Sybille Bedford: A Writer for our Time
In the uncertain and volatile time in which we find ourselves during these first years of a new century, it is surprising that a writer whose life spanned most of the last century speaks to us so directly. Sybille Bedford, who was born in 1911 in Germany and has lived in Italy, France, and England, examines the moral ambiguity of our private lives during times of war, repressive political regimes, catastrophe, as well as during times of bohemian insouciance. She does so with tolerance, humor, and compassion.
In a timely move, Counterpoint Press has recently reissued her novels: A Legacy (1956), A Favourite of the Gods (1963), A Compass Error (1968), and Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education (1989) with new introductions by Bedford. A Visit to Don Otavio and a new collection of her essays on travel and food will be reissued soon. It has been difficult to find her work. There has never been a uniform American edition of her work and what has existed has been out of print for the last decade. And according to her friend and fellow novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, people who buy her books keep them, "You never find a Sybille Bedford in a second-hand bookshop."
But you can find Sybille Bedford at the Ransom Center. Having acquired a large part of her collection in 1995, we received another installment last fall that includes the drafts, proofs, and publication material for the introductions to her reissued novels, as well as articles, journal fragments, wine-tasting notes, correspondence, and photographs. Bedford is a woman of the world, who not only writes novels, essays on travel, books on legal issues, and wrote the definitive biography of Aldous Huxley, but who also enjoys the sensual pleasures of living. Ms. Howard said in a recent interview, "Sybille is not a recluse or an intellectual in that sense. She loves people and good company, and she loves good food and wine." At the same time, her novel Jigsaw was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1989, she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, vice president of International PEN, was feted by the international press during her ninetieth birthday celebrations last year, and at the age of ninety-one is working on her memoirs.