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Andrew Davis (London, England)

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Edith Sitwell: Avant garde poet, English genius
Edith Sitwell: Avant garde poet, English genius
by Richard Greene
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dud Poet Society, 4 Mar 2011
Avant Garde Poet? English Genius? Richard Greene tries very hard to convince us that Edith Sitwell was just these - or at least that she should be regarded as the great poet she liked to think and, more particularly, be thought she was. Regrettably he fails.

As a North American academic amply funded by institutions to plough through the various Sitwell and related archives which now reside after purchase almost entirely in US and Canadian universities, Greene has certainly done just that job. Fourteen years ago he produced a volume of Edith's correspondence and now he tramps remorselessly through her often over-written poetry while largely ignoring her much underrated prose.

Moreover the biography that he now presents is as seemingly bloodless as the washed-out, etoilated features of its subject and there is little in his own text of the real verve and colour of the family, literary and finally celebrity intrigue or battles with which Edith was surrounded from her childhood - and which might, if we had had it, just have persuaded us that she was what he claims.

Much of the trouble is that Greene appears to have spent little time, apart from some phone calls and internet searches, anywhere else but in American archives. He displays little interest in or understanding of the places and people in England and Europe which shaped Edith and in which she lived until her late 70s. For example, he says rightly that she and her brothers made up most of their complaints about their father, Sir George, but does not say why or provide any considered analysis of her father, who actually was as good a prose writer as any of his children and who lived until Edith was 56, or of the family's two extraordinary castles, mock and real, at Renishaw and Montegufoni.

Certainly Greene displays a disturbing lack of familiarity with English social idiom and vocabulary that a good editor should have weeded out along with too, too many repeats of the same anecdotes on different pages. One story - about Edith asking what male homosexuals actually did to each other and not being told - even appears three time. Otherwise there is poor fact or relationship-checking, the index is particularly sloppy and, though this edition may be intended to be travel directly to North America, the text with its arch asides which might best have been confined to footnotes is couched in American English.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 17, 2013 6:49 PM BST


Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640 (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640 (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
by Mark Girouard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 45.00

20 of 34 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Declining and falling, 12 Nov 2009
My postman said this was the heaviest book he'd ever delivered. And the Paul Mellon Foundation money showered upon it appears to make it a bargain in terms of sheer weight, if not always merit, of illustrations offered.

But, oh the text! This is one of the most badly edited/put together books you're going to see from a publisher as posh as Yale University Press. Or from an author who is the leading historian in the subject and now offering a book on "the whole field in detail" ( says the flyleaf) which " is essentially a product of new research and travel on his part" ( says YUP's p.r. puff).

From prologue to footnotes there are countless examples of sloppy writing or thinking. Two different dates are frequently given for the same historical event or modern publication ( including one of the author's own). Frequently there are different spellings of the same proper name (including someone thanked by the author). Misrememberings around the country abound ( e.g. Hanwell for Handsworth, Yorkshire or Corbet instead of Clough in Denbighshire). Sometimes sources can't even be remembered at all - with ludicrous results. There are repeated misrepresentations of other writers' published works on which the author relies very heavily along with ( frankly admitted) rehashes of large chunks of his own old books. In fact there is little evidence of fresh documentary finds and travel. Too often the touted new research seems merely to be speculative, sometimes obviously wrong, armchair attributions or musings in place of hard evidence.

Perhaps this should be no surprise. The flyleaf also says it is 40 years since the author ventured into the field. So it is shocking that, through coy footnotes which only near the end reveal their full implications, there is an admission from him that his basis for his first book has now been shown to be mistaken. Therefore, although it is very sad to read thanks from the author now to surgeons, doctors and nurses at a London hospital, slipshod writing and hypothesizing beg the question - how can anyone trust the new book?


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