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Dame Edith Sitwell:

An Inventory of Her Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Creator: Sitwell, Edith, Dame, 1887-1964
Title: Dame Edith Sitwell Collection
Dates: 1904-1964
Dates: (bulk dates 1918-1960)
Extent: 113 document boxes, 1 oversize box, 24 galley folders, 2 flat files (47.46 linear feet)
Abstract: Manuscripts, notebooks, correspondence, page and galley proofs, photographs, address books, and financial and legal records document the life of modernist poet and author Dame Edith Sitwell. The bulk of the collection is comprised of handwritten and typed manuscripts of works, including criticism, screenplays, lectures, poetry, and prose by Edith Sitwell as well as drafts, correspondence, notes, and fragments found within 348 notebooks.
RLIN Record #: TXRC06-A5
Language: English and French .
Access:

Open for research




Acquisition:

Purchases and gift, 1964-1995 (R1364, R1786, R2003, R2039, R2040, R2050, R2722, R2853, R2874, R2991, R3217, R3372, R3470, R3507, R3544, R3625, R3632, R3647, R3676, R3732, R3871, R3933, R4026, R4146, R4242, R4314, R4498, R4786, R4815, R5331, R8232, R8328, R11324, R13384)

Processed by:

Chelsea Dinsmore, 2003; Catherine Stollar, 2005

Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center


Edith Louisa Sitwell was born in 1887 to Sir George Sitwell and his wife, Lady Ida Denison, daughter of Lord and Lady Londesborough. Edith spent most of her childhood at her parents’ home Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire. The first child and only daughter of an unhappy marriage, Edith never gained the respect and compassion that her brothers Osbert (born in 1892) and Sacheverell (born in 1897) experienced from Sir George and Lady Ida. She was educated at home and began writing poetry when she was about twenty, but the major change in her life came when she moved to London in 1914 to share a flat with Helen Rootham, her former governess.

Through her poetry, Sitwell challenged prevailing twentieth century British attitudes concerning literature and poetry. Sitwell's satiric poetry contradicted the bucolic, Georgian poetry of the day. In 1915, Sitwell published her first collection The Mother and Other Poems, although her role as editor of Wheels, an anthology of contemporary works published in 1916, gained her the most notoriety. She also used her poetic talents to oppose England's role in the first World War, and wrote politically dissident poetry at the end of World War II, specifically, "Still Falls the Rain" from Street Songs (1942), about bombing raids in London, and "Three Poems of the Atomic Age," based on the bombing of Hiroshima.

Not only was Sitwell a talented political poet, but she was a talented performer as well. Allanah Harper, founder of Echanges, described Edith Sitwell during a performance writing "she began to recite and a window opened onto an enchanted world. Each vowel and consonant flowed and she seemed to weave her poetry in the air. The world became heightened and transformed until I could see a whole landscape there behind her eyes." Sitwell's melodic voice coupled with highly syncopated lyrics lead to the success of her most famous work Façade (1922). Intended to be performed, instead of silently read, the poems of Façade focused on the sound and effect of chosen words instead of their meaning. The poems in Gold Coast Customs (1929) capitalized on rhythm just as in Façade, but they demonstrated a political seriousness absent from the previous work.

During the mid-1920s, Sitwell and her roommate Helen Rootham traveled frequently to Paris to visit Helen's sister Evelyn Weil. In Paris, Sitwell found a city filled with creativity and artistic talents, some of whom became influential friends, including Gertrude Stein. Sitwell enjoyed Gertrude's work and championed the modernist poet's 1926 Oxford and Cambridge lectures which effectively raised Gertrude's literary profile in Britain. It was in Gertrude's salon that Sitwell met the surrealist painter Pavel Tchelitchew, with whom she would enter perhaps her most important, yet often unfulfilling, relationship.

To Pavel Tchelitchew, a Russian émigré and artist, she was both a patron and muse. Unfortunately for Sitwell, Pavel's interest in her was purely intellectual, and possibly financial. The charming, passionate, and sometimes moody Pavel directed his amorous attention to the young American pianist, Allen Tanner, and eventually to Charles Henri Ford. Despite her difficulties with Pavel and her roommate Helen Rootham, whose ill-health and demanding nature caused much of Sitwell’s anxiety, Sitwell managed to compile The English Eccentrics (1933) and the controversial Aspects of Modern Poetry (1934).

Sitwell's relationships with other literary figures were much less hostile than her relationship with Pavel. She became patron to other authors, including Dylan Thomas, was close friends with poets H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Bryher, and became the goddaughter of Evelyn Waugh and Roy Campbell after her conversion to Catholicism in 1955.

In the 1930s Sitwell shifted her literary efforts from poetry toward prose after the success of her well-received historical biography Alexander Pope (1930). Sitwell’s other historical biographies, Victoria of England (1936), Fanfare for Elizabeth (1946), and its sequel The Queens and the Hive (1962), are some of her best known works of prose. I Live under a Black Sun (1937), her only published novel, came out the year her mother died.

During the early 1950s, Edith Sitwell received numerous honors. Four honorary doctorates from Leeds, Durham, Oxford, and Sheffield universities were bestowed upon her. In 1954, she was made Dame Commander of the British Empire in the Queen's birthday honors list.

Failing health and troubles with Osbert's lover David Horner forced Sitwell to move away from her childhood home in Renishaw and spend the final years of her life in a small flat and, later, a Queen Anne style cottage she called "Bryher House" in Hempstead. During her later years, with the help of her personal assistant Elizabeth Salter, Edith published her final volume of poetry The Outcasts (1962) and the sequel to Fanfare for Elizabeth, The Queens and the Hive (1962). Sitwell died in 1964 and her autobiography Taken Care Of was published posthumously in 1965.


Bradford, Sarah, et al. The Sitwells and the Arts of the 1920s and 1930s. 2nd ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

Martin, Robert K. "Edith Sitwell." Dictionary of Literary Biography Online, http://galenetgroup.com (accessed 3 October, 2005).

Pearson, John. The Sitwells: A Family’s Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.


Manuscripts, notebooks, correspondence, page and galley proofs, photographs, address books, and financial and legal records document the life of modernist poet and author Dame Edith Sitwell. The collection is organized into four series: I. Works, 1922-1962, undated (89 boxes), II. Correspondence, 1919-1964, undated (13.5 boxes), III. Personal Papers, 1936-1960, undated (4.5 boxes) and IV. Third-Party Works and Correspondence, 1904-1964, undated (5 boxes). Portions of this collection were previously accessible through a card catalog, but have been re-cataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project to include new accessions. The majority of the collection is written in English, although some poems and correspondence written to Edith Sitwell are in French.

Series I. Works comprises the bulk of the collection and contains handwritten and typed manuscripts of works, including criticism, screenplays, lectures, poetry, and prose by Edith Sitwell as well as drafts, correspondence, notes, and fragments found within 348 notebooks. Sitwell tended to write most often while lying in bed and used large bound notebooks filled with lined paper to record her ideas. Due to Edith's habit of keeping notebooks scattered throughout her living quarters, the notebooks are non-linear, so one notebook will contain multiple works and multiple notebooks will contain fragments of the same work. Identified titles represented in the notebooks are indexed in the Index of Works included at the end of this finding aid. Not all material in the notebooks, however, has been identified. Most of Sitwell’s works are represented in the collection. Materials relating to The Atlantic Book of British and American Poetry, A Book of Flowers, Fanfare for Elizabeth and its sequel The Queens and the Hive, and A Notebook on William Shakespeare are the most abundant within the collection.

The second series, Correspondence, is composed of alphabetically arranged correspondence. Originally, outgoing and incoming letters were arranged separately when cataloged in the card catalog. Outgoing letters are now interfiled with her incoming correspondence, and arranged alphabetically by Sitwell's sender or recipient. Notable correspondents include: Sir Cecil Beaton, Stella Bowen, Jean Cocteau, T. S. Eliot, Queen Elizabeth II, Ian Fleming, Charles Henri Ford, E. M. Forster, Graham Greene, Alec Guinness, Allanah Harper, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), John Hayward, David Horner, Aldous Huxley, Lincoln Kirstein, John Lehmann, Vivien Leigh, Jack Lindsay, Carson McCullers, Harry Ransom, Ezra Pound, James Pope-Hennessy, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Salter, Sir George Reresby Sitwell, Georgia Sitwell, Lady Ida Sitwell, Osbert Sitwell, Sacheverell Sitwell, Stephen Spender, Michael Stapleton, Gertrude Stein, Quentin Stevenson, Pavel Tchelitchew, Dylan Thomas, José García Villa, Evelyn Waugh, Tennessee Williams, and W. B. Yeats. One noteworthy letter includes an absurd form sent to Eric Stewart-Taattersal intended to dissuade irrational fans from submitting manuscripts to Edith Sitwell. An Index of Correspondents is available at the end of this finding aid.

Photographs of several subjects are present in the correspondence: Edith Sitwell (94.1), Ella Carberry’s brother (92.3), Denton Welch by Gerald Mackenzie Leet (96.7), Lawrence Pohle (98.8), and the Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney family (102.6).

Series III. Personal Papers contains material relating to Edith Sitwell's private life. Included are address books, financial statements, legal and tax documents, insurance papers, hotel bills, and quotations recorded by Sitwell from other authors. Previously, items were arranged alphabetically by the institution creating the item, but are now arranged by type or functional group (e.g., jewelry papers, legal documents) or sometimes by the author (e.g., Lawrence & Co. (Furriers) Ltd., Macmillian & Co.).

Series IV. Third-Party Works and Correspondence is comprised of materials created by other authors. Works and correspondence are integrated and arranged alphabetically by author within the series. Third-party correspondence is noted within the Index of Correspondents and a separate Index of Works by third-party authors is also present in this finding aid. Notable authors represented include Osbert Sitwell and Stephen Spender. In addition, proofs of Sacheverell Sitwell’s Poltergeist, Algernon Charles Swinburne’s Atalanta in Calydon, Denton Welch’s Voice through a Cloud, and Sandy Wilson’s This is Sylvia: Her Lives and Loves and two of William Walton's musical scores for Façade are included in this series.

The collection was amassed by the Harry Ransom Center through numerous purchases and a few gifts from 1964-1995. Material pertaining to the Sitwells created by Richard Fifoot has been removed and cataloged as the Richard Fifoot Collection of Edith Sitwell Papers.


Additional material relating to Edith Sitwell can be found at the Harry Ransom Center in the Literary Files of the Photography Collection and the Vertical File Collection. Other manuscript collections at the Harry Ransom Center relating to Edith Sitwell include those of:

  • Adams, James Donald
  • Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
  • Armstrong, Terence Ian Fytton
  • Barker, George
  • Blunden, E. C.
  • Brooke, Jocelyn
  • Campbell, Roy
  • Church, Richard
  • Cranston, Maurice
  • Cunard, Nancy
  • David Higham & Associates
  • Day-Lewis, Cecil
  • De La Mare, Walter
  • Dick, Kay
  • Dickinson, Patric
  • Evans, Dame Edith
  • Ford, Charles Henri
  • Gardiner, Wrey
  • George, Daniel
  • Gerson, Mark
  • Granville-Barker, Harley Granville
  • Grigson, Geoffrey
  • Harper, Allanah
  • Howarth, Robert Guy
  • Hutchinson & Company
  • Hutchinson, Mary
  • Lehmann, John
  • London Magazine
  • Lowndes, M. A. B.
  • Mackenzie, Compton
  • MacNamara, Brinsley
  • Marriott, Raymond
  • McCullers, Carson
  • Nimbus
  • Owen, Peter
  • Palmer, Herbert Edward
  • Parker, Derek
  • PEN
  • Priestly, J. B.
  • Pudney, John
  • Roberts, Lynette
  • Russell, Leonard
  • Sassoon, Siegfried
  • Scott, Paul
  • Scott-James, Rolfe Arnold
  • Sitwell, Georgia Doble
  • Sitwell, Osbert
  • Sitwell, Sacheverell
  • Strong, Leonard Alfred George
  • Tchelitchew, Pavel
  • Thomas, Dylan
  • Treece, Henry
  • Tyler, Parker
  • Walpole, Hugh, Sir
  • Waugh, Alec
  • Waugh, Evelyn
  • Welch, Denton
  • Williams, Tennessee
  • Wolfit, Donald

Several depictions of Edith Sitwell are included in the Ransom Center Art Collection, including works by Zdzislaw Czermanski, Nina Hamnett, Mervyn Levy, Evans Powys, Albert Daniel Ruthersford, Pavel Tchelitchew, Dylan Thomas, and Feliks Topoliski.


People

Beaton, Cecil Walter Hardy, Sir, 1904- .

Cocteau, Jean, 1889-1963.

Eliot, T. S. (Thomas Stearns,) 1888-1965.

Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain, 1926- .

Fleming, Ian, 1908-1964.

Ford, Charles Henri.

Forster, E. M. (Edward Morgan), 1879-1970.

McCullers, Carson, 1917-1967.

Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972.

Stein, Gertrude, 1874-1946.

Tchelitchew, Pavel, 1898-1957.

Thomas, Dylan, 1914-1953.

Waugh, Evelyn, 1903-1966.

Subjects

English poetry--20th century--History and criticism.

Poets--English.

Document Types

Photographs.

Galley proofs.