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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

on 16 August 2017
I most certainly enjoyed the book and finished it at a gallop. It is immaculately written and each sentence is clear. My paperback illustrations were lacklustre but there's always recourse to Wikipedia available.
I did skip some of the lit crit and most of the extracts from the poems. Dr Sitwell's poetry I do not like though I can see why others do.
But her life was fascinating considering that it was relatively devoid of incident. She disliked travel though in her later years toured the USA on three (?) occasions. She frequently visited her brother's huge villa in Italy, where she was bored, and lived a good while in Paris which again, as a place, did not appeal. Renishaw was cold. She had a house in Bath but never lived in it. She lived for a long time in a dreary Bayswater flat and grew very attached to it. Hotels had to meet her exacting standards. It was her all-female London club she'll found most congenial.
Her love life was interesting from a psychological viewpoint, but it was a frustrated (and from to the reader a frustrating) one. She undoubtedly loved a man, a homosexual. She died a virgin and probably never experienced sexual intimacy of any kind.
What were fascinating and ran as themes through the book were
* Dr Sitwell's relationship with her mother, who was beautiful, silly, and a spendthrift. Edith disliked her intensely;
* the sheer bitchiness of the literary world. No one was immune to it. Edith herself complained about every poor review of her work and 'dropped' those who persisted. Long reviews were expected. Bad reviews wounded. Pressure was brought to bear on editors to employ sympathetic reviewers. And the scurrilous tittle-tattle has to be read to be believed;
* what she felt was her entitlement as an aristocrat. I remember that sort of thing from my rural childhood;
* the author's attempts to get under Edith's skin and give the reader an honest female perspective into her psyche. A male author could not have done this;
* the British literary world from 1920 to the 1960s. Here were many persons I'd heard of but sometimes not read about in any sort of context. Leavis, Elliot, Pound, Coward, Dylan Thomas and two score of others are all here;
* and finally, Edith Sitwell and religion. It is clear that she was a religious woman who resisted seeing herself as one. Then, late in life, she became a Roman Catholic. Closure, one could say.
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on 4 April 2015
Glendinning, Victoria. Edith Sitwell: A Unicorn Among Lions
Edith Sitwell today is something of a back-number, rather remotely off-Bloomsbury. Victoria Glendinning, however, brings Edith back to life in this crowded biography, insisting on her place in the field of Twentieth Century Letters, on one who was not merely an imperious figure who carefully selected her starlets for praise or punishment, but as a warm and insightful critic of the majority of poets and novelists she met in person or corresponded with in their absence.
This is a tightly packed account of the life of the ‘unwanted child’ who was born into aristocratic circles in 1887 and lived until December 9, 1964. She seems to have known, read or read about every living English writer of her generation, and it is as a member of the literati rather than as a poet that she is celebrated in this book.
The Sitwells as a family, especially the trio of Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell, are today seen as minor writers, dated and even effete, concealed in the shadows of Bloomsbury by such as TS Eliot and EM Forster, Edith being the brightest star by virtue of her social and entrepreneurial initiatives. She is a less powerful and exclusive Gertrude Stein, one always on the look-out for talent (Denton Welch), and who collects and nurtures genius (DylanThomas).
Glendinning makes short work of the love affairs of her subject, which to be honest are mainly one-way streets, although her subject’s poetry is suffused with unattainable longings suitably disguised. Some of Edith’s more waspish comments, found in her letters, are reserved for other women poets who are almost without exception ‘incompetent, floppy, whining, arch, trivial [and] self-pitying.’ She shows less asperity to the novelists although Virginia Woolf is given the brush-off. As for the left-wing radicals: ‘What a bore Master Auden is. And as for Master Spender … he is just a heightened and refined version of Mr W.J. Turner.’

Edith Sitwell is remembered today mostly for a handful of exquisite poems but mainly as a drama queen who wore outrageous clothes and was wont to burst forth in invective directed at poets she loathed. Neverthless she was genially disposed to any promising novice needing help. Hence her support for the Filipino José Garcia Villa who spun ‘sharp flame-like poems out of himself. Of course some of them are bad …’ but seven appeared in Horizon in May 1949.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 13 June 2017
In the 'Foreword' to her excellent biography of the poet Edith Sitwell, Victoria Glendinning tells of an interesting conversation she had at a party in London just after she began working on her book. She writes that after mentioning she was working on a biography of Edith Sitwell, one of the party guests stated what a dreadful poet Ms Sitwell was, and another guest disagreed entirely. The first speaker was a professor of English and a professional literary critic and the second was an academic also, but twenty years younger. This conversational exchange, Ms Glendinning comments, represents one of the difficulties in assessing the poetry of Edith Sitwell. Difficult maybe, but Victoria Glendinning, who refers to her subject as: "a poet of dream and vision, a musical wordmonger" has written an informative, sympathetic and well-balanced account of the poet, her life and her work.

Born in 1887 into a titled family, Edith was an unwanted child and, partly due to her unusual appearance and her "freakishly tall" height, she felt herself to be rejected by both her parents, but particularly by her mother. Instead, Edith formed close alliances with her brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell and, in 1914, with an allowance of one hundred pounds a year, she left Renishaw Hall, the family seat, and set herself up in a shabby London flat with a close friend. Edith's stark 'Plantagenet' looks, which she accentuated by wearing long, richly textured robes, unusual headgear and ornate jewellery, soon began to attract attention, as did her poems which were published firstly in newspapers and then by publishing houses (initially at Edith's own expense); in addition, her rising fame and the parties she and her brother Osbert gave, brought her into the company of Arnold Bennett; Walter Sickert; Harold Acton; T.S.Eliot; Aldous Huxley; Leonide Massine; Nancy Cunard; Nina Hamnett; Roger Fry; Clive Bell, Virginia Woolf; and other members of the Bloomsbury Group, amongst many others. Edith was photographed by Cecil Beaton and had her unusual looks captured in portraits painted by Roger Fry, Wyndham Lewis, Alvaro Guevara and Pavel Tchelitchew.

In this well-researched and enjoyable to read biography (which was first published in 1981 and which won both the Duff Cooper Prize and the James Tait Memorial Prize for Biography) the reader learns of Edith Sitwell's rise to fame through her poetry writing and through self-promotion; of her collaboration with her brothers and the composer William Walton for her 'Facade' series of poems; her editorship of 'Wheels' magazine; of her periods of success when Yeats hailed her as a major poet, and her more fallow periods. We also read of her relationships with those who surrounded her, of her feud with Wyndham Lewis; her (unrequited) love for Pavel Tchelitchew; her championing of 'new' talent such as that exhibited by Denton Welch and Dylan Thomas; and a whole lot more. As commented in my opening paragraph, this is a sympathetic, yet well-balanced account of an exceptional woman, who although courted fame and publicity and could be difficult with those whom she felt didn't appreciate or understand her poetry, beneath her startling outward appearance was an insecure and overly-sensitive individual who lived very much in her imagination, and one who was generous and very loyal to those she loved. In this biography Ms Glendinning has brought Edith Sitwell and her work to life, which is just what a good biography should do and, as such, is one I find easy to recommend.

5 Stars.
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on 25 July 2011
An enjoyable book, very well written and respectful of its subject. Ultimately very sad though, the loneliness of Edith Sitwell as a misfit shines through the pages. I enjoyed it very much and there are some great pictures to illuminate the text.
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on 27 May 2016
all as expected
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