Elspeth Roberta Cameron Langlands was born on November 16, 1940 in Edinburgh. When she was 7, her parents, Robert and Elizabeth (Brash) Langlands, moved their family to Drumtochty, a neo-Gothic castle in Kincardineshire that her father is said to have purchased from the King of Norway.
The Langlands established a preparatory school for boys, which Elspeth attended as the only girl. Her classmates, rough and rural, had fun tormenting her. She turned to books and animals for friendship, and she marked the milestones of adolescence with the back and forth of pets.
“I remember being 18 and the dog that had been there all my life – a golden retriever called Rab – died,” she told Norwich’s Eastern Daily Press in 2012. tonic or go in college, the death of this dog marked the end of my childhood.
She went to boarding school and later attended Somerville College, Oxford, where she studied modern languages. She was brilliant but ill-suited to the rigors of higher education; after sleeping through her final exam, she was expelled without a diploma.
She moved to London, where she waited on tables, clerked in a bookstore, and became familiar with the literary body of the city. When she was 22, Canadian poet Elizabeth Smart introduced her to Mr. Barker. He was 50 years old.
Mr Barker was married but estranged from his first wife, Jessica Barker, a strict Roman Catholic who refused to divorce – a fact which did not stop him from having a long affair with Ms Smart which produced four children. Their love had cooled and Mrs. Smart showed few qualms about letting anyone take her place.
Thanks to a loan from one of Mr Barker’s friends, playwright Harold Pinter, the new couple moved north to a village outside Norwich. Their home became a stage for traveling students, poets and artists, as well as Mr. Barker’s already sizable offspring, many of whom grew up with their own families.