Edith Sitwell Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Edith Louisa Sitwell, daughter of Sir George and Lady Ida Sitwell and sister of the two writers Osbert and Sacheverell, was born at Scarborough, England, in 1887. Though she was reared in an atmosphere of wealth and culture, her early years, as her brother Osbert wrote in his Left Hand, Right Hand (1944), were emotionally trying. An unwanted child, she suffered considerable physical and nervous anguish in being reared by a tyrannical father, who, among other things, made his only daughter wear a painful device to improve the shape of her aquiline nose. At an early age, she announced her intention of becoming a genius, and soon after she learned to write, she tried her hand at poetry. Physically, she grew to be a tall, pale, distinguished-looking young woman with heavy-lidded eyes and a Plantagenet presence.

Early in the 1920’s, Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell emerged as a literary cult of three. Their circle was graced by such figures as Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, and Eliot. The most prolific of the three Sitwells, Edith produced volume after volume of poetry, and she took to reading her work to literary groups. Wheels, an iconoclastic annual publication that she founded and edited, outraged many. Critics and philistines not appreciative of her efforts often felt the sting of her tongue.

Between 1914 and 1929, in what might be called her initial period, she reacted strongly against the “banal bucolics” of the Georgian poets and wrote a great deal of nonrepresentational verse, which to some extent parallels the paintings of Pablo Picasso and the cubists. During her middle period, which extended from 1930 to 1940, she abandoned her dream world of sensuous mood and tonal patterns, her “pure poetry,” to write...

(The entire section is 722 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Edith Sitwell, one of the twentieth century’s foremost poets and a flamboyant exponent of experimentation in verse, was the oldest child of Sir George Sitwell, fourth baronet of Renishaw Park, the family seat for six hundred years. Much of the extravagant personality of Edith and her brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell, is readily understandable to the reader of Sir Osbert Sitwell’s memoirs of their outrageous father, Left Hand, Right Hand.

Educated in secret (as she said), Edith Sitwell first became known in 1916 as the editor of an anthology, Wheels, which stridently featured for six years her own work, that of her brothers, and other authors whose voices were to be heard frequently in the 1920’s. One of the highlights of the 1925 theater season in London was the premiere of Sitwell’s Facade, in which she chanted her early fanciful and rhythmical verse to similarly exciting musical settings provided by William Walton. For the performance Sitwell spoke through an amplifying mask behind a screen, a device to provide artificiality for the exotic occasion. The London Hall was an uproar of Sitwell’s admirers and detractors. Twenty-five years later, the work was similarly performed in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, but so far had modern taste and Sitwell’s reputation advanced that the last occasion was almost regal in dignity, as befitted its central performer—Sitwell had been given the accolade of Grand Dame of the...

(The entire section is 541 words.)