Blackwood, Lady Caroline Maureen (1931–96), writer and muse, was born in Hans Crescent, London, on 16 July 1931, eldest of the three children of Basil Sheridan Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood (1909–45), 8th Baron Dufferin and Claneboye, 4th Marquess Dufferin and Ava, and his wife, Maureen Constance Guinness (Oonagh Guinness (qv)), socialite and heiress. Caroline's great-grandfathers were the writer and diplomat Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood (qv), 1st marquess of Dufferin and Ava, and Edward Cecil Guinness (qv), 1st earl of Iveagh. Another ancestor was the playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan (qv). She was thus born into privilege and wealth and, on her father's side, into an intellectual and literary tradition, but her childhood was fraught and unhappy.
Her father, a brilliant politician, was successively secretary of state for war (1935), lord privy seal (1935–6), and parliamentary under-secretary for the colonies (1937–40), but his career was blighted by alcoholism and he was killed in action in Burma in 1945. Her mother was not maternal, left her children to nannies, and twice remarried. Caroline was brought up in the Claneboye estate, near Belfast, and attended the local Rockport preparatory school for boys; Brillantmont School, Lausanne, Switzerland; Downham School, Essex; and a finishing school in Oxford. She was clever, insecure, and painfully shy, but her most notable trait, when she was presented as a London debutante in 1949, was her waif-like beauty.
After a stint with the magazine Picture Post – doing secretarial work and occasional articles – she eloped to Paris in 1952 with the painter Lucian Freud. Her mother was furious, which was part of the attraction. Blackwood liked to antagonise her mother and society, and was always attracted to artists rather than aristocrats. She and Freud spent a year in Paris, where she met the American composer and diarist, Ned Rorem, who left an apt description of her: ‘heart-stoppingly beautiful, but vague . . . Caroline, very blond, with eyes the hue of the [blue] Persian rug and large as eagle eggs, uttered nary a word, neither approved nor disapproved, just smoked’ (Rorem, 521). Returning to London, the couple married 9 December 1953 and set up home in Soho, where they were part of the raffish, bohemian set centred round Francis Bacon (qv). Freud painted notable portraits of Blackwood, including ‘Girl in bed’, ‘Girl with a starfish necklace’, and ‘Hotel bedroom’, but she had no occupation other than muse, found Freud impossible to live with, and began to take refuge in alcohol, which released her from her shyness. She left him in 1956 (obtaining her divorce in 1959).
After a period in Hollywood, where she lived with the screenwriter Ivan Moffat (1918–2002) and made vague plans to become an actress, she moved in 1957 to New York, where she met and married (15 August 1959) Israel Citkowitz (1909–74), a composer with a creative block, who had set to music Chamber music by James Joyce (qv). They bought a brownstone in Greenwich Village and had three daughters (though Moffat was later revealed to be the father of the youngest, Ivana). When Blackwood returned to live in London in 1970, Citkowitz accompanied her to look after the children, but their marriage was over. She lived on the top two floors of 80 Redcliffe Square, Chelsea, he lived in the middle apartment, and the children and their nanny lived below.
In London Blackwood began a relationship with the manic-depressive American poet Robert Lowell (1917–77), then visiting professor at All Soul's, Oxford. Their son, Sheridan, was born in 1971, and the following year they married (21 October 1972), having obtained divorces from their spouses. They lived in London, in Milgate, Kent, and briefly in Castletown, near Dublin, where Blackwood rented an apartment in the headquarters of the Irish Georgian Society, of which her cousin Desmond Guinness was president. The marriage was painful – she was herself too unstable and prone to alcoholic tirades to cope with his manic episodes – and it broke up shortly before Lowell's death in New York. However, it unleashed creative energy in both – in Lowell's last two books, The dolphin (1973) and Day by day (1977), Blackwood is evoked as a dolphin, a baby killer whale, and a mermaid, and it was during this marriage that Blackwood herself emerged as a notable writer.
Since the 1960s she had sporadically contributed articles to various magazines, which, together with some short stories, were gathered into a book, For all that I found there (1973), its title taken from the song ‘The mountains of Mourne’ by Percy French (qv). Two years later her novel The stepdaughter (1976) won the David Higham prize and the following year her novella Great Granny Webster (1977), dealing with three generations of an Anglo-Irish family, was published to great acclaim. John Betjeman termed it powerfully malicious and it was short-listed for the Booker Prize, apparently only losing because the chairman, Philip Larkin, said it was autobiography not fiction. Larkin however praised it as ‘a matter-of-fact account – and all the grimmer for this matter-of-factness . . . deceptively concise, it evokes the spirit of no less than four ages – Victorian, Edwardian, pre- and postwar – in exact and resonant prose’ (Schoenberger, 216). In his poem ‘Runaway’, Lowell, who encouraged her writing, wrote: ‘Out of your wreckage, beauty, wealth / gallantries, wildness, came your book / Great Granny Webster's / paralyzing legacy of privation’. Two more novels, The fate of Mary Rose (1981) and Corrigan (1984), and a volume of short stories, Good night sweet ladies (1983), established Blackwood as a writer of bleak family chronicles in the black-comic vein. She had a particular gift for writing up vain, bullying, and egocentric characters. Her witty, detached style with its acerbic asides, her themes of uneasy family relations and emotional disturbance in the young, her eccentric characters, and her macabre streak, place her in the tradition of Jean Rhys and Molly Keane (qv). She also wrote three books of reportage, On the perimeter (1984) about the peace activists of Greenham Common, In the pink (1987), an amusing look at hunting and hunt saboteurs, and The last of the duchess (1995), about the later years of the duchess of Windsor. The duchess's lawyer, Maître Susanne Blum, emerged as a figure as bullying and monstrous as any of Blackwood's characters. Though written in 1980, the book could not be published during Blum's lifetime.
In 1978, a year after Lowell's death, Blackwood suffered the tragedy of the death by heroin overdose of her eldest daughter. Ten years later she moved to Sag Harbour, Long Island, USA, where she wrote far less, but still incisively. Drink destroyed her looks, though she kept her mesmerising eyes, which she emphasised by black eyeliner. She died of cancer 14 February 1996, at the Mayfair Hotel, Park Avenue, New York.