|Edith Sitwell by Roger Fry|
Like her brothers Osbert and Sacheverell, Edith reacted badly to her eccentric, unloving parents, and lived for much of her life with her governess. Never married, she became passionately attached to the gay Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew, and her home was always open to London's poetic circle, to whom she was unfailingly generous and helpful.
Edith published poetry continuously from 1913, some of it abstract and set to music. With her dramatic style and exotic costumes, she was sometimes labelled a poseur, but her work was also praised for its solid technique and painstaking craftsmanship.
Sitwell published her first poem The Drowned Suns in the Daily Mirror in 1913 and between 1916 and 1921 she edited Wheels, an annual poetic anthology compiled with her brothers—a literary collaboration generally called "the Sitwells".
In 1929 she published Gold Coast Customs, a poem about the artificiality of human behaviour and the barbarism that lies beneath the surface. The poem was written in the rhythms of the tom-tom and of jazz, and shows considerable technical skill. Her early work reflects the strong influence of the French symbolists. Her most famous poetic series is Facade, much of which was set to music by William Walton.
She supported innovative trends in English poetry and opposed what she considered the conventionality of many contemporary backward-looking poets. Her flat became a meeting place for young writers whom she wished to befriend and help: these later included Dylan Thomas.
Her only novel, I Live under a Black Sun, based on the life of Jonathan Swift, was published in 1937.
She died of unknown causes on 9 December, 1964.
Still falls the Rain—
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss—
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.
‘The Raids, 1940. Night and Dawn’ (1942)
Perhaps her most famous quote:
I have often wished I had time to cultivate modesty…But I am too busy thinking about myself.
In ‘Observer’ 30 April 1950