Picks and Pans Review: Edith Sitwell

updated 07/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Victoria Glendinning

Her mother was a pretty bubblehead. Her father was titled, but a reclusive neurotic. Edith Sitwell taught herself to read and was adored by her younger brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell, but her childhood in Derbyshire, England was a horror which marked both her poetry and her whole angry life. She grew to be six feet tall, a homely woman with a long nose, tiny, deepset eyes and a receding chin. Yet she turned herself into an exotic object with huge jewelry, voluminous gowns and turbans to cover her thin hair. The author says Cecil Beaton's photos of Sitwell helped to establish his reputation. She was flatteringly painted by John Singer Sargent, but later artists were merciless. Tchelitchew, for whom Sitwell suffered unrequited love, cruelly painted her with stringy hair and a ghastly pallor. Glendinning, author of an admirable biography of Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen, has a much more vivid subject in Sitwell. She makes the most of it. (Knopf, $17.95)

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