Barbara Comyns Carr
Barbara Irene Veronica Bayley was born in the Warwickshire village of Bidford-on-Avon in 1907. She was one of six children and the family home was Bell Court on the banks of the River Avon. Comyns later recorded her childhood in her novel Sisters by a River.
Marriage to John Pemberton
After attending an art school in nearby Stratford-upon-Avon, Comyns moved to London to attend Heatherley School of Fine Art. In 1931 she married fellow artist and Warwickshire native John Pemberton, who was the nephew of the London Group president and noted artist Rupert Lee. Comyns and John exhibited their work with the London Group of artists in 1934. Comyns mixed amongst the artistic community of London and she knew Dylan Thomas and Augustus John. Comyns recorded a fictionalised version of her marriage to John, which was fraught with poverty and infidelity, in her novel Our Spoons Came from Woolworths. Comyns had two children during her marriage to John, but the marriage broke down in 1935.
During the late 1930s, Comyns began a relationship with the black marketeer Arthur Price. The couple lived with Comyns's two children at various London addresses. Comyns generated money by breeding poodles, renovating pianos, dealing in antiques and classic cars and drawing for commercial advertisements. Comyns wrote about her relationship and her commercial endeavours in her novel Mr. Fox. With the outbreak of World War II, Comyns's poverty increased and her relationship with Arthur broke down. Comyns became a cook in a Hertfordshire country house, where she and her children lived until the end of the war and where she began to write stories to entertain them.
Marriage to Richard Comyns Carr
In 1945 Comyns married Richard Strettell Comyns Carr (who was the son of the barrister and Liberal MP Arthur Strettell Comyns Carr and the grandson of the dramatist Joseph Comyns Carr). Richard was a civil servant based in the Foreign Office and a friend and colleague of Kim Philby. It was on her second honeymoon that Comyns conceived the idea for her most acclaimed novel The Vet's Daughter. The couple lived in London where Comyns began to write professionally.
Comyns's first novel was Sisters by a River which was serialised in Lilliput under the title "The Novel Nobody Will Publish" before finally being published by Eyre and Spottiswode in 1947. This was followed by the publication of Our Spoons Came from Woolworths in 1950.
In the 1950s the Comyns Carrs moved to Spain and lived briefly on Ibiza and then in Barcelona. Comyns wrote about their experience in Ibiza in her novel Out of the Red and into the Blue. After living in Barcelona for 16 years, they moved to San Roque in Andalusia. The couple returned to England in 1973. Comyns published 11 novels in total, most of which were published by Virago. Graham Greene and Alan Hollinghurst were early fans of her work and her novel The Vet's Daughter was serialied in BBC radio and adapted into the 1978 musical The Clapham Wonder by Sandy Wilson.
Barbara Comyns Carr's published work
- Sisters by a River (1947)
- Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (1950)
- Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954). In 2010 this novel was republished by the Dorothy Project press with an introduction by Brian Evenson and a cover illustrated by Yelena Bryksenkova.
- The Vet's Daughter (1959)
- Out of the Red and into the Blue (1960)
- The Skin Chairs (1962)
- Birds in Tiny Cages (1964)
- A Touch of Mistletoe (1967)
- The Juniper Tree (1985). In October 2011 this novel was republished by the Capuchin Classics press with a foreword by Margaret Drabble.
- Mr. Fox (1987)
- The House of Dolls (1989).
- The major sources for this article are the entry for Barbara Comyns in the Dictionary of National Biography Volume 10 by Celia Brayfield and Barbara's 1980 introduction to her own novel The Vet's Daughter (published by Virago, 1981).
- Celia Brayfield (2004). Carr, Barbara Irene Veronica Comyns (1907–1992). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/50950 (subscription required)
- Wilcox, Denys J. The London Group 1913-1939, the Artists and their Works