Sybille Bedford: A Life

Sybille Bedford: A Life

By Selina Hastings
432 pages
February 2021


The first biography of 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 ten 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 shortlisted 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.

"This is such a fantastic read . . . Hastings’s 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 

"In Sybille Bedford, Selina Hastings sifts life from fiction. It is an extraordinary story . . . Hastings writes with her hallmark elegance, insight, and forgiveness. Bedford’s faults as a writer, friend, and lover are laid bare and understood." —Laura Freeman, The Times (UK)

"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

"Selina Hastings traces Bedford’s life from a German schloss to louche and bohemian Bloomsbury, her many love affairs and her great success as a literary observer of famous trials." —The Times ("Best Books about Books")