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Sybille Bedford: An Appetite for Life Reviews

Sybille Bedford: An Appetite for Life by Selina Hastings

Sybille Bedford: An Appetite for Life

Selina Hastings

3.83 out of 5

6 reviews

Imprint: Chatto & Windus
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 12 Nov 2020
ISBN: 9781784741136

The first full and intimate biography of writer and bon viveur Sybille Bedford

4 stars out of 5
Kathryn Hughes
18 Nov 2020

"Drinking wine aged 10, endless parties and so many women ... a fine novelist who preferred good times to writing"

Hastings is faced with a similar dilemma – everything that makes Bedford interesting is already there in her novels, or rather in Legacy and Jigsaw (there were a couple of duff ones in between). Perhaps this scrupulous biography’s greatest achievement is to remind us that 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. 


4 stars out of 5
Ysenda Maxtone Graham
15 Nov 2020

"(a) richly entertaining biography"

As Selina Hastings recounts in this richly entertaining biography, in which the whole literary world of the 20th-century is laid before us in all its glamour, indolence, gossipiness and upheaval, what took Sybille’s literary achievements so long was that her appetite for life kept getting in the way — in particular, her appetite for love.

If my notes are correct, there were 19 chief lovers: Renée, Jacqueline, Maria, Eva, Sylvester (the only man), Joan, Allanah, Annie, Esther, Natalia, Patricia, Evelyn, Eda, Lesley, Laura, Rosamund, Jenny, Anne, and Aliette.

4 stars out of 5
India Knight
8 Nov 2020

"A biography filled with the sort of people who don’t seem to exist any more — louche, madly clever and sexually fluid"

Hastings’s delicious biography, with its abundance of intricate and intimate detail, is total heaven. It helps that her subject wrote novels — A Legacy (1956), Jigsaw (1989) — that were thinly disguised autobiographies, and that the material is so very rich: Bernhardt moves to the south of France, sends for Bedford, marries a much younger Italian man, becomes a morphine addict, has affairs all over the place, including with Aldous Huxley. And that is the merest tip of a real humdinger of an iceberg.

3 stars out of 5
8 Nov 2020

"Packed with affairs and greedy for gossip, this life of the great novelist muddles fact and fiction"

Fluently told – though with a surprising conventionality to her qualifiers, so that her characters are always “colourful” or “remarkable” her burdens “crushing” or “overwhelming” – this packed account left me oddly thinking less of Bedford than I had before: that she was flighty, easily distracted by her passions, a bit of a hanger-on, even rather greedy, and that her books had to be fitted in alongside the repetitive rhythm of affairs and the “three little words” that accompanied them (the last, touchingly, with a devoted and much younger Frenchwoman, Aliette Martin, when Bedford was in her 80s). 

4 stars out of 5
8 Nov 2020

" Selina Hastings has written a wonderful biography"

My favourite Bedford book is A Visit to Don Otavio (1953), originally published as The Sudden View. It tells the story of an eight-month sojourn in Mexico between 1946 and 1947. It is a confection of close observation, history, specificity, invention and humour, an elusive and priceless yeast that makes a travel book rise. Both this and A Legacy will stand the brutal test of time — as will Selina Hastings’s biography.

4 stars out of 5
Laura Freeman
29 Oct 2020

"Hastings, biographer of Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, Rosamond Lehmann and Somerset Maugham, writes with her hallmark elegance, insight and forgiveness"

Hastings, biographer of Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, Rosamond Lehmann and Somerset Maugham, writes with her hallmark elegance, insight and forgiveness. Bedford’s faults as a writer, friend and lover are laid bare and understood. Bedford regretted how “selfish” and “domineering” she had been towards the novelist Eda Lord, her partner of 20 years, always “bulldozing on” with work and failing to look after Lord. One might, however, wish for a quick snip here and there. The litany of schlösser, villas and Wiltshire manor houses tips into Private Eye’s “What you didn’t miss . . .” territory. And when it comes to lists of vintages, I’m afraid I’m with the painter David Hockney, who horrified the epicurean Bedford when he responded to the question of what he would like to drink with: “Plonk.