English Eccentrics Paperback – 29 Jul 1971
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
The former include such individuals as the 'amphibious' lord Rokeby ; the 'not entirely pleasing' Celestina Collins, who shared her bed with thirty fowls; Squire Mytton, who frightened his hiccups away by setting his nightshirt on fire...
I was entertained by the account of Mr Coates, a Shakespearean actor who never quite cut the mustard: 'Mr Coates appeared at The Theatre Royal, Richmond...and again no attempt was made upon his life. indeed, the only lives that were in danger were those of certain unfeeling young gentlemen, who, in the scene where the hero poisons himself, were seized with such immoderate paroxysms of laughter that a doctor who was present became alarmed at their condition, and ordered them to be carried into the open air, where they received medical attention.'
Edith Sitwell's sarcastic tone adds to the narrative: 'Others of Miss Martineau's neighbours were hardly respectable, but like a comfortable Christian woman Miss Martineau said no more about them than would destroy their reputation for respectability and enhance her own.' Initially I found her writing extremely hard to get into, especially on the first page, but soon got accustomed to it.
The last 60 pages or so I found less interesting: a lengthy investigation into people exhuming the (reported) grave of Milton, and removing parts of the body to sell; a description of the Carlyles. Neither seemed really relevant to the theme of the book.
In conclusion then, interesting in parts.