Biographical / Historical
Antonia White was born Eirene Adeline Botting on 31 March 1899 in West Kensington, London, the only child of Cecil George Botting (1870–1929), classics master at St Paul's School, London, and his wife, Christine Julia Barbour White (1871–1939), daughter of Henry and Clementina White. She was known for most of her professional life as Antonia White.
White’s father dominated her childhood, and later in life she blamed him for her emotional problems. In 1906 the family was converted to Roman Catholicism, and Antonia boarded at the Sacred Heart Convent, Roehampton, London (1908–14), the experience on which she based her famous novel “Frost in May”. She was removed from school after the nuns found a ‘scandalous’ novel she had been writing, and this event came to symbolize the struggle between her wish to please her father and the church, and her yearning for a life of art and freedom.
On 28 April 1921 she married Reginald Henry (Reggie) Green-Wilkinson (b. 1899), a part-time actor and a secretary for Anglo Continental film studios, but the marriage was annulled owing to non-consummation. This led to a breakdown, and in November 1922 she was committed for nine months to Bethlem Hospital, London. Although she was not certified again, the possibility of mental illness haunted her for the rest of her life.
On 15 April 1925 Antonia married Eric Earnshaw Smith (1893–1972), a civil servant, with whom she had a deep platonic friendship. The marriage was permitted by the church, but within a year she had lapsed as a Catholic. Eventually she sought a second annulment with plans to marry Rudolph (Silas) Glossop (1902–1993), a mining engineer who was the father of her daughter, the writer Susan Chitty (b. 1929). In the end, on 28 November 1930, White married (Henry) Thomas (Tom) Hopkinson (1905–1990), the future editor of Picture Post. They had a daughter, Lyndall, born in 1931.
White remained in London throughout the Second World War, working for the BBC and later the Special Operations Executive. Her letters (1940–41) to the Catholic intellectual Peter Thorp were eventually published as “The Hound and the Falcon” (1965).
White’s autobiography “As Once in May”, edited by Susan Chitty, was published in 1983. In 1978, after years of neglect, “Frost in May” was reprinted as the first Virago Modern Classic. Following publication of three sequels -- “The Lost Traveller”(1950), “Sugar House” (1952), and “Beyond the Glass” (1954) -- White was praised as one of the very few writers able to translate personal experience into literature. She died of cancer on 10 April 1980 at St. Raphael's Nursing Home, Danehill, Sussex, and did not live to see her novels dramatized on BBC television in 1981. She was buried in the Catholic cemetery at West Grinstead, Sussex, close to where her father's family had lived for generations.
Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Additional biographical resources include "Antonia White Diaries 1926-1957" by Susan Chitty (1992). Includes biographical sketches of many individuals connected with White (pp.323-348); as well as a complete index.