The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

March 16, 2016

March 16, 1911

Sybille von Schoenebeck, was the given name of author Sybille Bedford, (March 16, 1911 to February 17, 2006). This writer, of novels and biographies, is first famous for her biography of her friend Aldous Huxley, which relies partly on the many years they were friends. Her book Aldous Huxley: A biography (1973) is the authorized biography of this novelist and public figure.

She mentions the cats chez Huxley in this originally two volume work. Among these is his "poor alley cat", the one he "evoked," in Those Barren Leaves (1925). She includes a photo of Huxley with a cat in this standard biography of Huxley.

The world awaits an good biography of the biographer. Here are some points about her life, excerpted from a book review of her novel, The Legacy (1956).

Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedford’s father retained close ties to his former in-laws, and Bedford spent much of her early years shuttling between their luxurious household in Berlin and her father’s Black Forest schloss near the French border. Between these two homes—catching snatches of conversation, stray musings, the outlines of private tragedies—Bedford encountered the textures of a doomed era, where a fearful aristocracy and a fomenting nationalism converged.

She had a formal education in England and an informal one in France under the wing of Aldous Huxley, whose prodigious influence and generosity inspired Bedford to write. In the early 1930s, she was part of an artist colony whose members included Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht. She fled for America in 1940 and spent her war years exiled in California. After the war, she settled in Rome, where she began the first serious phase of her work. In the wake of the Second World War’s horrors, the images from Bedford’s early life glowed with prescience.
A Legacy, her first novel, appeared in 1956 and abruptly fell flat; it would likely have been doomed to oblivion if not for a glowing review by Evelyn Waugh, who called the book “new, cool, witty and elegant.”

The review quotes Bedford on the connection between her autobiographical novel and the events surrounding her youth.

Much of what was allowed to happen in these decades was ill-conceived, cruel, bad (in simple terms); there was also a German dottiness, devoid of humor . . . Is some of this a foundation of the vast and monstrous thing that followed? Did the private events I lightly draw upon leave some legacy? Writing about them made me think so. Hence the title.

Surely a biography of Sybille Bedford would be fascinating.

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