NOBLE ESSENCES by Sir Osbert Hitwell

NOBLE ESSENCES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This is the final volume of the great Sitwell autobiography which began with Left Han Right Hand and gave us the fine following volumes of The Scarlet Tree, Great Morning and Laughter In The Next Room. Differing greatly from its predecessors which traced with leisured pace the family history of the Sitwells, their Tudor lineage, their mid-Victorian relatives of high social sphere and great wealth, and Sir Osbert's own personal growth -- from childhood, boyhood, through his war experiences, attempts at political life on to his final location in the life of creative artist and art patron, -- with himself as the focal point of the scene always, this volume portrays the same period through a series of brilliant portraits of Sir Osbert's contemporary artist friends. This is not a volume dedicated to the ""perishable flower of Mayfair"" but to the ""immortelle of Blooms-bury"" For, as the author states in his opening, he here tries to ""Delineate the era through the portraits of people of exceptional talent, wit and genius"". They number about two dozen, among them the most fully rounded and complete being Edmund Gosse, the critic, Ronald Firbank, the writer, Ada Leverson, the wit and friend of three generations of artists, Gabriel d'Annunzio, the post and politician, Violet Gordon Woodhouse, the musician, and Richard Sickert, the artist -- and there are many others as equally interesting. The portraiture is brilliant, precise, witty and eccentric and the outstanding quality is that, in describing others and his reasons for liking them, the author most clearly reveals himself. He is an artist, a wit, an aristocrat and something resembling an old Italian, princely patron of all the arts. His tastes are unique, highly individualized, a little odd, sometimes perverse and always playful. He is a veritable St. George against the great dragon of Stuffiness. And in his onslaught against the Vile Worm he sometimes overlooks some real worth or gives too fulsome credit to a minor angel of revolt. Sometimes his very crusade against dullness is imbued with an excessive moral fervor. But on the whole he is a great English gentleman, kind, generous, witty, zestful, arrogant -- and odd -- a refreshing mixture and only in the end does one sense his deep despondency over the passing of his class. One of the few first rate pieces of writing of our day. A ""must"" for almost anyone -- especially lovers of the arts.

Publisher: Little, Brown -- A.M.P.