When the English aristocrat Dorothy Carrington died in her small basement apartment in the Corsican capital of Ajaccio at the age of 91, she was surrounded by images of the people and things she loved.

There was a bust of the island's most famous son, Napoleon, and books about General Pasquale Paoli, the French Emperor's most quarrelsome rival. In untidy drawers, letters were found hinting at intellectual intimacy between her and some of the great artistic figures of the twentieth century.

At the time of her death, Dorothy Carrington was herself a literary benchmark, one of the world's great travel book writers.

Fleeing post-Second World War Europe with little more than a suitcase, she famously wrote: ''My life really ended and started when I set foot on Corsica.'' Like the Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, she wrote her name across the sky when she shook the dust of civilised Europe from her well-heeled shoes.

Born in Gloucestershire in 1910, Frederica Dorothy Violet Carrington was the daughter of Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Carrington, a hero of the Boer War. He taught her self-discipline. Her mother Susan Elwes awakened the artistic side of the child's nature.

But by the time little Dorothy was eight, both parents were dead and the confused child was shunted off to hunting, shooting, and fishing relatives. Later, she escaped by marrying an aristocratic Austrian playboy.

A shortage of money and fondness for the good things of life were, in those days, good qualifications for life in the colonies, so off they went to Southern Rhodesia (today's Zimbabwe). The marriage lasted about as long as it takes to barbecue a zebra.

Within a matter of weeks of her first divorce, she was involved with another bizarre playboy. Francis Rose was the homosexual son of a glamorous Franco-Spanish mother and a Scottish baronet who was killed in the First World War. By the time he was just 28, some of the celebrity names associated with French culture - Jean Cocteau, Isadora Duncan, Sarah Bernhardt, and Diaghilev had applauded the designs of Francis Rose but when war broke out in 1939 the clapping stopped as he crossed the Channel.

Stranded during the blitz of 1943, Francis Rose spent most of his inherited fortune. Dorothy had just penned her first book, The Traveller's Eye. She was on her way up, he was on his way down, ending up an incongruously camp sight in Surrey where he would attend the local Roman Catholic church dressed in a sombrero with a cat on a

gold lead.

Dorothy Carrington fled to Corsica after meeting a waiter in the East End of London. She opened up, learned to fly, and found a sense of permanency. In 1971 she wrote her masterpiece, Granite Island. Later offerings included The Dream Hunters of Corsica which examined the dark and even threatening side of the Corsican psyche.

Partly as a result of her work, French archaeologists were persuaded to travel to Corsica and study the granite soldiers of Filitosa, putting the island's civilisation at the centre of an ancient and sophisticated prehistoric world.

Now and again, Dorothy Carrigton left the island to lecture and meet editors. In 1986 she was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. The University of Corsica gave her an honorary doctorate in 1991 and the Queen honoured her with an MBE. And this interesting lady of letters breathes again next month when her last work - another book on Napoleon - will be published on the island which set her free.

Frederica Dorothy Violet Carrington (Frederica, Lady Rose), born June 6, 1910; died January 26, 2002.

Trevor Grundy