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SPLENDOURS AND MISERIES by Sarah Bradford

SPLENDOURS AND MISERIES

A Life of Sir Sacheverell Sitwell

by Sarah Bradford

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-374-26789-8
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 According to Bradford (The Reluctant King, 1990, etc.), poet, writer, and art critic Sacheverell (``Sachie'') Sitwell (1897-1988) formed--along with his brother, Osbert, and sister, Edith--a cult of his own, albeit one that was self-involved, effete, and aesthetically and politically out of tune with his times. Conceived in ``ritual deliberation'' to satisfy the dynastic aspirations of their father, Sir George Sitwell, the siblings grew up as isolated eccentrics in their ancestral estate in Derbyshire. Physically impressive as adults--each was over six feet tall with a bony face and pronounced nose--the three apparently wrote in order to compensate for emotional deprivations. They were so fiercely possessive of one another that Sachie's marriage at age 26 to an 18-year-old Canadian was a family trauma. The union produced two sons, to whom neither parent seemed closely attached; many exotic travels (and books about them); dinners; debts; and affairs, including Sachie's last one, with ballet dancer Moira Shearer. Meanwhile, Sachie was an influential art critic who wrote in the tradition of Ruskin, interpreting architecture, primarily baroque and gothic. His poetry was voluminous but mannered and out of touch with the social and political issues, psychological intensity, and experimentation that characterized the work of Virginia Woolf, Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood, and other illuminati of his generation. Sachie was attacked by F.R. Leavis, Geoffrey Grigson, and Wyndham Lewis, whose parody, The Apes of God, ridiculed his anachronistic values and right-wing politics--but his circle included Harold Acton, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and T.S. Eliot, who called the siblings the ``Shitwells.'' In spite of numerous interviews with the living and research among the dead, Bradford's approach seems as detached, impersonal, and aloof as Sachie himself--a man who may have had no secrets, or who perhaps could hide them even from himself. (Sachie shared the family talent for being photographed, wonderfully represented here in portraits by, among others, his good friend Sir Cecil Beaton.)