Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell : A Unicorn Among the Lions

3.9 (20 ratings by Goodreads)
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This vivid and sympathetic portrait, winner of both the Duff Cooper Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography, draws on Edith Sitwell's brilliantly funny and often outrageous letters to show the woman behind the public image.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 400 pages
  • 124.46 x 190.5 x 33.02mm | 294.83g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Paperbacks
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • Ill.
  • 0192813692
  • 9780192813695

Review Text

In an introduction, Glendinning (Elizabeth Bowen) suggests that her book's primary thrust will be its reassessment of Sitwell-the-poet - an answer to the Leavis-school critics who have dismissed Sitwell's "empty" modernism and dubbed her a publicity-hound. In fact, however, the poetry receives pretty much the general-consensus evaluation here (a few great things, the rest middling), with only a few fresh insights; and this biography's strengths are to be found, rather, in Glendinning's compassionate examination of Edith's tragic, pent-up personality. "She was always a child and always an old woman. In between, there was only desperation." Oldest child of mismatched blue-bloods - scholar-despot father, society-loving mother - starkly plain, hugely tall Edith was an unwanted "changeling" from the start; and Glendinning, shrewdly balancing the Sitwell-childhood versions (Edith hated mother, Osbert hated father, Sacheverell was happy), makes clear why Edith came to live so much in her imagination. Nonetheless, after a "protracted, indecisive adolescence," this insecure, totally virginal outsider boldly moved to a London flat with her ex-governess. . . and quickly, ambitiously, became the center of the reaction against the Georgian poets - via modernist journals and, above all, the symbolist-influenced pyrotechnics of Facade. With her best 1920s work, however, Edith had used up her childhood themes and, without new adult-life experience to draw on, she hardly grew as a poet. Her energy went instead into: feuds (sometimes paranoiac) with Wyndham Lewis, Noel Coward, the 1930s-left, the 1950s "Movement"; propagandizing for G. Stein, D. Thomas, and less worthy talents; "icon"-like public appearances (especially in the US); prose "potboilers" (like Fanfare for Elizabeth). And, most painfully, there was her tortured brooding on two impossible (homosexual) loves: artist Pavel Tchelitchew; and brother Osbert - whose exploitative lover drove Edith to silent, murderous rages. . . and Catholicism. With psychological savvy (but no ungainly jargon), Glendinning speculates convincingly on Edith's sexuality, on her (non-lesbian) chastity - the result of "a mixture of circumstance, infantile regression, death wish, pride, habit. . . ." She wisely sees Edith as "a closet feminist" at most. And the later years - illness, drinking, loneliness - are affectingly sketched. This may not be the critical blast Glendinning intended, then (though the WW II poems are eloquently defended). But it's a shrewdly selective montage of a half-lived life: less brightly anecdotal - and more touching - than you'd expect. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

20 ratings
3.9 out of 5 stars
5 20% (4)
4 50% (10)
3 30% (6)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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