Edith Sitwell

(1887—1964) poet and biographer

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British poet and critic. Created a DBE in 1954, this tall, exotically dressed, bejewelled, and invariably turbanned eccentric was a familiar feature of London literary life.

The only daughter of a difficult antiquarian baronet, Sir George Sitwell, Edith Sitwell had an unhappy childhood as neither her looks nor her interests were compatible with the conventional models favoured by her parents. Encouraged by Helen Rootham, who became her governess in 1903, she began slowly to develop her talents. In 1914 she and Miss Rootham took a flat together in London and in 1915 her first volume of poetry, The Mother, was published. She collaborated with her brothers Sir Osbert (1892–1969) and Sacheverell (1897–1988) on various projects, including the annual anthology Wheels (1916–21). In 1923 she attracted some attention with the first public performance of Façade, a highly innovative entertainment in which her poems were set to the music of William Walton. Her other poems of the early 1920s are in a quieter mood – Bucolic Comedies (1923), Sleeping Beauty (1924), and Troy Park (1925) – but Gold Coast Customs (1929) recaptures some of the verve of Façade.

In the 1930s Edith Sitwell lived for a while in Paris with Helen Rootham until the latter's death in 1938. She wrote little poetry in this period but among her prose writings was her popular book on The English Eccentrics (1933). During World War II she again published volumes of verse, Street Songs (1942) and Green Song (1944); she also compiled the anthology A Poet's Notebook (1943). Even her last collections, Gardeners and Astronomers (1953), The Outcasts (1962), and Song of the Cold (1964) exhibit continuing inventiveness. Among her other prose works were Fanfare for Elizabeth (1946), The Queens and the Hive (1962), and her posthumously published autobiography, Taken Care Of (1965).

Subjects: Literature.

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Works by Edith Sitwell

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