In addition to her many collections of poetry, Edith Sitwell wrote several volumes of critical essays, biography, autobiography, social history, and fiction. Foremost among her critical studies are Poetry and Criticism (1925), Aspects of Modern Poetry (1934), and A Poet’s Notebook (1943). Her critical biography Alexander Pope (1930) was meant to serve as a vindication of the man and poet. Having as much of an affinity for Queen Elizabeth as for Alexander Pope, she wrote of England’s controversial monarch in Fanfare for Elizabeth (1946) and The Queens and the Hive (1962). Bath (1932) is a work of social history. I Live Under a Black Sun (1937) is a fictionalized biography of Jonathan Swift. She also edited several anthologies, of which The Pleasures of Poetry (1930-1932, 1934), The American Genius (1951), and The Atlantic Book of British and American Poetry (1958) are the best known. Her rather acerbic autobiography, which was posthumously published, is titled Taken Care Of (1965).
In 1933, Edith Sitwell was awarded a medal by the Royal Society of Literature. Honorary degrees from Oxford, Leeds, Durham, and Sheffield universities followed, and she was made an associate of the American National Institute of Arts and Letters.
The best compliment ever paid to Sitwell was Evelyn Waugh’s statement that she took the dullness out of poetry. Never boring or tiresome, the worst her adverse critics could say about her was that she was eccentric and exhibitionistic and her poetry too experimental. A few of her literary enemies—and at one time they were almost as numerous as her friends—did go a step further, however, and labeled her early poetry pretentious, rambling, and vacuous. Geoffrey Grigson, Julian Symons, and F. R. Leavis are only a few of the critics who thought her a dreadful poet, but William Butler Yeats, Cyril Connolly, Stephen Spender, Dylan Thomas, and T. S. Eliot believed she was one of the most creative artists of the twentieth century. Allen Tate summarized Sitwell best when, shortly after her death, he commented that she was “one of the great poets of the twentieth century . . . a remarkable and independent personality.”
Brophy, James D. Edith Sitwell: The Symbolist Order. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968. Brophy examines the themes and techniques of Sitwell’s admittedly difficult poetry. He finds in her work a coherent use of modernist Symbolism. A valuable study for close analysis of her poems and critical views. Supplemented by a select bibliography and an index.
Cevasco, G. A. The Sitwells: Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Edith and her younger brothers, all writers and famous personalities, are brought together in an excellent, compact survey of their writings and family life. Their texts are shown to respond to the major events that shaped the twentieth century: two world wars, an economic depression, and the opening of the atomic age. Contains a chronology, notes, a select bibliography, and an index.
Elborn, Geoffrey. Edith Sitwell: A Biography. London: Sheldon Press, 1981. Traces Sitwell’s life, from her birth as an unwanted female to her solitary death (by her own command). Includes photographs that illustrate her life, twelve half-plates, two plates, notes, a bibliography, and an index.
Glendinning, Victoria. Edith Sitwell: A Unicorn Among Lions. London: Phoenix, 1993. Revisionary appraisal separates the myths from the newer status of Sitwell’s work. Glendinning...
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