Today celebrates the birthday of British poet and critic Edith Sitwell. Sitwell is celebrated as one of the most important voices of twentieth-century English poetry, next to T.S. Eliot. Born in England in 1887 to indifferent parents, Sitwell spent a large part of her life with her Governess, Helen Rootham. Sitwell never married, though had various romantic attachments to notoriously unavailable men.
Sitwell’s early poetry was often viewed as “experimental” and critics had mixed reviews to her effort of change in style. Her first poem, The Drowned Suns, was published in 1913. Between the years 1916 and 1921 she edited Wheels, an annual poetic anthology in which she compiled with her two brothers. The three of them were generally known in the literary world as “The Sitwells”.
Through the 1920s and 1930s, Sitwell continued to write poetry, such as the famed Façade (1922), a series of abstract poems set to music by William Walton. The Times commented that Sitwell’s best work was written in the 1920s, including Troy Park (1925), The Sleeping Beauty (1924), and Bucolic Comedies (1923).
The outbreak of the second World War generated some of Sitwell’s most memorable works, including The Shadow of Cain and Still Falls the Rain, a poem about the London blitz and put to music by Benjamin Britten.
Sitwell may be most well known for her eccentric personality, though she always insisted that she was not eccentric, “It’s just that I am more alive than most people”. Her outspoken manner and controversial opinions led to some harsh criticism, including the satirical wrath of Noel Coward who wrote a skit about Sitwell and her brothers entitled The Swiss Family Whittlebot. After may years of ill health, Sitwell died in 1964.
Special Collections holds a collection of correspondence by Edith, her brothers Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, and authors of biographies of Edith. We also hold many of her collections of poems and novels. One such letter is from Edith to her brother Sacheverell, in which she calls him “My darling Sachie”.
If you would like view our collection of Edith Sitwell, Special Collections is located on the fifth floor of McFarlin Library. We are open by appointment only Monday through Friday 8am-4:30pm. We are open to questions at firstname.lastname@example.org