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University of Texas at Austin

Sybille Bedford:

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

Creator: Bedford, Sybille, 1911-2006
Title: Sybille Bedford Papers
Dates: 1914-2001 (bulk 1940s-1980s)
Extent: 52 boxes, 2 oversize boxes, 1 galley folder (21.84 linear feet)
Abstract: Correspondence, typescript drafts, handwritten notes, photographs, clippings, drawings, address books, date books, calendars, and diaries document the life and work of Sybille Bedford from the early 1940s through the beginning of the twenty-first century.
RLIN Record ID: TXRC03-A5
Language: English, German
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchases 1993 (R12954), 1996 (R13542), 2001 (R14933)
Processed by: Lisa Jones, Stephen Mielke, 2000-2003

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

Biographical Sketch

Sybille Bedford was born in 1911 at Charlottenburg, Germany, to Maximilian von Schoenebeck and Elizabeth Bernard. Her parents divorced in 1918 and her mother moved to Italy, but Bedford remained with her father in the southern German village of Feldkirch, where she had been raised since infancy. When her father died suddenly in 1920, Bedford went to Italy to live with her mother, who soon remarried and sent Bedford to live with acquaintances in London.
To escape Mussolini’s Fascism, Bedford’s mother and stepfather relocated from Italy to the South of France in the mid 1920s. Moving often as a child between Italy, England, and France, Bedford received little formal education, but could read and write in several languages and experienced a wide exposure to art and “haute culture” during her travels. As a teenager, Bedford spent increasing time with her mother and socialized with the growing community of artists in Sanary-sur-Mer on the French Mediterranean coast. It was there in 1930 that she first met and befriended Aldous Huxley, whom she had idolized since first reading him in 1925.
After Hitler’s rise in the early 1930s, numerous German writers and artists moved to the Sanary area. Bedford came to know many of them, including Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Julius Meier-Graefe. Following their examples, and under Aldous Huxley’s influence, she began to seriously pursue literary ambitions. Her early, unpublished fiction focused on the upper class German and French social life of pre- and post-World War I that she had experienced growing up. She wrote throughout the 1930s, without commercial success, and continued to travel Europe. In 1935, she married Walter Bedford, an English army officer, but the marriage was short lived and they soon divorced.
In 1940, Bedford fled the German occupation of France and settled with the Huxleys in California. She worked as secretary, translator, and itinerant journalist, and completed three novels by the late 1940s, none of which were published. Her first literary success did not occur until the publication of her non-fiction work The Sudden View: A Mexican Journey (1953), recounting a trip made to Mexico in the mid 1940s.
Three years after the release of her critically acclaimed Sudden View, Bedford published the first of four semi-biographical novels, A Legacy (1956). Based on the social and family life of her youth, it was praised for its sophistication, wit, dialogue, and attention to detail. It also provided a seldom seen social historical view of early twentieth century Europe. Bedford continued to examine the themes of her youth in her later works A Favourite of the Gods (1963), A Compass Error (1968), and Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education (1989), which was nominated for the Booker Prize.
In 1958, Bedford published The Best We Can Do: An Account of the Trial of John Bodkin Adams. Although she had no formal training in law, she had attended trials as leisure entertainment as a child and developed a keen interest in law. Her book on Dr. Adams established Bedford as an outstanding legal reporter and was followed by other books and articles on the English and European judiciary. Her talent for legal journalism also brought work covering famous trials for major magazines, such as the 1964 Jack Ruby trial for Life magazine, and the 1966 trial of Auschwitz guards in Germany for Esquire.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Bedford also wrote reviews and articles on her three passions: food, wine, and travel. Once again, relying on her experience and knowledge of European high society, Bedford provided insight and critique for major magazines and newspapers. Several of these pieces were later brought together, along with some of her accounts of legal trials, in As it Was: Pleasures, Landscapes, and Justice (1990) and in Pleasures and Landscapes: A Traveller's Tales from Europe (2003).
In the late 1960s Bedford began work on what became her most renowned work, the two volume Aldous Huxley: A Biography (1973 & 1974). Bedford drew on her close friendship with Huxley and his first wife, Maria Nys, to create an exhaustive account of Huxley’s life. Although receiving some criticism that she was too close a friend to be objective, the work was generally hailed as a thorough and detailed biography and the first real look at Huxley beyond the context of his writing.
Over the years, Bedford established many close relationships with her contemporaries in literature. Besides Huxley, she could count Martha Gellhorn, Rebecca West, Evelyn Gendel, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and Allanah Harper among her close friends. She served as Vice President of English PEN, was appointed a Companion of Literature of the Royal Society of Literature in 1994, and in 1981 was invested as an officer of the Order of the British Empire. Her last work, Quicksands: A Memoir (2005), was published shortly before her death in London on February 17, 2006.


Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Volume 47. Pamela S. Dear, Ed. (Detroit, Gale Research Company, 1995).
Current Biography. Charles Moritz, Ed. (New York, H.W. Wilson Company, 1990).
Guppy, Shusha. "Sybille Bedford: An Interview,"  The Paris Review, Volume 126 (Flushing, NY, The Paris Review, 1993).
Kimball, Roger. "Without Rancor: Sybille Bedford’s achievement,"  The New Criterion, Volume 12, Number 8 (New York, The Foundation for Cultural Review, 1994).

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, typescript drafts, handwritten notes, photographs, clippings, drawings, address books, date books, calendars, and diaries document the life and work of Sybille Bedford from the early 1940s through the beginning of the twenty-first century. The papers are organized in three series: I. Works, 1941-2001, nd (18 boxes); II. Correspondence, 1914-2001, nd (26 boxes); and III. Subject Files, 1919-1999, nd (8 boxes).

Series Descriptions

Index Terms


Beauchamp, Barbara.
Bessie, Connie.
Blume, Mary.
Child, Julia.
Codman, Florence.
Compton-Burnett, I. (Ivy), 1884-1969.
Constable, Rosalind.
David, Elizabeth, 1913-1992.
Enders, David.
Frow, Ruth.
Fisher, M. F. K. (Mary Frances Kennedy), 1908-1992
FitzGibbon, Constantine, 1919- .
Flanner, Janet, 1892-1978.
Gellhorn, Martha, 1908-1998.
Gendel, Evelyn.
Glendinning, Victoria.
Gottlieb, Robert, 1931- .
Greene, Elaine.
Greene, Graham, 1904-1991.
Harper, Allanah, 1904- .
Herrman, Eva.
Hertzberg, Robert M.
Hoare, Penelope.
Hovde, Ellen.
Howard, Elizabeth Jane.
Hughes, Jenny.
Huxley, Aldous, 1894-1963.
Huxley, Judith.
Isherwood, Christopher, 1904-1986.
Johnson, Virginia.
Lawrence, Anne.
Lehmann, Rosamond, 1901-1990.
Lord, Eda.
Lyons, Islay, 1922- .
Matthews, Tom S.
Mimerel, Jacqueline.
Mimerel, Pierre.
Mitford, Nancy, 1904-1973.
Morrison, Sybil.
Muir, Toni.
Murphy, Noel.
Neveux, Jeanne.
Ollard, Richard Lawrence.
Olney, Richard.
Osmond, Humphrey.
Parsons, Ian.
Pullein-Thompson, Josephine.
Reeve, Laura.
Sarton, May, 1912- .
Scott, Nicholas.
Seymour, Faith C.
Shine, Diane.
Smallwood, Norah.
Snow, C. P. (Charles Percy), 1905- .
Solano, Solita.
Spender, Stephen, 1909-1995.
Spurling, Hilary.
Stern, James.
Warnke, Janice.
Welford, Dorothy.
West, Rebecca, 1892-1983.
Wolff, Charlotte, 1897- .
Wolff, Charlotte, 1897- .
Woodcock, Patrick,1968- .


English Centre of International PEN.


Adams, John Bodkin -- Trials, litigation, etc.
Huxley, Aldous,1894-1963 -- Biography.
Ruby, Jack -- Trials, litigation, etc.
Ward, Stephen Thomas -- Trials, litigation, etc.
Auschwitz Trial, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1963-1965.
Dinners and dining.
Journalism, Legal -- England.
Journalism, Legal -- England.
Wine tasting.


Mexico -- Description and travel.

Document Types

Address books.
Appointment books.
Love letters.

Folder List