Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"A Change of Owners" by Sacheverell Sitwell

Psychologically complex and deeply moving, this story of obsessive maternal love and the desire to escape such smothering may come as a surprise to those who thought they knew what the Sitwells were all about (such as us). Here we have a portrait of suburban English life from the early twentieth century that takes quite a turn from the light, drawing-room fare the narrative is first disguised as, before the mask is dropped. Read by Scoot.

Those marvelous literary beasts, the Sitwells, first terrorized the salons of greater London in the 1920s and flourished all the way to 1988, when the youngest and tamest of the menagerie, Sacheverell, finally succumbed to the ignobility of old age and death. While he is probably the least-known and least-read of the Triplets of Renishaw (the family estate), we find him to be a better prose-writer than his phantasmagoric sister, Edith. (She was the better poet. Osbert was somewhat the bore, wasn't he?) "Sachy" invented a new varient of an old form, the literary essay, instilling it with such poetry and erudition many of his descriptions of all kinds of subjects, both ancient and arcane, might cause one to feel a bit lightheaded. He was an expert in architecture, painting, dance, music, fashion, literature, gardening, travel, history... his knowledge seemed to know no bounds. We suggest you find one of his long out-of-print books under a mouldering pile of Horizons somewhere and get lost in Sacheverell Sitwell's illustrations of the bullfights in Seville or the gothic cathedrals of Saxony or the battles on the steppes during the last world war or Beau Brummel's influence on the Regency or South Seas conch-collectors or...

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