How close did the exquisite writer Sybille Bedford come to being killed by the Nazis? Born in 1911 outside Berlin and raised a Roman Catholic, she lived with her aged father, Baron Maximilian Josef von Schoenebeck, when her mother, his second wife, Elizabeth Bernard, Anglo-German Jewish, rich, and beautiful, was off with another man. At 22 Sybille blasted the Nazis in an essay for Klaus Mann's literary journal and they subsequently discovered her heritage and seized her bank accounts. She couldn't renew her German passport and couldn't stay abroad once it had expired, and without an income. That could
have led to the end. Enter Aldous Huxley's wife Maria who knew gay Auden had just gallantly wed Erika Mann to solve her citizenship problems. Said Maria, “We must get one of our bugger friends to marry Sybille.” They didn't need to look far; Auden's butler had been having an affair with an English army officer Terry Bedford, who agreed to be used. Now a British citizen, Sybille spent the war in America with the Huxleys and wrote three unpublishable novels imitating Aldous' style. After the war, she traveled to Mexico, found her exceptional voice, and wrote her legendary A Visit to Don Otavio. An absolute must read. Bruce Chatwin said of another book, “When the history of modern prose in English comes to be written, Mrs. Bedford will have to appear in any list of its most dazzling practitioners.” Bedford became friends with another wanderlust writer, Martha Gellhorn, and lovers with Eda Lord. She spent the 1950s to 70s loosely based in France, Italy, Britain, and Portugal.
She also wrote four novels, one of which was a Booker nominee. The best is A Legacy, covering two Austrian-German families leading up to WWI. The queerest is A Compass Error, about a teenage girl's affair with a married woman. The most commericial is Jigsaw, again mining her formative years for a story about a girl shuttled between her unconventional mother in Italy and her father's uptight family in England. In her 90s she finally wrote her memoir, Quicksands, which nearly as obliquely covers a lot of the same ground as her autobiographical novels, including her lesbian relationships. V. S. Pritchett praised her mind as “radiant.” The finest essay about her is Joan Acocella's appreciation in the New Yorker. Bedford could be blunt; in that spirit, you're a bloody fool to skip her work.