Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Sybille Bedford Centenary
The novelist Sybille Bedford (1911-2006) who would have been 100 tomorrow, has been getting a lot of coverage in the papers recently. One of those stylish and elegant writers who have a following but who never seem quite to capture the "mass literary fiction" market, to coin an unpleasant phrase, Sybille Bedford was a great friend of the novelist Aldous Huxley and even more so his wife, Maria, and became Huxley's first official biographer, her two volumes appearing in 1972-3. When, thirty years later, I came to write the next full biography of Huxley [Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual (2002)] I beat a path to her door in Chelsea. I have written about this in a long piece for the magazine Areté [No 20, Spring/Summer 2006, not online] and also a shorter tribute in the memorial volume: Sybille Bedford: In Memory (2007). Sybille, notorious for her acid way with people she didn't like, was extremely kind and helpful to me with my biography of Huxley and gave me a great deal of valuable information and insight when we spoke together over a glass of wine in her dark (she had problems with her eyesight) Chelsea basement flat on several occasions. I have been struck by the recent tributes to her which have tended in the main to consist of posh literati reminiscing about posh Sybille (she was of Austrian blue blood) but I am not posh and it is worth recording that she could not have treated me with more generosity and respect. Some of her novels are being reissued this week but they are easy to find second hand as Penguin Modern Classics (not all that neglected then). Good old Sybille.