Tuesday, September 16, 2014

European vacation

So, from the library system I requested Sacheverell Sitwell's The Gothick North: A Study of Medieval Life, Art, and Thought. Why? I'd seen Sitwell mentioned in another book, and figured he'd be an interesting direction to go in. Plus he was the younger brother of Edith Sitwell, who's been one of my favorite poets for some time now.  So that added to the curiosity.

It's odd to read a book whose immediate subject relates to art and architecture and see that it has no pictures. It's just something that I think an editor would flag today. My guess is that since Sitwell was writing about Northwestern Europe, and he was writing for Britons of a certain financial standing, he assumed that much of his audience had seen his subjects or soon would.

As a historian, if he meant to be a historian, he fails, staying away from fact almost entirely. And it's hard to ignore the fact that he's something of a snob. But Sitwell makes up for the lack of photographs and plates. He's a great descriptive writer, with a deep feel for the art and buildings he's writing about. Of course he puts so many words on the page, with very little structure, that it's kind of like readng a blog that's been printed in book form with little in the way of editing.


susan said...

Although I'm not so sure how far I'd manage to read the book you got, the story of the Sitwell family has provided some interesting entertainment this evening. Their father, Sir George, was the epitome of the eccentric English country gentleman. You might enjoy reading this article I found on an obscure part of the BBC's website that seems to be related to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

According to Sacheverell Sitwell, "his mother had only met his father twice at luncheon before their marriage; within a few days of the wedding she ran home to her parents, but was firmly sent back to her husband. This was perhaps not surprising; sex did not rank high on the long list of Sir George's interests. According to family tradition, Edith, Osbert and Sachie were conceived with a ritual deliberation. Sir George would prepare himself for his act of dynastic responsibility by immersing himself in suitable books and works of art. He would then announce, 'Ida, I am ready!' and the procreation of another Sitwell genius would take place."

With a Father like Sir George it's easy to understand how the children came to be somewhat peculiar, never mind snobbish.

Ben said...

Wow. From the sound of it, "lay back and think of England" went for men, too. Or maybe "lean forward." Whatever.

This, by the way, is John Singer Sargent's family portrait of the Sitwells. It looks rather surreal, even though he wouldn't have even known that word. Sir George looks remarkably like Graham Chapman.