The living conditions were certainly not due to lack of funds. Blackwood’s father was a marquess, and her mother, Maureen, was one of a trio of sisters known as “the glorious Guinness girls.” Along with the family fortune, however, came the family propensity for alcoholism and eccentricity. Maureen, a friend of the Queen Mum’s who circulated in the highest orbit of London society, “would often arrive at social events wearing a false penis on her nose and a hidden ‘fart machine’ between her legs. She would let the machine rip at opportune moments,” writes Lowell. Blackwood, a reluctant debutante who came out with Princess Margaret, rebelled by marrying a series of men who horrified her mother: first, painter Lucian Freud; then, composer Israel Citkowitz; and, finally, Robert Lowell, who suffered from extreme bipolar disorder. In between she carried on romances with New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers and screenwriter Ivan Moffat.
Lowell had always been told that, like her two older sisters, she was a Citkowitz, but after Blackwood’s death in 1996, friends began to hint that Moffat was actually her father, a rumor confirmed by the aforementioned DNA test. While her grandmother Maureen was thrilled—“She said, ‘Oh, great! You’re not Jewish after all. Make sure you tell everyone!’” Lowell recalls with a laugh—the revelation left her disoriented and angry at her mother. “And it really is annoying to be cross at a dead person,” she says.
There is much, it would seem, to be cross about. Beyond deceiving her daughter about her paternity, Blackwood, a lifelong alcoholic, was not exactly a hands-on mom. She didn’t notice, for instance, that six-year-old Ivana was being regularly molested by a family acquaintance. The abuse stopped only after Ivana stumbled over an electric kettle, resulting in third-degree burns on 70 percent of her body. The nine months she spent in the hospital and the decades of follow-up care resulted in a deep bond between mother and daughter, she says, though the rest of her childhood was no less dark. Citkowitz died when Lowell was seven, Robert Lowell three years later, and her eldest sister, Natalya, a year after that, from a heroin overdose. Lowell made it through, she says, thanks in part to the dark sense of humor she shared with her mother. “We used to laugh and say, ‘Oh, this is just too bad—even for us.’”
Happily, the past several years have been brighter. Lowell has made peace with her ex-husband, who lives nearby and helps raise their 11-year-old daughter, Daisy, and she is close with her “new” half brother, Moffat’s son Jonathan. (Petrifyingly, the two nearly had an amorous relationship as teens.) And the process of writing her memoir has given her at least a modicum of closure. “I wasn’t light and dancing with joy when I finished writing,” she says, “but it definitely gave me a much better understanding of my mother and everything that went on.” At this point, she insists, she has few regrets—even about the tell-all nature of her book. “And believe it or not, there are things I left out that I now wish I had put in,” she says. “Stay tuned for volume two.”