda. Unfortunately Martha’s two letters are not included , so it is not easy to determine the exact context that produced  the replies.

Ada and David Herbert Lawrence

Ada’s message includes this remark,

“What an experience meeting Elvira Barney! What a vicious type some of these young moneyed people are – no good to themselves or anyone else. They certainly should be made to work for a living.”

Frieda’s is even briefer,but equally hostile.

” How queer about Elvira Barney and about Lawrence…What a mess the world is in.”

D.H. and Frieda Lawrence

The letter from Ada is dated 7th of September 1932, Frieda’s simply 1932. Both presumably reply to posts sent in August. This is the period when Elvira was in the South of France, supposedly recuperating, but in fact causing more scandal, through her general behaviour and in particular her car-crash which almost killed Countess Karolyi   ( see )

Martha Gordon Crotch (1879 -1967) lived in Vence and has been described as “the den mother” of the artists’ colony that thrived there. Raoul Dufy, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Ida Rubinstein and many others all spent time in the place. Lawrence died there (in 1930) and was buried in the cemetery. Frieda exhumed the body (in 1935) and ordered a cremation. Years later Martha supervised the transportation of the Vence headstone to Eastwood, where it is today.

Vence headstone

Vence is between Nice and Cannes, just above Cagnes-sur-Mer ( location of Cyril Connolly’s The Rock Pool) and thirty miles from St.Raphael, where Elvira was supposedly staying.  It was on the Nice-Cannes road that Elvira crashed into the Countess.

In what circumstances might Martha have met Elvira ?  ” Auntie” Martha Crotch ran a pottery shop in the Place Du Peyra, Vence, known as the Peasant Shop. Between April 1931 and September 1932 this housed the Lawrence pictures seized in the police raid on the Maddox Street gallery in 1929. There was , if not exactly a pilgrimage, a steady stream of visitors seeking to determine what all the fuss had been about.  A visitors book has 470 names in it, including Alec Waugh and Ethel Mannin. I don’t kow if Elvira’s name is there but Harry T. Moore’s is and he is mentioned in the same letters.

If the police view is correct, Elvira had a fondness for depictions of the erotic and the taboo and may have made the journey, to satisfy her curiosity. Equally, there is a good possibility that some of her more arty friends (the Cartens?) took her along.

As it happens, The Karolyis also lived in Vence. Was Martha a friend or an acquaintance ? If so, she may have attended the court hearing and encountered Elvira there.Is it feasible that Elvira actually knew the Countess or, it being Elvira after all, maybe Martha saw her at a party? One can’t imagine Elvira having much in common with the frugal and serious-minded Martha. I would have assumed that she was simply recounting the events around the car crash if it were not for Ada’s reference to a “meeting”.

Place Du Peyra, Vence

Whatever the occasion, Ada and Frieda’s responses are telling. Firstly, they both knew who Elvira Barney was, a good indicator that Elvira had firmly imprinted herself on the public consciousness (Ada was in Derby, Frieda in Hammersmith). Secondly, the two reactions are strikingly conventional. Ada’s disgust was already the norm, while Frieda’s view of Elvira as the embodiment of the awfulness of the modern world was also becoming a standard point of view. I’m not sure why Frieda links Elvira with Lawrence but there was a very messy court-battle going on at the time concerning the ownership of Lawrence’s estate.

As ever, if anyone has more detailed information, do please enlighten me.