Naomi Mitchison

Other names: 

Naomi Margaret (Haldane) Mitchison

Date of birth: 
01 Nov 1897
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
11 Jan 1999
Location of death: 
Carradale, Scotland

River Court House, Mall Road, Hammersmith, London (1923-39)

Carradale in Kintyre (1939-99)


Naomi Mitchison [née Haldane] was a Scottish novelist and social activist. Born in Edinburgh into a wealthy and well-established family, she was brought up in Oxford, where her physiologist father, John Scott Haldane, was a Fellow. In 1916, she married the barrister Gilbert Richard (Dick) Mitchison (later Labour MP and life peer). The couple’s main residence from 1923 to 1939, the River Court house on the Mall in Hammersmith in London, became a lively intellectual centre, frequented by a wide circle of artists, writers, politicians and working-class friends. Among her many friends were Aldous Huxley, Wyndham Lewis, W. H. Auden, and E. M. Forster.

In 1930, she joined the Labour party with her husband, and became an active political campaigner throughout the 1930s. In 1932, she took part in a Fabian Society expedition to the Soviet Union, and in 1934 went to Vienna to assist the socialists who were being persecuted by the Austrian government. She also stood unsuccessfully for election as a Labour Party candidate for the Scottish Universities in 1935. In 1939, she moved to Carradale, Scotland, and became involved in the Scottish renaissance. In the 1960s, she was adopted by the African tribe of Bakgatla, Linchwe, as their councillor and ‘mother’ and wrote many books on them.

In 1934, Mitchison was introduced to Jawaharlal Nehru at King’s Norton, Birmingham, and later that year, she set up a meeting in London between the Labour politician Strafford Cripps and Nehru. After Indian independence, Mitchison visited the Subcontinent several times to spend time with her daughter Sonia Lois, who went to Pakistan to be a teacher. Her brother, the famous geneticist, J. B. S. Haldane, also migrated to India in 1957. Mitchison visited him in 1958.


Joe Ackerley, Horace Alexander, W. H. Auden, Tom Baxter, Stella Benson, Henry Noel Brailsford, Jonathan Cape, Margaret Cole, Douglas Cole, Stafford Cripps, Krishna R. Dronamraju, Hugh Gaitskell, E. M. Forster, Victor Gollancz, Norman Haire, Graeme Haldane, J. B. S. Haldane, Tom Harrisson, Gerald Heard, Aldous Huxley, Julian Huxley, Storm Jameson, C. E. M. Joad, Andrew Lang, Harold Laski, Doris Lessing, Cecil Day Lewis, Wyndham Lewis, Bronislaw Malinowski, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, Gilbert Murray, E. M. S. Namboodiripad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Gilbert Richard Mitchison, John Pilley, Horace Plunkett, Lady Rhondda, George Bernard Shaw, Stevie Smith, Olaf Stapledon, Dora Russell, Khushwant Singh, Osbert Sitwell, Dylan Thomas, Beatrice Webb, Rebecca West, Leonard Woolf.

Labour Party, World Peace Appeal (vice-chair).

Published works: 

The Conquered (London: Cape; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1923) [novel]

When the Bough Breaks and Other Stories (London: Cape; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1924) [short stories]

Cloud Cuckoo Land (London: Cape, 1925; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1926) [novel]

The Laburnum Branch (London: Cape, 1926) [poetry]

Anna Comnena (London: Gerald Howe, 1928)

Black Sparta: Greek Stories (London: Cape, 1928; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1928) [short stories]

Barbarian Stories (London: Cape, 1929; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929) [short stories]

Nix-Nought-Nothing: Four Plays for Children (London: Cape, 1928; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929) [play]

Comments on Birth Control (London: Faber & Faber, 1930)

The Hostages and Other Stories for Boys and Girls, illustrated by Logi Southby (London: Cape, 1930; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1931) [children’s book]

Boys and Girls and Gods (London: Watts, 1931) [children’s book]

Kate Crackernuts: A Fairy Play (Oxford: Alden Press, 1931) [play]

The Corn King and the Spring Queen (London: Cape, 1931; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1931) [novel]

The Price of Freedom (London: Cape, 1931) [play]

The Powers of Light (London: Cape, 1932; New York: Peter Smith, 1932) [novel]

The Delicate Fire: Short Stories and Poems (London: Cape, 1933; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1933) [short stories]

The Home and a Changing Civilization (London: John Lane, 1934)

Vienna Diary (London: Gollancz, 1934; New York: Smith & Haas, 1934)

(with Wyndham Lewis) Beyond This Limit (London: Cape, 1935) [novel]

We Have Been Warned (London: Constable, 1935; New York: Vanguard, 1936) [novel]

The Fourth Pig: Stories and Verses (London: Constable, 1936) [short stories]

An End and a Beginning and Other Plays (London: Constable, 1937) [play]

(with Richard Crossman) Socrates (London: Hogarth Press, 1937; Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole, 1938)

The Moral Basis of Politics (London: Constable, 1938; Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1971)

As It Was In The Beginning (London: Cape, 1939) [play]

The Alban Goes Out (Harrow, Middlesex: Raven Press, 1939) [poetry]

The Blood of the Martyrs (London: Constable, 1939; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948) [novel]

The Kingdom of Heaven (London: Heinemann, 1939)

(ed. with Robert Britton and George Kilgour) Re-Educating Scotland (Glasgow: Scoop Books, 1944)

The Bull Calves (London: Cape, 1947) [novel]

(with Denis Macintosh) Men and Herring: A Documentary (Edinburgh: Serif, 1949)

The Big House (London: Faber & Faber, 1950) [short stories]

Spindrift. A play in three acts (London: Samuel French, 1951) [play]

Lobsters on the Agenda (London: Gollancz, 1952) [novel]

Travel Light (London: Faber & Faber, 1952) [novel]

Graeme and the Dragon, illustrated by Pauline Baynes (London: Faber & Faber, 1954) [children’s book]

The Swan's Road, illustrated by Leonard Huskinson (London: Naldrett Press, 1954) [children’s book]

To the Chapel Perilous (London: Allen & Unwin, 1955) [novel]

The Land the Ravens Found, illustrated by Brian Allderidge (London: Collins, 1955) [children’s book]

Little Boxes, illustrated by Louise Annand (London: Faber & Faber, 1956) [children’s book]

Behold Your King (London: Muller, 1957) [novel]

The Far Harbour, illustrated by Martin Thomas (London: Collins, 1957) [children’s book]

Five Men and a Swan: Short Stories and Poems (London: Allen & Unwin, 1958) [short stories]

Other People's Worlds (London: Secker & Warburg, 1958) [children’s book]

Judy and Lakshmi, illustrated by Avinash Chandra (London: Collins, 1959) [children’s book]

(with G. W. L. Patterson) A Fishing Village on the Clyde (London: Oxford University Press, 1960)

The Rib of the Green Umbrella, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone (London: Collins, 1960) [children’s book]

The Young Alexander the Great, illustrated by Betty Middleton-Sandford (London: Parrish, 1960; New York: Roy, 1961) [children’s book]

Karensgaard: The Story of a Danish Farm (London: Collins, 1961) [children’s book]

Presenting Other People’s Children (London: Paul Hamlyn, 1961)

Memoirs of a Spacewoman (London: Gollancz, 1962) [novel]

The Young Alfred the Great, illustrated by Shirley Farrow (London: Parrish, 1962; New York: Roy, 1963) [children’s book]

What the Human Race is up to (London: Victor Gollancz, 1962) (editor)

The Fairy Who Couldn't Tell a Lie, illustrated by Jane Paton (London: Collins, 1963) [children’s book]

Alexander the Great, illustrated by Rosemary Grimble (London: Longmans, Green, 1964) [children’s book]

Henny and Crispies (Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Education, 1964) [children’s book]

When We Become Men (London: Collins, 1965) [novel]

Ketse and the Chief, illustrated by Christine Bloomer (London: Nelson, 1965; New York: Nelson & Nashville, 1967) [children’s book]

A Mochudi Family, illustrated by Stephen John (Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Education, 1965) [children’s book]

Friends and Enemies, illustrated by Caroline Sassoon (London: Collins, 1966; New York: Day, 1968) [children’s book]

Return to the Fairy Hill (London: Heinemann, 1966; New York: Day, 1966)

Highland Holiday, photographs by John K. Wilkie (Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Education, 1967) [children’s book]

The Big Surprise (London: Kaye & Ward, 1967) [children’s book]

African Heroes, illustrated by William Stobbs (London: Bodley Head, 1968; New York: Farrar, Straus, 1969) [children’s book]

Don't Look Back, illustrated by Laszlo Acs (London: Kaye & Ward, 1969) [children’s book]

The Family at Ditlabeng, illustrated by Joanna Stubbs (London: Collins, 1969; New York: Farrar, Straus, 1970) [children’s book]

Sun and Moon, illustrated by Barry Wilkinson (London: Bodley Head, 1970; Nashville: Nelson, 1973) [children’s book]

The Africans: A History (London: Blond, 1970)

Cleopatra's People (London: Heinemann, 1972) [novel]

A Life for Africa: The Story of Bram Fischer (London: Merlin Press, 1973; Boston: Carrier Pigeon, 1973)

The Danish Teapot, illustrated by Patricia Frost (London: Kaye & Ward, 1973) [children’s book]

Small Talk: Memories of an Edwardian Childhood (London: Bodley Head, 1973)

Sunrise Tomorrow (London: Collins, 1973; New York: Farrar, Straus, 1973)

Oil for the Highlands? (London: Fabian Society, 1974)

All Change Here: Girlhood and Marriage (London: Bodley Head, 1975)

Sittlichkeit (London: Birkbeck College, 1975) [children’s book]

Solution Three (London: Dobson, 1975; New York: Warner, 1975) [novel]

Snake!, illustrated by Polly Loxton (London: Collins, 1976) [children’s book]

The Little Sister, with works by Ian Kirby and Keetla Masogo, illustrated by Angela Marrow (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1976) [children’s book]

(with Megan Biesele) The Wild Dogs, illustrated by Loxton (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1977) [children’s book]

The Brave Nurse and Other Stories, illustrated by Loxton (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1977) [children’s book]

The Cleansing of the Knife and Other Poems (Edinburgh: Canongate, 1978) [poetry]

(with Dick Mitchison) The Two Magicians, illustrated by Danuta Laskowska (London: Dobson, 1978) [children’s book]

You May Well Ask: A Memoir 1920-1940 (London: Gollancz, 1979)

Images of Africa (Edinburgh: Canongate, 1980) [short stories]

The Vegetable War, illustrated by Loxton (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1980) [children’s book]

Mucking Around: Five Continents Over Fifty Years (London: Gollancz, 1981)

What Do You Think Yourself? Scottish Short Stories (Edinburgh: Harris, 1982) [short stories]

Not By Bread Alone (London: Boyars, 1983) [novel]

Among You, Taking Notes: The Wartime Diary of Naomi Mitchison 1939-1945, ed. by Dorothy Sheridan (London: Gollancz, 1985)

Naomi Mitchison (Saltire Self-Portrait; Edinburgh: Saltire Society, 1986)

Early in Orcadia (Glasgow: Drew, 1987) [short stories]

A Girl Must Live: Stories and Poems (Glasgow: Drew, 1990) [short stories]

The Oath-takers (Narin: Balnain, 1991) [novel]

Sea-Green Ribbons (Narin: Balnain, 1991) [novel]

Contributions to periodicals: 

Left Review

Liberal Woman’s News

New Republic

New Statesman


Journal of Modern African Studies

Modern Scot

Scots Magazine

Time and Tide

Twentieth Century

Woman’s Leader

Time and Tide (‘Anna and the Apes’, 19 July 1930) [review of The Apes of God by Wyndham Lewis]

Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine (‘Forty Years of Aldous Huxley’, 93.491, 1934)

Spectator (‘What does a Socialist woman do?’, 156.5616, 14 February 1936)

Current History (‘Leaders of British Labour’, 44.1, 1936)

Pakistan Horizon (‘Socialist Britain’, 4.1, 1951)

New Statesman and Nation (‘Banned Bodies’, 45, 7 March 1953)

Manchester Guardian (‘Sitting for Wyndham Lewis’, 9 July 1956)

New Statesman (‘India from Inside’, 56.1443, 8 Nov 1958) [review of Taya Zinkin, India Changes]

Listener (‘Free Fun in New Delhi’ 60.1546, 13 November 1958)

Cairo Studies in English (‘On Writing Historical Novels’, 1960)

The Glasgow Herald (‘Passages to India’, 8 June 1961) [reviews of Ved Mehta, Walking the Indian Streets; Peter Schmid, India: Mirage and Reality; Selig Harrison (ed.), India and the United States]

Harper’s Magazine (‘A Scottish Mother for an African Tribe’, 233.1396, 1966)

Community Development Journal (‘What community development is not’, 5, January 1967)

Shenandoah (‘Young Auden’, 18.2, 1967)


Charques, R. D., TLS, 28 April 1935, p.  270 (We have been Warned)

Wintringham, Thomas Hardy,  Left Review, June 1935, pp. 381-3 (We have been Warned)

Sparrow, John, Spectator, 7 February 1936, pp. 209-210 (We have been Warned)

The Hindu (Madras), 9 August 1959 (Judy and Lakshmi)

Secondary works: 

Benton, Jill, Naomi Mitchison: A Biography (London: Pandora Press, 1990)

Calder, Jennu, The Nine Lives of Naomi Mitchison (London: Virago, 1997)

Joannou, Maroula, ‘Naomi Mitchison at One Hundred’, Women: A Cultural Review 9.3 (Autumn 1998), pp. 292-304

Leavis, Q. D., ‘Lady novelists and the lower orders’, Scrutiny 4.2 (Sept 1935), pp. 112–32

Montefiore, Jan, Men and Women Writers of the 1930s (London and New York: Routledge, 1996)



Naomi Mitchison, Mucking Around: Five Continents Over Fifty Years (London: Gollancz, 1981), 89-90, 101.


Mitchison describes her experience of visiting India.


In the laboratory there were visitors from other countries. Once it was Ho Chi Minh, and Professor Mahalanobis insisted on marshalling us in lines to be shaken hands with. This displeased my brother; he and a Russian colleague – could it have been Oparin? – and Helen and I all went for a walk through the grounds instead of standing in line and met Ho Chi Minh with less formality later…
India and all its memories: one especially remains. I had walked round the garden of the Prime Minister’s house with Jawaharlal Nehru. We had I suppose talked politics, though simply being with him was always great happiness in itself. Then we went to see his pandas. He bent over stroking them; I tried to do the same but they didn’t like me. ‘Wait’, he said, and spoke to them. Then it was all right; I was properly introduced and allowed to touch. One of them had recently had a night out, ‘and had’, he said, I thought approvingly, ‘bitten a policeman’.


In 1958, Mitchison visited her brother, J. B. S. Haldane, who was working in the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta. Haldane was a committed communist, and Mitchison witnesses international networks which her brother was creating in India. Mitchison does not specify in which year she visited Nehru, but the extract gives an interesting insight into her relationship with, and admiration of Nehru.

Archive source: 

Lady Naomi Mitchison, Botswana papers, diaries and writings,  Borthwick Institute of Historical Research,York University

Correspondence, diaries, literary manuscripts, family papers, Manuscript Collections, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

Letters from E. M. Forster to Naomi Mitchison and Mitchison’s Memoir, Papers of Edward Morgan Forster, King’s College Archive Centre, Cambridge

Correspondence and literary papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center Library, University of Texas, Austin

Correspondence with  Bodley Head, University of Reading Library, Reading

Correspondence and literary papers, Buffalo State College, Buffalo,State University of New York

Naomi Mitchison Papers 1909-1979, Archive Collections, Columbia University Library, New York

1914-45: Correspondence, Imperial War Museum Department of Documents, London

Papers relating to Botswana (1964-74), SOAS, London

Letters to the Manchester Guardian (1949-54), John Rylands Library, University of Manchester

Correspondence and papers relating to visit to Australia, University of Melbourne, Australia

Letters to Olaf Stapledon (1936-50), Special Collections and Archives, Liverpool Unviersity

Correspondence with Julian Huxley, Julian Huxley Papers 1899-1980, Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA