THE SITWELLS: A Family's Biography by John Pearson

THE SITWELLS: A Family's Biography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In England, this biography of the illustrious, notorious Sitwelh was titled Facades--and not merely in reference to one of Edith's more famous poems. With access to letters and other family records, John Pearson has judiciously--if in all-too-minute detail--disinterred the private lives behind the public image (slighting only the later career of Sacheverell, whose help he needed and whose privacy he respects). Born to apparent privilege, the three were rudely dominated by a heartless, closefisted father, and thus acquired a lifelong insecurity--besides, fruitfully, both the aesthetic sensibilities of many fin-de-si≤cle aristocrats and the rebellious temper of an angry younger generation. And though they developed disparate ambitions--Edith to be a great poet, Osbert to be a lordly arbiter of taste, Sacheverell to experience and interpret the arts--the Sitwells together drew upon their aestheticism and rebelliousness to become bold and influential exponents of the avant-garde currents that flowed across the channel before and after the First World War. By virtue of their publicist energies, in behalf of their own and others' works, they became for a time the embodiment of modernism in England, touching most of the leading artists of the day--albeit not all happily. Then, with the advent of social and political seriousness in the Thirties, their eminence waned and their common cause dissolved into individual pursuits. Pearson has done an admirable job of casting wide his biographical net (whereas John Lehmann's A Nest of Tigers is confined largely to what they and others wrote about their lives). But what one misses in the scholarly, lackluster telling is a sense of personal contact.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1979
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich