SIR OSBERT SITWELL, British author born (d. 1969); English writer. His elder sister was Dame Edith Sitwell and his younger brother was Sir Sacheverell; like them he devoted his life to art and literature. The Sitwells – Edith, Sacherverell and Osbert – represented everything that was oh-so-modern to English dandies of the 1920s. Their essays, particularly those by Osbert, are rich in discussions of archaeology, architecture, music, painting and the reverie evoked by names and places. Their charm, culture, and urbanity are recorded in Osbert’s multi-volume reminiscences of their patrician family and estate. Downton Abbey come to life.


Photographs of the Sitwells – particularly of Edith in her bizarre hats, all chosen for effect – are likely to put off the uninitiated from reading them. Drama critic James Agate’s affectionate remark should be taken under advisement: “The Sitwells are artists pretending to be asses.” Noel Coward’s 1923 satire on the Sitwells – in which the sister of the “Swiss Family Whittlebot” intones, “Life is essentially a curve and Art is an oblong within that curve. My brothers and I have been brought up on Rhythm as other children are brought up on Glaxo – resulted in a feud that lasted throughout the lifetimes of the four. Osbert’s great love affair with David Horner (“his great love”) is documented in John Pearson’s joint biography, The Sitwells....

Enclosures

  1. ^ (whitecraneinstitute.org)

Read more

CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, English poet and sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, born (d: 1894); religious and “delicate” (a favorite Victorian word) the shy Christina in her simple Quaker-like dress stands in relief against the rich and intricately patterned Pre-Raphaelite tapestry that was her brother’s background. Her Monna Innominata is one of the great sonnet sequences in English. Much of Christina Rossetti’s poetry has been seen by critics from Willa Cather to Jeannette Foster as “variant,” one poem in particular, “Goblin Market,” is a classic of (unconscious?) Lesbian writing. The poem is convincingly interpreted in Foster’s Sex Variant Women in Literature, and an excerpt here is sufficient for the flavor of her work. Two sisters are tempted by hideously ugly and deformed male goblins to eat some luscious fruit that they know to be “forbidden.” One sister yields to temptation and eats the fruit, all of which is carefully selected to suggest the vagina (cherries, figs). The sister who eats goes wild, “She sucked their fruit globes, fair or red…sucked and sucked and sucked…until her tongue was sore…” It’s quite a poem....

Enclosures

  1. ^ (whitecraneinstitute.org)

Read more

MADAME RÉCAMIER, French socialite born (d. 1849); a Frenchwoman who was a leader of the literary and political circles of the early  and considered to be the most beautiful woman of her time. Born in Lyon and known as Juliette, she was married at fifteen to Jacques Récamier (d. 1830), a rich banker more than 30 years her senior. At the time, it was said that he was in fact her natural father who married her to make her his heir.


Beautiful, accomplished, with a real love for literature, she possessed at the same time a temperament which protected her from scandal, and from the early days of the French Consulate to almost the end of the July Monarchy her salon in Paris was one of the chief resorts of literary and political society that pretended to fashion. The habitués of her house included many former royalists, with others, such as Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte and Jean Victor Marie Moreau, more or less disaffected to the government. This circumstance, together with her refusal to act as lady-in-waiting to Empress consort Josephine de Beauharnais and her “friendship” for Anne Louise Germaine de Stael, brought her under suspicion.


When a history says someone’s sex life is “unconventional” it can sometimes mean little more than the subject enjoyed something other than the standard missionary position with his clothes on and the lights off. When a woman’s sex life is even mentioned, no less described as “unconventional” then you better sit up and take notice. Madame de Stael was such a woman.


In 1798, separated from her own husband and living with yet another male lover, she met up with Madame Recamier. De Staël was 31, Juliette was ten years younger. “She fixed her great eyes upon me,” wrote Juliette, “and paid me compliments about my figure which might have seemed exaggerated and too direct had they not seemed to have escaped from her. From that time on, I thought only of Mme. de Staël.” They lived together for the next nineteen years until de Stael died. Her final words to Recamier, to whom she had once written, “I love you with a love that surpasses that of friendship,” were “I embrace you with all that is left of me.”...

Enclosures

  1. ^ (whitecraneinstitute.org)

Read more

BARON FREDERICK LEIGHTON, English sculptor and painter, born (d: 1896); Leighton’s painting, long in disfavor, but coming back in style as more and more people learn to appreciate the Victorian Renaissance Revival, was enormously popular in his lifetime. Since Leighton’s sympathies were with the Italian Renaissance tradition, his paintings – with their often mythological subject, monumental compositions, and figures clad in classical drapery – are among the last examples of the grand traditional manner in European art.


Leighton’s paintings appealed to a large and influential segment of the Victorian public, which craved an art of “high seriousness.” Because he played by the established rules of the game, Leighton, whose sexuality was widely known, pursued his career and his pleasure with discretion. He died at 65, the day after being made a baron, the first English painter to be so honored....

Enclosures

  1. ^ (whitecraneinstitute.org)

Read more

Contribute!