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Publisher's Summary

The first biography of the universally acclaimed British writer, Sybille Bedford, by the celebrated author of books about Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh.

Passionate, liberated, fiercely independent, Sybille Bedford was a writer and a journalist, the author of 10 books, including a biography of Aldous Huxley, and four novels, all of which fictionalized her extraordinary life. Born in Berlin, she grew up in Baden, first with her distant, aristocratic father, and then in France with her intellectual, narcissistic, morphine-addicted mother and her lover. She was a child with a German-Jewish background who survived two world wars and went on to spend her adult life in exile in France, Italy, New York, and Los Angeles, before finally settling in England.

Bedford was ahead of her time in many ways, with great enthusiasm for life and all its sensual pleasures, including friendships with bold faced names in the worlds of literature and food as well as a literary network of high-powered lesbians. Aldous Huxley became a mentor, and Martha Gellhorn encouraged her to write her first novel, A Legacy; in 1989, her novel Jigsaw was short-listed for the Booker Prize. In the 1960s, she wrote for magazines and newspapers, covering nearly 100 trials, including those of Auschwitz officials accused of Nazi war crimes and Jack Ruby, on trial for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Brenda Wineapple has called Bedford "one of the finest stylists of the 20th century, bar none". In this major biography, Selina Hastings has brilliantly captured the fierce intelligence, wit, curiosity, and compassion of the woman and the writer in all the richness of her character and achievements.

©2021 Selina Hastings (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"This is such a fantastic read...Hastings’ delicious biography, with its abundance of intricate and intimate detail, is total heaven. It helps that her subject wrote novels [...] that were thinly disguised autobiographies, and that the material is so very rich.... [This biography] brings a fundamentally shy and private woman out into the light and is populated by the sorts of people who don’t seem to exist anymore - madly clever, slightly louche, culturally omnivorous, sexually fluid, crisscrossing Europe and each other in search of fun and new ideas." (India Knight, The Sunday Times)

"Reading Selina Hastings’ rigorous biography, the first full life of this extraordinary, somewhat neglected writer, one almost wonders how she got any writing done at all.... Hastings is impeccable on the facts of Bedford's life - almost every meal and certainly every trip and romantic fling is exhaustively detailed - yet she refrains from passing much comment on Bedford's character, instead letting Bedford's personal writings, and the not always admiring correspondence from her many friends, paint a picture of a much loved, self-centered, convivial bon vivant." (Claire Allfree, The Evening Standard

"A writer's long, passionate, peripatetic life.... Drawing on archival material, correspondence, diaries, and Bedford’s autobiographical novels and memoir, Hastings [...] offers a gossipy, well-informed chronicle of a woman noted for her intelligence, talent, and, not least, her circle of famous friends.... A sympathetic, engaging biography." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Elegant.... Perhaps this scrupulous biography’s greatest achievement is to remind us that Sybille Bedford had a second string to her writerly bow. From the 1950s she became a high-grade court reporter, writing several long-form essays about legal cases, including the Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity trial and the Profumo affair." (Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian)

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Sybille Bedford

This biography shares facts about Bedford that show her long life to have been peripatetic and full of fortunate circumstance. I see her talent but alas can seldom see her appeal. She comes across as arrogant and self-centered, taking the sacrifices and generosity of others for granted. Her talent at writing, nourished in a long life with all the time in the world to cultivate it, isn’t enough to make me admire her.