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Patrician Poverty

Rosemary Hill: Sybille Bedford

18 August 2005
Quicksands: A Memoir 
by Sybille Bedford.
Hamish Hamilton, 370 pp., £20, June 2005, 0 241 14037 4
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... Beginning in the middle, as she announces at once she intends to do, SybilleBedford starts her memoir in 1953, the middle, more or less, of her long life and of ‘our frightful century’ whose history is as much her subject as her own peculiar story. Her opening scene is a summer ...


Mary-Kay Wilmers

27 July 1989
Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education 
by Sybille Bedford.
Hamish Hamilton, 328 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 241 12572 3
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... It’s a characteristic of all SybilleBedford’s fiction to tell the reader less than he wants to know. Ivy Compton-Burnett was a friend of hers and perhaps gave her lessons in leaving things out. She calls Jigsaw, which has to do with her own ...
24 January 1985
The Official Foodie Handbook 
by Ann Barr and Paul Levy.
Ebury, 144 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 85223 348 5
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An Omelette and a Glass of Wine 
by Elizabeth David.
Hale, 318 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 7090 2047 3
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Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook 
by Alice Waters, foreword by Jane Grigson .
Chatto, 340 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 7011 2820 8
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... world is contained within that sentence, which could be the first line of a certain kind of novel and sums up an entire way of life. It is no surprise to discover that Mrs David admires the novels of SybilleBedford, nor that she was a friend of Norman Douglas. It is a little surprising that she has never turned her acclaimed prose style to fiction, but has always restricted herself to culinary matters ...

I Could Sleep with All of Them

Colm Tóibín: The Mann Family

6 November 2008
In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story 
by Andrea Weiss.
Chicago, 302 pp., £14.50, May 2008, 978 0 226 88672 5
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... the magisterial Doctor Faustus. In September 1936, Erika and Klaus moved from Europe to the United States, where Erika began an affair with a German doctor who was staying at her hotel. According to SybilleBedford, she ‘went off women, she really became interested in men, she went off with people’s husbands even.’ Klaus had an affair with an American dancer. The Peppermill was to be performed in ...

Her Body or the Sea

Ian Patterson: Ann Quin

21 June 2018
The Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments 
by Ann Quin.
And Other Stories, 192 pp., £10, January 2018, 978 1 911508 14 4
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... All afternoon surrounded, exchanging newspapers. I came across the following …’ and follows it with two pages of almost verbatim quotation from a 1966 article about the Auschwitz trials by SybilleBedford. The character makes no comment on the extract, but the pattern of emotional disengagement Bedford reports has clear resonances within the novel, which is built round the need for the young ...

You better not tell me you forgot

Terry Castle: How to Spot Members of the Tribe

27 September 2012
All We Know: Three Lives 
by Lisa Cohen.
Farrar Straus, 429 pp., £22.50, July 2012, 978 0 374 17649 5
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... Murphy and de Acosta attended the same posh New York girls’ day school; Garland and de Acosta may have had an affair.) They shared friends and lovers, or at least lovers-in-law, on occasion. (SybilleBedford floats around in this book like a benign sapphic putto.) And though residing in different places at different times, all of them moved for more than half a century in the same impossibly ...

British Worthies

David Cannadine

3 December 1981
The Directory of National Biography, 1961-1970 
edited by E.T. Williams and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 1178 pp., £40, October 1981, 0 19 865207 0
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... on Alexander, A.J.P. Taylor on Beaverbrook, Martin Gilbert on Churchill, Jonathan Dimbleby on his father, John Pearson on Ian Fleming, P.N. Furbank on E.M. Forster, Philip Williams on Gaitskell, SybilleBedford on Aldous Huxley, Michael Holroyd on Augustus John, J.E. Morpurgo on Allen Lane, Ronald Lewin on Slim and Christopher Sykes on Evelyn Waugh. On the other hand, we do get José Harris on ...

Whose Candyfloss?

Christopher Hilliard: Richard Hoggart

16 April 2014
Richard Hoggart: Virtue and Reward 
by Fred Inglis.
Polity, 259 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 0 7456 5171 2
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... Lawrence’s attitude to sexuality as ‘puritanical’, and that he made a mis-step when he told Hoggart off for ‘lecturing’ the court: ‘You are not at Leicester University at the moment.’ SybilleBedford, sitting in the gallery, felt that Griffith-Jones stressed the word ‘Leicester’. Hoggart too recalled a slight pause before Griffith-Jones named the university, ‘as if he had to recover ...

Hug me till you drug me

Alex Harvey: Aldous Huxley

4 May 2016
After Many a Summer 
by Aldous Huxley.
Vintage, 314 pp., £8.99, September 2015, 978 1 78487 035 5
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Time Must Have a Stop 
by Aldous Huxley.
Vintage, 305 pp., £9.99, September 2015, 978 1 78487 034 8
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The Genius and the Goddess 
by Aldous Huxley.
Vintage, 127 pp., £8.99, September 2015, 978 1 78487 036 2
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... those innocent young kittens, those beautifully brutal boys, those luscious adventuresses. Hence Hollywood.’ Throughout his fiction there’s a puritan unease about the emasculating effect of sex. SybilleBedford, Huxley’s first biographer, notes his distaste for promiscuity, ‘which spends itself purposely, without producing love or even, in the long run, amusement’. After Many a Summer, Time ...

Was Ma Hump to blame?

John Sutherland: Aldous Huxley

11 July 2002
Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual 
by Nicholas Murray.
Little, Brown, 496 pp., £20, April 2002, 0 316 85492 1
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TheCat's Meow 
directed by Peter Bogdanovich.
April 2002
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... Twentieth-century Huxleys have received less biography than one might have expected. Nicholas Murray usefully fills a gap between SybilleBedford’s thirty-year-old life of Aldous and the awaited definitive biography by David Bradshaw. With the passing of time, Murray can tell us things prohibited to his predecessor by discretion and the ...

Terror on the Vineyard

Terry Castle: Boss Ladies, Watch Out!

15 April 1999
A Likely Story: One Summer with Lillian Hellman 
by Rosemary Mahoney.
Doubleday, 273 pp., $23.95, November 1998, 9780385479318
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... about Brodie’s Fascist sympathies. Similar acts of girlish ressentiment roil the works of Katherine Mansfield, Sylvia Plath, Daphne Du Maurier, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Jolley, SybilleBedford and many others. Female autobiographers have been similarly forthright about such hatreds – if less so about the pleasures of posthumous retribution. When a famous and idealised older woman ...
1 July 1982
Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World 
by Elizabeth Young-Bruehl.
Yale, 563 pp., £12.95, May 1982, 0 300 02660 9
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Hannah Arendt and the Search for a New Political Philosophy 
by Bhikhu Parekh.
Macmillan, 198 pp., £20, October 1981, 0 333 30474 8
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... piece of transferred autobiography, in the manner of Deutscher’s Trotsky, though less inaccurate. It is also an extremely difficult read. It was felicitously summed up in an English newspaper by SybilleBedford as ‘relentlessly abstract, slow, cluttered, static, curiously oppressive; reading it feels like sitting in a hot-house without a watch.’ Marriage to Günther Stern, with whom she had ...

No Intention of Retreating

Lorna Scott Fox: Martha Gellhorn’s Wars

2 September 2004
Martha Gellhorn: A Life 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Vintage, 550 pp., £8.99, June 2004, 0 09 928401 4
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... to wifehood nor to the workplace. While taking such an artistic risk, she reflected constantly on the experience and practice of writing, in private notebooks and letters to colleague-confidants like SybilleBedford. Some notebooks, undated, contain particularly distressing passages: Week after week of dead pages . . . I have no discipline in work hours, no order in my mind, no theories of literature ...

Siding with Rushdie

Christopher Hitchens

26 October 1989
The Rushdie File 
edited by Lisa Appignanesi and Sara Maitland.
Fourth Estate/ICA, 268 pp., £5.95, July 1989, 0 947795 84 7
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CounterBlasts No 4: Sacred Cows 
by Fay Weldon.
Chatto, 43 pp., £2.99, July 1989, 0 7011 3556 5
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Salman Rushdie and the Third World: Myths of the Nation 
by Timothy Brennan.
Macmillan, 203 pp., £29.50, September 1989, 0 333 49020 7
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... you can’t beat people who really believe in the traditional prescriptive stuff. Berger’s bleat drew a warm seconding letter from the reliably reactionary Elizabeth Jane Howard and her friend SybilleBedford. If Berger had slyly blamed all the mayhem onto ‘the Rushdie affair’, these two went him one better in the business of culpability. The violence was not the result of some artfully ...

Take a bullet for the team

David Runciman: The Profumo Affair

21 February 2013
An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo 
by Richard Davenport-Hines.
Harper, 400 pp., £20, January 2013, 978 0 00 743584 5
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... Profumo was one of the robotic playboys of the age, to set alongside the buttoned-up modernisers. In this, he and Christine Keeler were well suited. ‘She is a very, very pretty girl,’ SybilleBedford wrote about her after the scandal broke. ‘All the curves and lines are as good as they can be, the head has charm and grace, and there is a faint oriental touch about the face: the pure smoothness ...

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