Sybille Bedford: A Life

Knopf. Feb. 2021. 432p. ISBN 9781101947913. $32.50. LIT
Biographer Hastings, who previously chronicled Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, now meticulously charts the unusual life of German-born English writer Sybille Bedford (1911–2006) in this volume, the most comprehensive biography of the author yet. Bedford made a career of dramatizing her own upbringing in 20th-century Europe, and readers who are familiar with her work will find the true version of her life illuminating. Hastings portrays her subject as having lived an active, privileged, and unconventional life; the book is full of details on her friendships and romantic relationships that sometimes reads like a “who’s who” of mid–20th century Western literature. The chapter covering Bedford’s years in the United States is particularly colorful, but it is the second half of the book, when Bedford’s publishing career begins in earnest, that best brings Bedford to life and leaves readers with a better understanding of her impact and influence.
VERDICT This comprehensive Bedford biography will most appeal to readers who are familiar with either her work or mid-century Western literature in general. More casual readers might find the cast of characters dizzying, but the book does a fine job of capturing the spirit and challenges of the time.
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