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Edith Sitwell - John M. Cohen Collection

Identifier: GTM-820630

Scope and Content note

The Sitwell-Cohen Collection comprises thirteen letters from Dame Edith Sitwell to John M. Cohen, and related pieces of correspondence addressed to John M. Cohen and his wife, Audrey Cohen, from Sitwell and Harman Grisewood of the BBC. Also included are two autograph manuscripts of "The Road to Thebes" signed by Sitwell and thought to have been enclosed in two of the letters from Sitwell to Cohen. All of the correspondence is dated from May 26, 1950 to May 19, 1952. The majority of the correspondence is personal and is related to John M. Cohen's criticism of Edith and Osbert Sitwell's work, both privately and in the public media. The remainder of the correspondence from Sitwell is social in nature, often relating to luncheon appointments or Audrey Cohen's bout of illness.

Edith Sitwell and John M. Cohen had not yet met each other personally when their correspondence began. In her first litter, Sitwell addresses him as "Mr. Cohen" and thanks him for a positive review he planned to give her work on the BBC in June of 1950 (May 26, 1950 letter). Also in this first letter, Sitwell suggests that the two meet each other for the first time, along with Audrey Cohen and some others. As their correspondence continues, Sitwell's appreciation of Cohen's criticism of her work grows, at which point she sends him manuscripts of her latest works. Included are two undated manuscripts of "The Road to Thebes," both very early versions, and a detailed description of the poem in one of her letters (December 27 1951). She also asks him to review her brother Osbert Sitwell's new book, Wrack of the Tide's End, for the Times Literary Supplement before one of its staff writers does so in a sloppy manner (December 12, 1951). It is at this point that Sitwell begins to address Cohen as "My Dear Jack," again showing the growth in her appreciation of him.

The two undated manuscripts of "The Road the Thebes" are thought to have been included in two letters sent by Sitwell to Cohen and appear to be very early workings of the poem. The first manuscript differs greatly from the published version of the poem andi ncludes a page labelled "after" by Sitwell. The stanzas on this "after" page are found in the interior of the poem in the second manuscript's version and in the published version. The second manuscript is also different from the published version and is believed to have been written letter than the first manuscript in the collection.

The related correspondence comprises a letter from Harman Grisewood, Controller of the Third Programme at the BBC, and social correspondence to either one or both of the Cohens. Grisewood's letter regretfully informs Cohen that there is not space in the Third Programme's schedule for a reading of Sitwell's poetry in the near future (July 4, 1950). The inclusion of this letter serves to give context to a latter of the same date written by Sitwell to Cohen regarding such a reading. The social correspondence includes invitations and cancellations of luncheon appointments and Sitwell's sympathies to Audrey Cohen during a bout of illness. the letters of sympathy exemplify a theme which runs throughout the collection, in which Sitwell complains of her own illness, fatigue, and trouble with her hands. Despite these recurring physical problems in her later life, Sitwell manages to make several trips overseas to Italy, from which many of the letters are written, and to America.

It is Edith Sitwells' respect and admiration for Cohen's intellect and abilities as a critic which are most notable in the Sitwell-Cohen Collection, whether it be for his humorous comments about a mutual acquaintance, F.R. Leavis (February 13 1952), or a published essay on her work. Sitwell felt that Cohen's insight into her poetry was special. This sentiment is best shown in her first letter to Cohen, after seeing an essay about her poetry which he intended to read on the BBC:

"I am indeed deeply grateful to you. It is a great moment in the life of a poet, when one's motives are understood with such completeness. This is one of those rare occasions."


  • 1950 - 1952

Conditions Governing Access note

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Biographical note

Dame Edith Sitwell was born on September 7, 1887 at Renishaw in Scarborough, England. Her literary career spanned half a century beginning with the publication of Mother and Other Poems in 1915 and ending with The Queens and the Hive in 1962. Among her more famous works was Facade in 1923, which combined a variety of musical and poetic styles. She died on December 9, 1964. For further detail, see the Dictionary of National Biography (1961-1970) and the New York Times (December 10, 1964 issue).

John M. Cohen, born February 5 1903, was best known as a critic and translator. He appears to have done literary reviews for the BBC, the Times Literary Supplement and The Observer. Among his writings were a translation of Don Quixote (1950) and the compilation of a number of anthologies. He now lives in England. For more information, see Who's Who 1988.


0.25 Linear Feet (1 box)

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Edith Sitwell - John M. Cohen Collection
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C.
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Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057