Osbert Sitwell Paperback – 4 Mar 1999
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It can be hard to separate the Sitwells, held together as they were in their own and the public's eye as a social and artistic triumvirate. Victoria Glendinning disentangled Edith and Sarah Bradford prised away Sacheverell, but this is the first full-length life of Osbert Sitwell. That Philip Ziegler, one of Britain's foremost biographers, chose to cast his kindly light on him is an act that seeks to answer less than it asks.
Osbert resembled an ostrich or a "superior cod", depending on the observer. He wrote novels that struggled to be inferior, leaden verse and prose in which, Virginia Woolf remarked: "the hododendrons grow to such a height". And she liked him. His one work of any lasting merit was his five-volume autobiography, Left Hand! Right Hand!, a period-piece curiosity of which the principal victim was his father Sir George Sitwell, for whom he affected a vicious hatred. Where Sir George was a pennypincher, Osbert was a spendthrift, and while Sir George was eccentrically inventive (a musical toothbursh and small revolver for shooting wasps were two of his better ideas), his profligate son's main flair was for self-publicity and argument, unable as he was to resolve his position as an artist and an aristocrat.
What else can be said of the man? He served with some honour in the First World War, acted as a generous patron for artists such as Dylan Thomas and William Walton, and inadvertently inspired art, being lampooned by writers such as Noel Coward, Wyndham Lewis and D.H. Lawrence. Ziegler himself writes with a playful lyricism sorely lacking in his subject. He has researched meticulously and his judgements are generally sound, but despite this his motives for tackling such a man are never convincing. Osbert Sitwell found most things dull, dull, dull; it is to the credit of Ziegler, a past master of difficult men (Edward VIII, Lord Mountbatten) that this book is as eminently readable as it is. Let the Sitwell chapter now close. --David Vincent
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Top Customer Reviews
Sitwell was a big man in more ways than one; he stood well over six feet tall; his ego was impenetrable save for any adverse criticism of his writing ; his forefathers were of high noble birth; he was (eventually after his inheritance) extremely rich, enabling him to travel and write popular books on his experiences. He served in the Grenadier Guards in WW1, for a time at the front; he stood for parliament; was appointed a JP, wrote novels, poetry and literary criticism and was friendly with Waugh, Sassoon, Lawrence, Connelly, Huxley, Nancy Cunard and most of the other leading writers of the time---- and on occasions would be invited by Queen Mary and the King and Queen to their royal residences. His CV, if ever he had to write one would have been long and impressive. But overall his driving ambition was to be a successful writer, and this reviewer found Ziegler's informative comments on the published works very useful for further reading; and she was sorry when she finished the book.
In the final paragraphs Ziegler muses on whether Sitwell was a great writer, and concludes that although Left Hand Right Hand, the four volume autobiography is an unequivocal masterpiece, Sitwell wasn't the literary equal of Pound, Eliot and Joyce. Well no, I suppose not; but his books were a lot more readable---- and the public loved them.Read more ›