Sitwell, Edith (1887–1964) By Barber, Claire
Dame Edith Sitwell was an experimental poet known for her eccentric behavior and aesthetics. A skillfully controlled reading voice, along with dramatic clothes and jewelry, led to her widespread recognition as an exceptional performer. Though she has received little attention within modernist studies, she significantly influenced the development of twentieth-century art with literary productions like Façade (1922) and her patronage of other artists, including Dylan Thomas. Her brothers Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell were two of her closest companions and collaborators. With them, she endeavored to build an avant-garde artistic society rivaling the Bloomsbury Group.
Born into the British aristocracy, Sitwell had a strained relationship with her parents, Sir George and Lady Ida Sitwell, daughter of the Earl of Londesborough. A tall girl with an aquiline nose and hooded eyes, Sitwell did not conform to their idea of beauty, so her parents forced her to wear metal appliances to correct her spine and nose—an experience described in her autobiography, Taken Care Of (1965). Lady Sitwell’s trial for fraud exacerbated this dysfunctional family dynamic during the same year in which Edith published her first literary work, The Mother and Other Poems (1915). However, she had already moved to London in 1914 with former governess Helen Rootham, where she established a literary salon in austere rooms at Pembridge Mansions.