Page 6, 31st July 1981

31st July 1981
Page 6
Page 6, 31st July 1981 — The life of Edith Sitwell grotesque artistry
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The life of Edith Sitwell grotesque artistry

Edith Sitwell: Unicorn Among Lions by Victoria Glendinning (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £9.95).

EDITH Sitwell's life was as grotesque as her body, which many called beautiful.

If art is the consequence of frustrated urges — sexual, physical, emotional. spiritual — it is no wonder that she became the best modern woman poet. Dame Edith herself linked physical nature with artistic output, and attributed women's soppy or poor productions to their bodily weakness.

Horribly rejected as a child, alone in a rich world of baroque madness — her father mentally broken, her mother imprisoned — she fought her way to independence and literary success. at a late age.

The Sitwells do belong to the history of literature as well as the history of publicity. as anyone who has read Edith's poetry or Osbert's autobiography with sensitivity could tell. But the publicity is good value for any biographer.

Dame Edith ended up a Catholic. Her conversion was deeply felt, though in her last years she rarely went to Mass. In those years it must be said, she was constantly sick.

Of the new angles Miss Glendinning finds, it is astonishing to learn the eventually hated David Homer, Osbert's companion, preceded her into the Church 10 years before. The role of Bryher McPherson in bailing Edith out with unending gifts of money also becomes clear.

Her terrible insecurity explains her outrageous feuds with Wyndham Lewis. Geoffrey Grison or Noel Coward and the long drawn out love affair with the homosexual Tchelitchew. At the same time she had an insight into Lewis's own fear of being unloved.

Nor does she come out as a very clever person. She had surprising areas of ignorance. But she was a warm friend to young artists. a heartfelt Catholic and an all-consuming artist.

David Dunn




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