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Constance Lytton

Lady Constance Lytton (1869 - 1923) was the daughter of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, first Earl of Lytton and Viceroy of India from 1876 until 1880, and his wife Edith Lytton nee Villiers. Her political concerns included prison reform and animal welfare as well as women’s suffrage, with her conversion to support for the Women’s Social and Political Union approach described in her autobiography (1914), as is the occasion in Holloway prison when Emmeline Pethick Lawrence ‘told the tale’ of Schreiner’s allegory ‘Three Dreams in a Desert’ to an assembled group of spell-bound WSPU prisoners. Constance Lytton become an active militant suffragette and after arrest and imprisonment, the hasty termination of her being forcibly fed led to her feeling she received preferential treatment because of her title. She was later arrested and gave the name of Jane Warton; and as Jane Warton no account was taken of her heart condition and she was force fed. She subsequently suffered a stroke, which left her in a state of very bad health until she died in 1923.

Schreiner’s great love and admiration for Constance Lytton shrines through the eleven extant letters to her, the many loving comments about her in letters to other people and the warmth of the dedication of Woman and Labour to her. And while just this small number of letters survive there were most probably many more written. The letters are concentrated in 1893, commencing not long after Constance Lytton and her cousin Adela Villiers (later Smith) had arrived back in England from an extended visit to their aunt, Lady Loch and her husband Sir Henry Loch, at the Cape, where both of them had become good friends with her. They continue through Schreiner’s later 1893 visit to England and peter out after her marriage; however, the impression is of the friendship still flourishing and with future meetings in sight, again suggesting the likelihood of other letters having been written.

During 1893, Schreiner was experiencing much indecision about whether or not to marry Samuel ‘Cron’ Cronwright, indeed concerning whether she was, as she put it, a ‘marrying woman’ or not, and with her close friendship with Mary Sauer still looming large in her life. The letters allude to Schreiner having “found one very splendid & able young man in the Eastern Province; who when he enters political life may “stand” but the probability is he will fall.” (13 February 1893), with her attraction to Cronwright in significant part their at the time shared politics. And once a decision about this is more or less made, there is a concern with secrecy, that information about an engagement will get into the newspapers before the final decision was taken. The letters also cover what seems to have been a possible relationship between Adela Villiers and Schreiner’s ‘chum’ Seymour Fort, but implying that he was a seasoned flirt and not serious in his intentions and so Adela should forget him. There are more elusive comments in a letter of 3 February 1895 about Constance Lytton’s ‘friend’ going home, which concerns a man she wanted to marry but who was never financially able. On this, Schreiner comments “The sad thing which one has to face in the world is this that if people are separated for great lengths of time both go on developing on different lines, & therefore in the end may not be suited to each other as once they were.”, something which Lytton perhaps did not want to hear at just that point.

Schreiner’s letters to Lytton contain some political commentary and discussions about books (she can’t read ordinary novels) and also concerning her own writing; this provides a tantalising glimpse of the richness that a larger surviving set of them might have contained. What they do not convey, however, is why Schreiner held Constance Lytton in such high regard, but which seems to concern her perception of Lytton’s moral goodness and sense of duty.

For more information see:
Betty Balfour (ed, 1925) Letters of Constance Lytton London: Heinemann
Jose Harris (2004) ‘Lytton, Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer- (1869-1923)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37705
Constance Lytton (Jane Warton) (2011 [1914]) Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
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recipient icon Recipient Of
collection icon Lytton Family Papers: Schreiner’s letters to Constance Lytton are part of the extensive family papers of the Lytton family and are held in th... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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mentioned icon Mentioned In
collection icon Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin: The HRC, Austin, is one of the world leading locations for archival papers pertaining to literary life and manuscripts across... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon Lytton Family Papers: Schreiner’s letters to Constance Lytton are part of the extensive family papers of the Lytton family and are held in th... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Archives Depot, Pretoria: The National Archives Depot is Pretoria is a leading location for archival papers across a wide time-period, organisations an... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown: The National English Literary Museum is the leading location for collections pertaining to the imaginative and creative writi... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon SCCS Edited Extracts: Four groups of edited extracts from Olive Schreiner's letters can be accessed from here, made by her estranged husband Cronwr... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Library of South Africa, Cape Town: Special Collections at the NLSA provide one of the leading locations for archival papers across many periods, organisations a... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon Sheffield City Libraries, Archives & Local Studies: Edward Carpenter Collection, Archives & Local Studies, Sheffield City Libraries: The Edward Carpenter Collection is held ... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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