At the Vanity Fair Photography exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art, I happened upon a photograph of three of the most regal noses I had ever seen. Arranged in bizarre clockwork profile, the Sitwell siblings and their noses intrigued me further when their white plaque told me they were the center of a literary society in the period 1916-1930 in London.
I instantly had visions of JD Salinger’s famed Glass family, and thought perhaps the Sitwells were their non-fiction predecessors. True to my instincts, the Sitwell siblings were also the talented children of eccentric parents. Of the aristocracy, but plagued with financial woes, the Sitwell siblings estranged themselves from their parents early on. Edith, the eldest, began writing poetry at a young age, and some time later her brothers Osbert and Sacheverell joined her. Their literary gatherings were known to be wild, favoring the avant garde and triumphing modernist poetics. Some say the Sitwells’ circle rivaled and ridiculed the Bloomsbury poets.
The three siblings were all talented poets, critics and characters, but Edith Sitwell strikes me as most interesting. Perhaps it is because she is the (most) controversial one. She is quoted as saying “I am an unpopular electric eel in a pool of catfish.” She was a rebel in an age of severity, eccentric and outspoken, quote “I have often wished I had time to cultivate modesty... But I am too busy thinking about myself.” And of course, she had an interesting sense of style; her extensive collection of strange jewelry is held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell remain interesting for their bold but inspired clash with conventional society, their simultaneous unification within and against their family, and the talent and creativity that was cultivated in an unlikely environment; like a flame in the snow.
Painting of Edith Sitwell by Stanley Lench.
- Carly Pifer
- Born and raised under the Los Angeles sun and smog. At sixteen spent some time in LA County Juvenile Detention Center, although never really learned her lesson. Moved to Boston for the classic college experience. Spray painted graffiti in the Paris Metro during six month stay in the Marais. Survived an ultra fabulous and frightening internship at Vogue Magazine while living at a nunnery in Hell's Kitchen. Lived a year in Seoul, a city which can only be compared to a Disneyland theme park. Written four hundred sixty-four words of an undisclosed masterpiece novel. Currently pondering her next adventure and also the meaning of her memoirs from an artist's loft in dirty Brooklyn.