Sitwell, English literary family, one of the most celebrated literary families of the 20th cent. Its members included Dame Edith Sitwell, 1887–1964, English poet and critic, Sir Osbert Sitwell, 1892–1969, English author, and Sir Sacheverell Sitwell (səshĕv´ərəl), 1897–1988, English art critic. They were the children of Sir George Sitwell, an antiquarian and genealogist, and were reared on the family estate in Derbyshire. All three Sitwells evidenced a lively interest in contemporary movements in music, art, and literature. Although all were noted for their frivolity, precocity, and sophistication, a somber despair with the modern world underlies many of their works.
An angular, aristocratic woman, 6 ft (183 cm) tall, Dame Edith Sitwell was famous for her wit and her eccentric appearance. Her poetry, strongly influenced by the French symbolists, ranges from the artificial and clever verse of her early years to the deeper and more religious poems of her maturity. Collections of her work include Clowns' Houses (1918), Rustic Elegies (1927), Gold Coast Customs (1929), The Song of the Cold (1948), Façade, and Other Poems, 1920–1935 (1950), Gardeners and Astronomers (1953), and The Outcasts (1962). Her Collected Poems appeared in 1954. Façade, characterized by ragtime rhythms and abstract word patterns, was set to music by William Walton and first read by her in 1922.
Important among her critical works are Poetry and Criticism (1925), Aspects of Modern Poetry (1934), and A Poet's Notebook (1943), a collection of aphorisms on the art of poetry. Other prose works include Alexander Pope (1930); The English Eccentrics (1933); I Live under a Black Sun (1937), a novel about Jonathan Swift; and Fanfare for Elizabeth (1946) and The Queens and the Hive (1962), biographies of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1954 she was made dame of the British Empire.
Sir Osbert was the author of poems, short stories, novels, and memoirs. Most of his verse is light and satiric. His works include: Triple Fugue (1924), short stories; Before the Bombardment (1926), a novel; Collected Poems and Satires (1931); Selected Poems (1943); Four Songs of the Italian Earth (1948); Collected Stories (1953); The Four Continents (1954), discursions on travel, art, and life; and Tales My Father Taught Me (1962).
His five-volume reminiscences about his family are a delightful account of British society of the Edwardian era—Left Hand,Right Hand (1944), The Scarlet Tree (1946), Great Morning (1947), Laughter in the Next Room (1948), and Noble Essences (1950). Upon his father's death in 1943, he became 5th baronet.
Sir Sacheverell was known for his art criticism—Southern Baroque Art (1924), German Baroque Art (1927), and The Gothick North (1929)—and for his poetry—The Cyder Feast (1927) and Canons of Giant Art (1933). He was also the author of biographies, Mozart (1932) and Liszt (rev. ed. 1955); essays and observations, Conversation Pieces (1936), The Hunters and the Hunted (1948), and Cupid and the Jacaranda (1952); and travel books, Spain (1950), Denmark (1956), and Golden Wall and Mirador (1961).
See Dame Edith's autobiography, Taken Care Of (1964) and selected letters (1970); study of her work by G. Singleton (1960); R. Fulford, Osbert Sitwell (1951); S. Bradford, Splendours and Miseries: A Life of Sacheverell Sitwell (1993); P. Ziegler, Osbert Sitwell (1999); J. Lehman, A Nest of Tigers: The Sitwells in Their Times (American ed. 1968).