‘Interesting women have secrets. They also ought to have sisters.’
From the beginning of their lives, the Olivier sisters stood out: surprisingly emancipated, strikingly beautiful, markedly determined, and alarmingly ‘wild’. Rupert Brooke was said to be in love with all four of them; D. H. Lawrence thought they were frankly ‘wrong’; Virginia Woolf found them curiously difficult to read. In this intimate, sweeping biography, Sarah Watling brings the sisters in from the margins, tracing lives that span colonial Jamaica, the bucolic life of Victorian progressives, the frantic optimism of Edwardian Cambridge, the bleakness of two world wars, and a host of evolving philosophies for life over the course of the twentieth century.
Noble Savages is a compelling portrait of sisterhood in all its complexities, which rediscovers the lives of four extraordinary women within the varied fortunes of the feminism of their times, while illuminating the battles and ethics of biography itself.
A NEW STATESMAN AND THE TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR
‘The best group biography of the year – of many years, in fact – is Sarah Watling’s Noble Savages, the story of the four Olivier sisters… Their mother was the model for Tess of the D’Urbevilles, their joint best friend was Rupert Brooke, and they had, said Virginia Woolf, strange glass eyes which they took out at night. But this is not why they are interesting. After feral childhoods in Surrey, where their parents lived in a Fabian utopia, each woman struggled with postwar realities: insanity, grief, poverty, catastrophic marriages. Elegantly structured in “seven fragments”, Watling’s book gives us a riveting drama that begins as pastoral comedy and ends as tragedy’. Frances Wilson, New Statesman, Books of the Year
‘This is the first time [the Olivier sisters] have had a biography to themselves, and a very fine job Sarah Watling makes of it… thoroughly fascinating… This book is interesting on a dozen levels.’ Daily Telegraph