Self-portrait of Lucy

Self-portrait of Lucy

Self-portrait of Lucy Russell, ca. 1960-1965.

Lucy Catherine Russell was a granddaughter of Bertrand Russell, philosopher and peace activist. Her father, John Conrad Russell, was Bertrand Russell’s first son from his marriage to Dora Winnifred Black, also a social campaigner and peace activist. Lucy’s mother, Susan Lindsay, was the daughter of American poet Vachel Lindsay.

When Lucy is written about by scholars, she is remembered for her tragic death by self-immolation at the age of 26. Ray Monk, author of a two-volume biography of Bertrand Russell, concludes his recounting of Bertrand Russell’s life with Lucy’s death. In Monk’s version of the Russell story, Lucy is the last Russell family member upon whom hostile ancestral ghosts make their final visitation (The Ghost of Madness 502). Lucy, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, is the site of a deep-rooted ‘madness’ that Bertrand Russell has only narrowly skirted.

Lucy Russell’s archive reveals a different perspective of Lucy’s life and the Russell family: her own. The Lucy in Lucy’s papers is a bright, questioning, curious person, with a deep commitment to understanding and transmuting the pain of her upbringing. Items in this exhibit demonstrate the pressures upon Lucy as a child of the Russell family; they also trace her interests, artistry, and sense of humour.

The title of this exhibit incorporates a poem of Dylan Thomas’s that Lucy copied many times in her notebooks: “And death shall have no dominion.” The first stanza of the poem reads, “Though they go mad they shall be sane, / Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again; / Though lovers be lost love shall not ; / And death shall have no dominion.” Lucy’s archive preserves stories of her life in which her death is not the central factor. Her papers persist, and over them, death has no dominion.