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English Eccentrics [Paperback]

Edith Sitwell and Richard Ingrams
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Jan 2006
Ecentricity exists particularly in the English, says Dame Edith, because of 'that peculiar and satisfactory knowledge of infallibility that is the hallmark and the birthright of the British nation.' Hermits, sportsmen, quacks, mariners, the indefatigable British travellers, men of learning, men of living - here is a glorious gallery of the extremes of human nature portrayed with wit, sympathy, knowledge and love. The reader meets The amphibious Lord Rokeby, whose beard reached his knees and who seldom left his bath; Mad Jack Mytton, the hunting squire who jumped a five bar gate in his chaise and set fire to his nightshirt to frighten away the hiccups; Curricle Coats, the Gifted Amateur, whose suit was sewn with diamonds and whose every performance ended in uproar; Irascible Captain Thicknesses, who left his right hand, to be cut off after his death, to his son Lord Audley; Saintly Squire Waterton, the nineteenth century Gerald Durrell, who rode a crocodile bareback and many, many others.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Pallas Athene; New edition edition (1 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1873429738
  • ISBN-13: 978-1873429730
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.2 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 625,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

Dame Edith Sitwell's witty and affectionate send-up of her countrymen.

About the Author

Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) was a poet, critic and editor, whose enduring monument is probably the suite of 'abstract poems' Facade, notoriously orchestrated by William Walton, and the Norton Anthology of English Verse, which has given poetry to millions. Her greatest pleasures were listening to music and silence.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eccentricity R us 20 Dec 2005
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
Who but Dame Edith Sitwell could produce such a wonderful send-up of the British, poking fun by speaking the truth as she saw it, in The English Eccentrics. Eccentricity was often simply the Ordinary carried to a high degree of pictorial perfection, Sitwell claims, and thus we get a gifted glimpse of the usually-overlooked obvious.
Of course, there is so much material to work with, it is a wonder the book isn't multi-volumed! Originally published in 1933, it retains much of its vitality and levity despite being two generations (at least) behind the times. Sitwell caught the character of the English Eccentric at a time just before the wholesale decline of Empire, and thus the character portrayed here is a 'standard' one.
'Eccentricity exists particularly in the English, and partly, I think, because of that peculiar and satisfactory knowledge of infallibility that is the hallmark and birthright of the British nation.'
In the relating of small tales and glimpses of life, Sitwell takes us through a history of language usage and abusage, cultural niceties gone awry, personal proclivities taken to extremes, historical remembrances remembered a bit incorrectly, all the while maintaining a strong British 'we know just what we're doing, thank you, and we're doing it quite correctly' attitude.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eccentricity R Us 27 Feb 2006
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover
Who but Dame Edith Sitwell could produce such a wonderful send-up of the British, poking fun by speaking the truth as she saw it, in The English Eccentrics. Eccentricity was often simply the Ordinary carried to a high degree of pictorial perfection, Sitwell claims, and thus we get a gifted glimpse of the usually-overlooked obvious.
Of course, there is so much material to work with, it is a wonder the book isn't multi-volumed! Originally published in 1933, it retains much of its vitality and levity despite being two generations (at least) behind the times. Sitwell caught the character of the English Eccentric at a time just before the wholesale decline of Empire, and thus the character portrayed here is a 'standard' one.
'Eccentricity exists particularly in the English, and partly, I think, because of that peculiar and satisfactory knowledge of infallibility that is the hallmark and birthright of the British nation.'
In the relating of small tales and glimpses of life, Sitwell takes us through a history of language usage and abusage, cultural niceties gone awry, personal proclivities taken to extremes, historical remembrances remembered a bit incorrectly, all the while maintaining a strong British 'we know just what we're doing, thank you, and we're doing it quite correctly' attitude.
We find hermits, both ancient and ornamental (the distinction between the two of course being a relative flash that one would think inimical to the hermit-age); quacks and alchemists, some members of the sporting set (we learn of one who, in an attempt to scare the hiccups out of himself, set fire to his nightshirt--of course he was still in it--and was satisfied despite the burns that his hiccups had been vanquished), various other sorts and sets in the land.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No mere catalog of eccentricity 1 Jan 2000
By Kay A. Douglas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The inimitable Edith Sitwell, in her jewelled prose, weaves together the threads of assorted strange personages, and the effect is hypnotic. The approach is poetic, oblique, and perhaps not to everyone's taste - and if it were, would you be at all interested? I, for one, was enchanted by her descriptions of, for example, the amphibious Lord Rokeby, the Ornamental Hermits, the dandy Romeo Coates, the rascally William Huntington "the coal-heaver Preacher", the intrepid Squire Waterton, and the ingenious Princess Caraboo, among dozens of others.
Such understated whimsy within these pages! Such a singular philosophy bound these disparate lives! Read, for example, of the rich Miss Beswick, whose sole concern was that, having passed on, she might not realize it, and that her death "might prove to be only an illusion, a dreamless sleep." And so she left a large sum of money to a certain doctor and his family, "on condition that the doctor should pay her a visit every morning, after what appeared to uninstructed persons, to be her death, in order that he might be assured of the reality of this." Dame Edith dryly notes, "When the Doctor died, the mummified Miss Beswick, that candidate for immortality, was removed to the Lying-in Hospital."
It's Edith Sitwell's droll, ornate prose, moreso even than the picturesque eccentrics, that make this a book to savor, to read bits of aloud, in the small hours of the night.
And now the hurled invective: Shame! Shame that this book is out of print! What poverty-stricken, unpoetic times are these?
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eccentricity R Us 13 Oct 2005
By FrKurt Messick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Who but Dame Edith Sitwell could produce such a wonderful send-up of the British, poking fun by speaking the truth as she saw it, in The English Eccentrics. Eccentricity was often simply the Ordinary carried to a high degree of pictorial perfection, Sitwell claims, and thus we get a gifted glimpse of the usually-overlooked obvious.

Of course, there is so much material to work with, it is a wonder the book isn't multi-volumed! Originally published in 1933, it retains much of its vitality and levity despite being two generations (at least) behind the times. Sitwell caught the character of the English Eccentric at a time just before the wholesale decline of Empire, and thus the character portrayed here is a 'standard' one.

'Eccentricity exists particularly in the English, and partly, I think, because of that peculiar and satisfactory knowledge of infallibility that is the hallmark and birthright of the British nation.'

In the relating of small tales and glimpses of life, Sitwell takes us through a history of language usage and abusage, cultural niceties gone awry, personal proclivities taken to extremes, historical remembrances remembered a bit incorrectly, all the while maintaining a strong British 'we know just what we're doing, thank you, and we're doing it quite correctly' attitude.

We find hermits, both ancient and ornamental (the distinction between the two of course being a relative flash that one would think inimical to the hermit-age); quacks and alchemists, some members of the sporting set (we learn of one who, in an attempt to scare the hiccups out of himself, set fire to his nightshirt--of course he was still in it--and was satisfied despite the burns that his hiccups had been vanquished), various other sorts and sets in the land.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson to be learned from this book would the Of the Benefits of Posthumous Fame. Using Milton as the first example, Sitwell proceeds to demonstrate just how this posthumous fame (for the man who sold Paradise Lost for the meagre sum of £20) can be a great boon to all concerned, particularly those who have the foresight to collect locks of hair or write poetry about rummaging through the bone-remains of the dead poet. Of course, there followed in short order a detailed (yet anonymous) description of why the poet could not have actually handled the bones of the poet, not least of which being that as the grave said 1653, and Milton was not in fact buried until 1674, et cetera; thus begins an active correspondence of attempting to prove or disprove in fashion why Milton was not bodily handled.

This is a thoroughly English treatment; like her eccentrics, Sitwell's style of writing is likewise gloriously eccentric. Much will be missed on the first reading, and again the second; by the third reading (should you be so eccentric as to persevere through to such) you will either be so charmed by the writing that you will carry this book around, quoting passages that need context to be understood (and thus be ordained into a minor order of eccentricity yourself) or, you will give the book away to the most tedious of your friends, hoping that the friend will take the hint.

The choice is yours.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Treasure trove! 21 July 2010
By John Bonavia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I add my praise to that of the other reviewers. The whole topic of English Eccentrics (and I had no idea what a HUGE topic it is!) could have been covered by some bland collector of anecdotes, and we are lucky to have Dame Edith's inimitable style and touch for the task. It was her name on the cover that induced me to pick it up on the second-hand shelves (wonder if it is on Kindle - if not, it should be. Happy that Amazon actually has it in stock now.).

I had known her mainly for her poetry - if ever you wonder how anyone could make poetry out of the London Blitz, look at Dylan Thomas' famous "A Refusal to Mourn..." but then read Dame Edith's "Still falls the rain." Every bit as incantatory and dramatic. We lost a powerful voice with her passing - and Osbert and Sacheverell had their own spheres of powerful wordwork also.

I think the only way to give the real flavour of "The English Eccentrics" is by a few samples. What about Dr. Van Butchell, who could not bear the thought of parting from his deceased wife, and had her enbalmed and "laid reverently in a case with a glass lid, and curtain, and was introduced to visitors as 'My dear departed.' " He set up formal visiting hours for those whom he permitted to view the departed, by appointment. However...

"Eventually, Mr. Van Butchell took unto himself another, and a more wakeful wife, and the perpetual presence of the first Mrs. Van Butchell became a source of dissension, and of household strife, so that she was banished from the presence of her husband, and dust was only dust."

A wonderful, acerbic note about the movement for the Emancipation of Women: -
" a movement in which learned, trousered and vivacious ladies like George Sand made presents of themselves with the same frequency, cheapness and indiscrimination as that with which other ladies present Christmas cards. This caused them to be collected with great eagerness by sex-snobs, who, unlike all other collectors, prefer the ubiquitous to the rare."

What about the great scholar, Professor Porson? Appearance was not impressive " a large patch of coarse brown paper on his nose, the rusty black coat hung with cobwebs." But you did well not to challenge him verbally: one unfortunate said "'Dr. Porson, my opinion of you is most contemptible." "Sir," replied Professor Porson. " I never knew an opinion of yours that was not contemptible."

And Edward Wortley Montagu: a great traveller and equally, it seems addicted to matrimony, with scant regard to legality. "His death took place in Padua in April 1776, and he no doubt left several inconsolable widows."

One long series of events chronicles the life of Squire Waterton, and here I have to admit, with Dame Edith, that a full volume could be filled with the bizarre and LOL exploits of this man alone. So I will leave you to discover them for yourself, if you get hold of this wonderful book.
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