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Osbert Sitwell

Osbert Sitwell

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Sir Francis Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell, 5th Baronet, (6 December 1892–4 May 1969) was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 writer. His elder sister was Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell
Edith Sitwell
Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell DBE was a British poet and critic.-Background:Edith Sitwell was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, the oldest child and only daughter of Sir George Sitwell, 4th Baronet, of Renishaw Hall; he was an expert on genealogy and landscaping...

 and his younger brother was Sir Sacheverell Sitwell
Sacheverell Sitwell
Sir Sacheverell Sitwell, 6th Baronet CH was an English writer, best known as an art critic and writer on architecture, particularly the baroque. He was the younger brother of Dame Edith Sitwell and Sir Osbert Sitwell....

; like them he devoted his life to art
Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect....

 and literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...


Early life

He was born on 6 December 1892 at 3 Arlington Street, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. His parents were Sir George Reresby Sitwell, fourth baronet, genealogist and antiquarian
An antiquarian or antiquary is an aficionado or student of antiquities or things of the past. More specifically, the term is used for those who study history with particular attention to ancient objects of art or science, archaeological and historic sites, or historic archives and manuscripts...

, and Lady Ida Emily Augusta (née Denison). He grew up in the family seat at Renishaw Hall
Renishaw Hall
Renishaw Hall is a stately home in Derbyshire, England which dates from the 17th century. It is a Grade I listed building. It has been the home of the Sitwell family for over 350 years....

, Derbyshire
Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire. The northern part of Derbyshire overlaps with the Pennines, a famous chain of hills and mountains. The county contains within its boundary of approx...

, and at Scarborough, and went to Ludgrove School
Ludgrove School
Ludgrove School is an independent preparatory boarding school for about 200 boys, aged from seven or eight years to thirteen. It is situated in the civil parish of Wokingham Without, adjoining the town of Wokingham in the English county of Berkshire.-History:...

, then Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....

 from 1906 to 1909. For many years his entry in Who's Who
Who's Who (UK)
Who's Who is an annual British publication of biographies which vary in length of about 30,000 living notable Britons.-History:...

contained the phrase "Educ: during the holidays from Eton." In 1911 he joined the Sherwood Rangers but, not cut out to be a cavalry officer, transferred to the Grenadier Guards
Grenadier Guards
The Grenadier Guards is an infantry regiment of the British Army. It is the most senior regiment of the Guards Division and, as such, is the most senior regiment of infantry. It is not, however, the most senior regiment of the Army, this position being attributed to the Life Guards...

 at the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 from where, in his off-duty time, he could frequent theatres, art galleries, and the like.


Late in 1914 this civilised life was exchanged for the trenches of France
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

 near Ypres
Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote...

. It was here that he wrote his first poetry, describing it as "Some instinct, and a combination of feelings not hitherto experienced united to drive me to paper". "Babel" was published in The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

on 11 May 1916. In the same year, he began literary collaborations and anthologies with his brother and sister as a literary clique generally called the Sitwells
The Sitwells
The Sitwells , from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, were three siblings, who formed an identifiable literary and artistic clique around themselves in London in the period roughly 1916 to 1930...


Writing career

In 1918 he left the Army with the rank of Captain
Captain (British Army and Royal Marines)
Captain is a junior officer rank of the British Army and Royal Marines. It ranks above Lieutenant and below Major and has a NATO ranking code of OF-2. The rank is equivalent to a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and to a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force...

 and devoted himself to poetry, art criticism and controversial journalism. Together with his brother, he sponsored a controversial exhibition of works by Matisse, Utrillo
Maurice Utrillo
Maurice Utrillo, , born Maurice Valadon, was a French painter who specialized in cityscapes. Born in the Montmartre quarter of Paris, France, Utrillo is one of the few famous painters of Montmartre who were born there....

, Picasso and Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. Primarily a figurative artist, he became known for paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form...

. The composer William Walton
William Walton
Sir William Turner Walton OM was an English composer. During a sixty-year career, he wrote music in several classical genres and styles, from film scores to opera...

 also greatly benefited from Osbert's largesse (though the two men afterwards fell out) and Walton's oratorio Belshazzar's Feast
Belshazzar's Feast (Walton)
Belshazzar's Feast is an oratorio by the English composer William Walton. It was first performed at the Leeds Festival on 8 October 1931. The work has remained one of Walton's most celebrated compositions and one of the most popular works in the English choral repertoire...

was written to Osbert's libretto. He published two books of poems: Argonaut and Juggernaut (1919) and At the House of Mrs Kinfoot (1921). In the mid-1920s he met David Horner who was his lover and companion for most of his life.


Osbert Sitwell's first work of fiction, Triple Fugue, was published in 1924, and visits to Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 produced Discursions on Travel, Art and Life (1925). His first novel, Before the Bombardment (1926), set in an out-of-season hotel, was well reviewed - Ralph Straus writing for Bystander
Bystander (magazine)
Bystander, a British weekly tabloid magazine, featured reviews, topical sketches, and short stories. Published from Fleet Street, it was established in 1903 by George Holt Thomas...

magazine called it 'a nearly flawless piece of satirical writing', and Beverley Nichols
Beverley Nichols
John Beverley Nichols , was an author, playwright, journalist, composer, and public speaker.-Career:...

 praised 'the richness of its beauty and wit' - but the following ones, The Man Who Lost Himself (1929), Miracle on Sinai (1934) and Those Were the Days (1937) were not. A collection of short stories Open the Door (1940), his fifth novel A Place of One's Own (1940), his Selected Poems (1943) and a book of essays Sing High, Sing Low (1944) were reasonably well received. His "The Four Continents" (1951)is a book of travel, reminiscence and memorable observation.

The sometimes acidic diarist James Agate
James Agate
James Evershed Agate was a British diarist and critic. In the period between the wars, he was one of Britain's most influential theatre critics...

 commented on Sitwell after a drinking session on June 3, 1932, in Ego, volume 1:

"There is something self-satisfied and having-to-do-with-the-Bourbons about him which is annoying, though there is also something of the crowned-head consciousness which is disarming".

Life after the baronetcy

When his father died in 1943, and he succeeded to the baronet
A baronet or the rare female equivalent, a baronetess , is the holder of a hereditary baronetcy awarded by the British Crown...

cy, he started an autobiography that would run to five volumes. The first volume, Left Hand, Right Hand proved to be his best work to date. The subsequent volumes were The Scarlet Tree (1946), Great Morning (1948), Laughter in the Next Room (1949) and Noble Essences: a Book of Characters (1950).

Sitwell, as his autobiography bears out, was familiar with almost everyone 'in society', and was a friend of Queen Elizabeth
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon was the queen consort of King George VI from 1936 until her husband's death in 1952, after which she was known as Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, to avoid confusion with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II...

, the wife of King George VI. At the time of the abdication of King Edward VIII
Edward VIII of the United Kingdom
Edward VIII was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, and Emperor of India, from 20 January to 11 December 1936.Before his accession to the throne, Edward was Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay...

 he wrote a poem, 'Rat Week', attacking those 'friends' of the King who deserted him when his alliance with Mrs Simpson became common knowledge in England. This was published anonymously, and caused some scandal (the manuscript is in the library of Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....

). Sitwell campaigned for the preservation of Georgian buildings
Georgian architecture
Georgian architecture is the name given in most English-speaking countries to the set of architectural styles current between 1720 and 1840. It is eponymous for the first four British monarchs of the House of Hanover—George I of Great Britain, George II of Great Britain, George III of the United...

 and was responsible for saving Sutton Scarsdale Hall
Sutton Scarsdale Hall
Sutton Scarsdale Hall is a Grade 1 listed Georgian ruined stately home in Sutton Scarsdale, just outside Chesterfield, Derbyshire.-Estate history:...

, now owned by English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

. He was an early and active member of the Georgian Group
Georgian Group
The Georgian Group is an English and Welsh conservation organisation created to campaign for the preservation of historic buildings and planned landscapes of the 18th and early 19th centuries...

. He also had an interest in the paranormal
Paranormal is a general term that designates experiences that lie outside "the range of normal experience or scientific explanation" or that indicates phenomena understood to be outside of science's current ability to explain or measure...

, for which reason he joined the Ghost Club, at the time being revamped as a dinner society dedicated to discussing paranormal occurrences and topics. His London home was in Carlyle Square, Chelsea
Chelsea, London
Chelsea is an area of West London, England, bounded to the south by the River Thames, where its frontage runs from Chelsea Bridge along the Chelsea Embankment, Cheyne Walk, Lots Road and Chelsea Harbour. Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above...

. Pound Wise, a collection of essays is copyright 1949.

He received many awards in the 1950s and in 1962 completed a postscript to his autobiographies Tales my Father Taught Me.


Sitwell suffered from Parkinson's disease
Parkinson's disease
Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system...

 for several years. He died on 4 May 1969 in Italy, at Montegufoni, a castle near Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

 which his father had bought derelict in 1909 and restored as his personal residence. The castle was left to his nephew, Reresby.

External links

  • Osbert Sitwell Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
    Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
    The Harry Ransom Center is a library and archive at the University of Texas at Austin, specializing in the collection of literary and cultural artifacts from the United States and Europe. The Ransom Center houses 36 million literary manuscripts, 1 million rare books, 5 million photographs, and more...