13 May 2011

looking again: a glimpse of Edith Sitwell


a book can keep me busy for hours, even the most well worn.*  some of the photographs of rooms, portraits, homes I've memorized-scrutinized, &amp though I am sure some -after 27 years- have changed hands or been demolished to be sure-they still capture my attention as if it were the first time.

Edith Sitwell painted by Tchelitchew in 1935

this time SHE caught my eye.
I saw her hanging there.
None other than the Dame.
Edith Sitwell.
She is holding court in the lovingly cluttered library of her brother Sir Sacherevell Sitwell's Weston Hall. Friend Pavel Tchelitchew painted this portrait of Edith. The pair were great friends- Edith having a quite unrequited love for the homosexual Pavel. He certainly wasn't the kindest kind of friend when he painted this portrait. Edith would have been 48 then- as I figure- and seeing the many photographs of her during this period- she never appeared as Pavel paints her. Pavel obviously was trying to reach beyond the woman and conjure a medieval knight. Edith was a woman he felt insecure with & he missed the mark with this one. I don't think his mediocre talent captured the poet or the woman-though Edith championed him, because she loved him. Love makes you blind.
Edith never found the formidable Original man to her formidable Original self.

Along with the books, a lovely collection of blue opaline vases and like pieces fill the space. Apparently the Sitwell ladies typically inherited the home-passed down through the family since it was built around 1700. The house went to Sacheverell in the 1920's and was decorated with pieces from the house. More opaline pieces line the mantle and over it a wired bookcase holding valuable leather editions.

The pair of gilt mirrors hanging over the Chinese cabinets belonged to Edith too.

Sir Sacheverell Sitwell in the Weston library, 1952
photographed by Cecil Beaton

Weston Hall as painted by friend and frequent visitor Rex Whistler

Edith's niece Susanna still lives at Weston Hall and Edith's great nephew William Sitwell has inherited many of her books. He also spent a year learning the hypnotic words of her Facade poems set to music.

'Looking through cupboards and wardrobes at Weston Hall, I come across examples of her clothes. Long flowing robes, gowns, turbans and other headgear, and huge colourful rings that adorned her long fingers.' (WSitwell)

He says of Facade : 'Some of the lines must be proclaimed at breakneck speed, and as I worked my way through the colourful, exotic language, the assonances and dissonances, I could almost feel her spirit conjuring up the figures of Sir Beelzebub and Black Mrs Behemoth, not to mention the satyrs, nymphs and others who appear. She wrote this early white rap in the 1920s, finessing it over the next 40 years, and it demonstrates her extraordinary, dextrous touch with the English language, and her musical abilities.'

A new book- Edith Sitwell Avant Garde Poet, English Genius by Richard Greene has been out for a few months & I am about ready to read on- The author suggests 'It is time to look again at Edith Sitwell.’ 

She is someone we look to often- and never for a moment have we forgotten her.

(interior pictures of Weston Hall from a book English Style-one of the first of my "big books" in 1984 at a price of $35.00 then, I think they may be more reasonable now. That still seems a lot to me-even now.)

portraits & Weston Hall, by Rex Whistler from The Sitwells

about Edith at little augury here



  1. They were an amazing family! Edith had so much personal style!

  2. I would dearly love to have some of that opaline. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but I never see it in this country.

  3. Clearly, I need another book...But who could resist Edith. You are enabling me...and that is perhaps a good thing.

  4. ah ha! turnabout is fair-so they say!



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