Sitwell, Osbert (1892-1969) by Gutierrez, Jeffrey S.

Osbert Sitwell (1892-1969) , born on December 6, 1892, was a poet, novelist, journalist, essayist, memoirist, and prolific traveler; he is particularly noted for his contributions to the literary magazine , which he co-founded with his brother, , and his sister, . Charged with the authority and confidence that resulted from the Sitwell legacy (as well as the self-assurance that resulted from the bond between siblings, who shared a “strangely isolated existence”) Osbert as a child developed an often diffident demeanor, partly from isolation and partly from ill-health. He was also known to be insistent and stubborn, particularly toward his father, , whom Osbert saw more as an adversary than a father. Francis Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell Wheels Sacheverell Edith Sir George Educated by governesses and tutors as a child, he matriculated at Eton College (1906-1909) with the hopes of gaining entrance to the University of Oxford. Sir George, instead, urged him to join the army; and when Osbert failed his qualifying examination for Sandhurst (an officer training academy), his father managed to influence those in the proper authority to allow him entrance. Having copious amounts of free-time while stationed in London, Osbert met , , and , as well as , , and , the last of whom opened doors for Osbert to meet the greatest literary figures in London. Claude Debussy Frederick Delius Richard Strauss George Moore Henry Tonks Robert Ross Being in the middle of a war provided Osbert with an inkling for a future career path. Disgusted by the fighting, he aimed to enter the arts and to find a voice he could use to openly speak out against war atrocities. From his war experiences, he wrote his first poem, which was published in on May 11, 1916. Yet Osbert rebelled not only against war, but against the spirit of contemporary Georgian poetry, with its romantic and hedonistic emphasis. And as he developed his literary career, he worked on his social career, too. Osbert gained momentum outside of literary circles and became a public figure, playing poker until the early morning hours with Cabinet minister and visiting the Russian choreographer after theatrical performances. He also associated with the antagonistic Bloomsbury Group. Babel, The Times Edwin Montagu Leonide Massine When was published between 1916 and 1922, it caused, according to biographer , a stir among London intellectuals, but the magazine failed to achieve much credibility in the eyes of the avant-garde, particularly and , a frequent contributor. Ziegler comments that was mainly a vehicle to further the Sitwells’ name and their literary capabilities. Wheels Philip Ziegler T.S. Eliot Aldous Huxley Wheels In January 1919, Osbert contracted Spanish Influenza and spent six weeks in King Edward VII’s Hospital for Officers; some questioned whether or not he would survive. From then on, he was extemely concerned with his health, often to the point of being a hypochondriac. After leaving the army in 1919, Osbert focused more on his literary career. From , he took over , which had regular contributions from , but the magazine expired in 1920, due to low subscriptions. Osbert continued writing short pieces, sketches, and short stories, notably His first novel, , was moderately successful and reflected his belief that the novel should be that arises from the sub-conscious. He took great care in his writing, often revising manuscripts many times. Ziegler notes that (230). Herbert Read Art and Letters Wyndham Lewis The Machine Breaks Down. Before the Bombardment an entity the various drafts of [] in the Berg Collection in New York show how intensely Osbert worked and reworked his creations. His manuscripts, already radically rewritten, [were] typed and pasted into a folio book with marbled boards, each page with a blank page opposite. It was then once more rewritten and, presumably, retyped. Between this third version and the published text, however, another rewrite took place The Man Who Lost Himself As Osbert’s literary reputation grew, so did his ego as he tried to live between the worlds of the avant-garde and the aristocrats. His craving for attention, suggests Ziegler, (158). Virginia Woolf, for one, (154). commented that Osbert’s social mentality resembled that of , almost to the point of being the king reincarnated. made it inevitable that he would show off outrageously: whether reading his poems in a village hall in Derbyshire or holding forth at some sophisticated London dinner table. He preferred monologue to conversation, though he was sensitive and sensible enough to realize that by perpetually holding the floor he would alienate the very people whom he sought to impress resented the ambivalence of [his] status Wilfred Owen Louis XIV As Osbert found his poetic voice, his literary output flourished. He wrote several portraitures of people he knew and collected them in (1927), which caused some controversy because E. L. Masters’ collection was structured similarly. From 1941 to 1950, Osbert devoted much of his time to his autobiography. The first of five volumes, , devoted to his ancestry, was published in 1945, followed by (1946), (1948), (1949), and (1950). England Reclaimed Spoon River Anthology Left Hand, Right Hand The Scarlet Tree Great Morning Laughter in the Next Room Noble Essences The beginning of the 1950s saw a rapid decline in Osbert’s health. He suffered from intermittent tremors, constant pain, and difficulty sleeping. After various visits to doctors, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. However, Osbert continued his literary pursuits, even lecturing in America in 1956. He died on May 4, 1969, in Italy. ―Jeffrey S. Gutierrez Source . . New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. Ziegler, Philip Osbert Sitwell Selected Works by Osbert Sitwell (Chatto and Windus, 1919) Argonaut and Juggernaut (Favil Press, 1921) At the House of Mrs. Kinfoot (Grant Richards, 1923) Out of the Flame (Grant Richards, 1924) Triple Fugue (Grant Richards, 1925) Discursions on Travel, Art and Life (Duckworth, 1926) Before the Bombardment (Duckworth, 1927) England Reclaimed: A Book of Eclogues (Duckworth, 1928) The People’s Album of London Statues (Duckworth, 1929) The Man Who Lost Himself (Duckworth, 1930) Dumb Animal (Duckworth, 1931) Collected Satires and Poems (Chatto and Windus, 1932) Dickens (Duckworth, 1932) Winters of Content: More Discursions on Travel, Art and Life (Duckworth, 1933) Miracle on Sinai (Macmillan, 1935) Penny Foolish: A Book of Tirades and Panegyrics (Macmillan, 1938) Those Were the Days (Macmillan, 1939) Escape with Me! An Oriental Sketch Book (Macmillan, 1940) Two Generations (Macmillan, 1941) A Place of One’s Own (Duckworth, 1943) Selected Poems, Old and New (Home and Van Thal, 1944) A Letter to My Son (Macmillan, 1945) Left Hand, Right Hand! (Macmillan, 1946) The Scarlet Tree (Oxford University Press, 1947) The Novels of George Meredith (Macmillan, 1948) Great Morning (Macmillan, 1949) Laughter in the Next Room (Macmillan, 1949) Death of a God (Macmillan, 1950) Noble Essence (Duckworth and Macmillan, 1953) Collected Stories (Macmillan, 1954) The Four Continents (Macmillan, 1958) On the Continent (Macmillan, 1959) Fee Fi Fo Fum! (Hutchinson, 1962) Tales My Father Taught Me (Hutchinson, 1963) Pound Wise (Hutchinson, 1965) Poems about People or England Reclaimed (published posthumously, Michael Joseph, 1986) Rat Week

Back to top

Back to Top