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HUMANITIES 519 anti-liberal politics. Thus when Hulme writes that 'A judicious choice of illusions, leading to activities planned and carried out, is the only means of happiness, e.g. the exhilaration of regarding life as a procession or a war,' he is not carefully balancing belief with scepticism in the manner of a Jamesian pragmatist but adopting the kind of radical-right posture which would later lead him to champion and translate the proto-fascist Georges Sorel and defend the war and militarist values in debate with Bertrand Russell. Hulme objected to far more than just the 'epistemological hubris' of romanticism. With the exception of Stevens, Rae has simply chosen the wrong writers to exemplify what is otherwise a provocative and very worthwhile thesis. (CHARLES FERRALL) Edith Sitwell. Selected Letters ofEdith Sitwell. Edited by Richard Greene Little, Brown. xi, 484. $18.95 Edith Sitwell enjoys, if that is the right word, one of the most anomalous positions in the history of English poetry. Although her name is widely familiar, and biographies of various kinds continue to be produced for an apparently voracious audience, her work is largely neglected - aside, that is, from Far;ade, set to music by William Walton, of which five versions on vinyl sit on my shelf. The 1946 edition of the Oxford Companion to English Literature cites her 'technical tricks' with no regard for her relation to other modernists, from Owen and Eliot to Stein. No one has ever been reinembered for so little, and forgotten for so much. Although a volume of Sitwell's letters was published in 1970, editor Richard Greene has felt the need for a new edition. In part this decision reflects the huge amount of material that has become available since 1970. The most obvious addition is that of Sitwell family correspondence. Other literary figures are now included: Mariarme Moore, E.M. Forster, and Gertrude Stein are among the most notable, and there is also a very moving letter to Leonard Woolf on the occasion of Virginia's suicide. The accessibility of early family correspondence alters the collection markedly. It makes the letters serve as a form of autobiography, and accords with the contemporary taste for the narrative of scandal and psychological speculation. In the earlier edition Sitwell is introduced to us as the 'discoverer' and promoter of Wilfred Owen, that is, at the heart of Georgian and modernist literary practice. In the new edition, only one letter to Owen's mother remains of the ten in the earlier edition. No doubt the troubled relations of the Sitwell family provoke our curiosity, but they remain peripheral to understanding her career. One might have expected Sitwell's reputation to be revalued under the influence of feminism - after all, her presence at the heart of modernism, alongside Pound and Eliot, does atleast potentially rewrite that history.But 520 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 Sitwell's view of most women poets was harsh. She was cruel if accurate about Charlotte Mew: 'a grey tragic women ... sucked dry ofblood.' On the history of women's poetry she was lethal: 'Women's poetry with the exception of Sappho ... and with the exception of "Goblin Market" and a few deep and concentrated, but fearfully incompetent poems of Emily Dickinson, is simply awful- incompetent, floppy, whining, arch, trivial, selfpitying .' Against this emotionalism she proposes a 'hard and glittering' marmer, such as she herself produced. The mystery of Sitwell's own emotional life (if there is one) remains. Sitwell was surrounded by gay men, beginning with her brother Osbert and including Forster, Joe Ackerley, StephenSpender, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, Noel Coward, Charles Henri Ford, and Lincoln Kirstein, and she was also friendly with lesbians such as Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Vita Sackville-West, H.D., and Bryher. Sitwell herself lived for many years with her former governess, Helen Rootham. Despite this entourage, Greene argues that she 'had a limited understanding of homosexuality.' It is hard to imagine her as quite so ignorant but then she could well have seen homosexuality in herself and others without 'understanding' it. There can be little doubt that the cult of Sitwell relies in part on a gay male taste for exaggeration...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 519-520
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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