Edith Olivier

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Olivier photographed by Lady Ottoline Morrell in the grounds of Wilton House

Edith Maud Olivier MBE (31 December 1872 – 10 May 1948) was an English writer, also noted for acting as hostess to a circle of well-known writers, artists, and composers in her native Wiltshire.

Family and childhood[edit]

Olivier was born in Wilton, of Huguenot stock, her father being Canon of Wilton, and her mother the daughter of a bishop.[1] She was one of ten children.[2] After receiving schooling at home, Olivier went up to St Hugh's College, Oxford in 1895, but completed only four terms before leaving because of asthma.[1]

She was related to the actor Laurence Olivier through her paternal grandfather, Henry Stephen Olivier, who, through one of his other sons, was the actor's great grandfather.[1]

Political and social activity[edit]

Until his death in 1919 her life was dominated by her father,[1] who was both autocratic and conservative.[2] She was an adherent of the Anglican Church and served on the Bishop's Women's Diocesan Council.[1] Olivier also undertook activities in the Conservative Party, and Women's Institute. In 1916, at the behest of the Wiltshire county agricultural committee, Olivier helped form the Women's Land Army in Wiltshire, for which she was rewarded in 1920 with an MBE.[1] When she was elected to Wilton Town Council in 1934, she became the first woman to serve on the council, and was later mayor from 1938 to 1941.[1] Her public service during the Second World War included the presidency of the local St John Ambulance Brigade.[1]

Writing and artistic circle[edit]

Rex Whistler's 1939 portrait of Olivier

Olivier had lived with her father and younger sister Mildred, and it was after Mildred died in 1927 that she started to engage a broader social circle.[1] She formed a profound friendship with Rex Whistler[2] and acted as a frequent hostess to an elite, artistic, and largely homosexual, social set which included Cecil Beaton, Siegfried Sassoon, William Walton, and Osbert Sitwell.[1][2]

Her first novel, The Love Child was published in 1927, and was followed by further novels, biographies, including one of Alexander Cruden, and the autobiographical Without Knowing Mr Walkley.[1]


Olivier died in 1948, after suffering three strokes, and was interred in Wilton churchyard.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Edith Olivier". Oxforddnb.com. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  2. ^ a b c d Entry for OLIVIER, Edith, in Stringer, Jenny: Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Literature, p 510

Further reading[edit]

  • Anna Thomasson, A Curious Friendship - The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing, Macmillan (2015)

External links[edit]