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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679446508, Hardcover)Perhaps his own 1941 Who's Who entry best encapsulated Osbert Sitwell's career: "For the past 22 years has conducted, in conjunction with his brother and sister, a series of skirmishes and hand-to-hand battles against the Philistine." Although he considered himself a poet and wrote several fine short stories in addition to his brilliant autobiography (Left Hand, Right Hand!), Sitwell was best known as an artistic provocateur. In concert with his older sister Edith and younger brother Sacheverell, he delighted in shocking the bourgeoisie with such aggressively modernist works as Façade. (This no-holds-barred performance piece, in which the three siblings declaimed poetry through a megaphone, belongs less to the history of theater than to the annals of PR--but that, too, may have pleased the Sitwells as an act of Warholian prescience.)
Born into a wealthy, well-connected English family, none of the three children ever quite fit in. Philip Ziegler sums up the situation in Osbert Sitwell: "The aristocrats felt Osbert to be extravagantly artistic; to the artists he seemed suspiciously aristocratic." Ziegler astutely chronicles his subject's dicey relationships with an airhead mother and overbearing father (Sir George's "view of contemporary life was almost entirely solipsistic and rendered the more eccentric by his firm assumption that, whatever subject might be in question, it had almost certainly been done better in the Middle Ages"). He manages to separate Osbert's story from those of Edith and Sacheverell without scanting the siblings' fierce and mutual devotion. Nor does he overlook their propensity for quarrels with the gifted and famous, most notably Noël Coward. This is not, in the end, a portrait of a great man. But it will persuade many readers that its subject mattered--that "it was possible to dislike Osbert Sitwell, to mock him, even to despise him, but it was very difficult to ignore him." Thanks to Ziegler's judicious life, it should be not only difficult but impossible. --Wendy Smith
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 14 Feb 2013 13:59:06 -0500)
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