This is CR Muse, a new series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.
British poet Edith Sitwell was a striking woman—not necessarily for her height (although at six feet tall, she did have a commanding presence); not even for her fashion choices, which are oft described as “dramatic.” She was best known as a talented, and creatively challenging wordsmith, one whose work shattered the established norms of her medium.
Sitwell lived an unusual life. Born in 1887 to an aristocratic family, her relationship with her parents was cold at best, though she was very close to her two younger bothers, Osbert and Sacheverell (both writers as well). The Sitwells (as the siblings became known) were not only members of the arts, but supporters of it, with Edith in particular supporting other poets.
Her earliest work was published in 1913, but perhaps what truly earned her the titled of avant-garde artiste was “Façades,” which featured her poems set to music. To be clear, these were not songs. The poems were spoken (preformed theatrically, although not sung, a major difference), and timed to musical arrangements by her collaborator, William Walton, for emphasis. Apparently her first performance of these works was met with dismissal. But in her later years Sitwell proved that she was one who wouldn’t let criticisms deter her, saying in an interview:
“I absolutely refuse to be taught my job by people who know absolutely nothing about it. I have devoted my whole life to writing poetry, which is, to me, a form of religion, and I’m not going to be taught by people who don’t know anything about it. I think it’s very impertinent. I mean, I don’t teach plumbers how to plumb.”
Of course, anyone who saw her would immediately be able to see that Sitwell was not the type to hold back, or be anyone other than exactly who she was. She was bold in how she dressed, choosing to adorn herself in lavish clothing and jewelry.
“I can’t wear fashionable clothes,” she once explained. “I’m a throwback to remote ancestors of mine. And I really would look so extraordinary if I wore coats and skirts. I would be followed for miles and people would doubt the existence of the almighty if they saw me looking like that.”
Sitwell’s uniqueness and commitment to exploring her creative passions (both poetically and fashionably) ensured an identity for herself outside that of her aristocratic family name. And though we take for granted now the avenues of self expression we have, Sitwell’s triumph of distinguishing herself as an individual is nothing short of marvelous.END
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