Dark straw bob, gangly frame, aquiline nose, clothed in brocade: fluid stained glass coupled with indiscreet fairy-light rings paled to opalescence. Edith Sitwell, poetess, came to prominence during the 1920's in London's literary scene, flanked by brothers Osbert and Sacheverall.
Armed with a sengerphone, (a papier mache megaphone and mouth piece covering whole lower face) concealed by a painted curtain and accompanied by William Walton's sextet, she performed Facade.
A gathering of stunned literati sat in Osbert's Carlyle Square drawing-room in London, January 1922, listening to Edith's extraordinary sensory extravaganza.
In my nutshell, Edith Sitwell's poetry captures the fresh, weathery pigment of a Turner watercolour, the soaring, diving surreality of the Cocteau Twins and the whirling cloudness of Nijinksky.
Wood End, family home of the Sitwells in the Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough, and birth place of Edith in 1887. The ancestral home in Derbyshire, Renishaw Hall, shared Edith's and her siblings upbringing and was the place that inspired one of her more famous pieces of poetry, Colonel Fantock (based on the gardener at Renishaw)part of the longer suite called Troy Park written between 1920 and 1930. It was also the place that encapsulated much of her unhappy childhood:
Dark and forgotten and a little precious, like an unopened seventeenth-century first edition in a library. The whole existence in that dark house has the curious sweet musty smell and the remoteness of such a book; the great trees outside are motionless and dark and unloving as a library lined with dusty and uncared-for meanings, and the sunrays lying upon the floor smile dimly as the chapel's smiling cherubim. Here we cease living and the house is filled with the other darker existences; we put on their lives and go clothed in them.
Edith was famously a perpetual virgin, saving her unrequited love for a homosexual artist who remained a life long friend and painter of numerous portraits, despite reservations on her own appearance. Her insecurity stemmed from childhood and her fishily cold mother, Lady Ida, married to her father Sir George who was the Conservative MP for Scarborough. Edith somewhat dryly recounts her coming of age in society when turning seventeen and her mother's desperate attempts to create the daughter she would have preferred:
But in my first evening dress of white tulle, lightly spangled and streaming with waterlillies, with my face remorselessly 'softened' by my hair being frizzed and then pulled down over my nose, I resembled a caricature of the Fairy Queen in a pantomime.
The poem The Web of Eros from 1920 neatly packages Edith's fancy for drama and mythology, fairy-tale hues and delving deep in to history:
The Web of Eros
Within your magic web of hair, lies furled
The fire and splendour of the ancient world;
The dire gold of the comet's wind-blown hair;
The songs that turned to gold the evening air
When all the stars of heaven sang for joy.
The flames that burnt the cloud-high city Troy.
The maenad fire of spring on the cold earth;
The myrrh-lit flame that gave both death and birth
To the soul Phoenix; and the star-bright shower
That came to Danae in her brazen tower.
Within your magic web of hair lies furled
The fire and splendour of the ancient world.
Edith Sitwell died in 1967 and was later revitalised by Morrissey,in the 1980's.
...we walked like shy gazelles
Among the thin flower-bells.
And life still held some promise,-never ask
from Colonel Fantock, Troy Park