A long overdue biography of the power couple that nurtured and influenced the literary world of early twentieth-century England
"I write primarily to pay homage to a beloved friend, but also in the hope that some future chronicler of the history of art and letters in our time may give to Sydney and Violet Schiff the place which is their due."
—T. S. Eliot, in a letter appended to Violet Schiff's obituary, Times of London, July 9, 1962
Largely forgotten today, Sydney and Violet Schiff were ubiquitous, almost Zelig-like figures in the most important literary movement of the twentieth century. Their friendships among the elite of the Modernist writers were remarkable, and their extensive correspondence with T. S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, Proust, and many others strongly suggests both intimacy and intellectual equality. Leading critics of the day considered Sydney, writing as Stephen Hudson, to be in the same literary league as Joyce, Eliot, and D. H. Lawrence. As for Violet, she was a talented musician who nurtured Sydney's literary efforts and was among the first in England to recognize Proust's genius and spread the word. Sydney and Violet tells the story of how the Schiffs, despite their commercial and Jewish origins, won acceptance in the snobbish, anti-Semitic, literary world of early twentieth-century England, and brings to life a full panoply of extravagant personalities: Proust, Joyce, Picasso, Mansfield, Wyndham Lewis, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, and many more. A highly personal, anecdote-filled account of the social and intellectual history of the Modernist movement, Sydney and Violet also examines what divides the literary survivors from the victims of taste and time.
About the Author
Stephen Klaidman is a former editor and reporter for "The New York Times, The Washington Post, " and "The International Herald Tribune." He was a senior research fellow at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and a senior research associate at the Institute for Health Policy Analysis, Georgetown University. He is also the author of "Saving the Heart: The Battle to Conquer Coronary Disease, Health in the Headlines, " and "The Virtuous Journalist" (with Tom Beauchamp). He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
"[Klaidman] has done us a service by rescuing Sydney and Violet Schiff from the obscurity to which the passage of the years has consigned them ... [A]nyone interested in the London literary world of the first half of the 20th century will find much to enjoy here, and something to learn also." —The Wall Street Journal
"Klaidman writes about the formidable Violet and fussy Sydney with affection and even, on occasion, a bit of dry wit ... [A] fast-moving, anecdote-rich book ... If you enjoyed Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes or Ben Downing’s Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross, and are wondering what to read next, you might try Stephen Klaidman’s Sydney and Violet. [It's] an informative and entertaining look at one of modernism’s most ubiquitous, if now half-forgotten, power couples." —The Washington Post
"Klaidman has written a fascinating book, using the Schiffs to reflect light on their more famous friends ... a satisfying read, which sheds a useful and interesting insight on modernist circles ... well-paced and full of the interesting details and anecdotes that remain in the mind ... anecdotal and enjoyable." —The Huffington Post
"The world of Arts and Letters is often enriched by the lives of those who did not create lasting work of their own but who helped to make it possible for the legendary figures of their time to do so, and Sydney and Violet Schiff were just such a couple. To read about their adventures is to be transported back to the magical and mythical early years of Modernism and to appreciate the role this incredible pair played in bringing it about. They encouraged their friends in their creative pursuits, as they did T. S. Eliot during the grim years of his first marriage, and tolerated the outrageous behavior of their circle’s more difficult members, chief among them Wyndham Lewis. Stephen Klaidman has finally given the Schiffs their just due." —Deirdre Bair, author of Saul Steinberg and Samuel Beckett, winner of the National Book Award
"Reading Sydney and Violet is like visiting a newly opened gallery devoted to portraits of the Modernists. Sometimes it is a rogue's gallery, to be sure, but accompanied by the clear-sighted and always informative Stephen Klaidman, we can savor the delicious morsels (gossipy and otherwise), regret the less than ideal or downright bad behavior of the great or merely famous, and rejoice in meeting two fascinating people who lived at the center of the major cultural movements of the early twentieth century." —Mary Gordon, author of The Love of My Youthand Final Payments
"Sidney and Violet is a delightful way of discovering the rivalries and excesses, the nastiness and the brilliance of the early-twentieth-century English literary world.
For forty years, Sydney and Violet Schiff befriended and encouraged the best artists of their time, and Stephen Klaidman’s very entertaining book takes us through their life together with wonderful anecdotes. On one evening in Paris, the Schiffs gathered Proust, Joyce, Stravinsky and Picasso around the same table at the Majestic, all of whom rebuffed any attempt at civil conversation. It is a tribute to the genius of the Schiffs that they survived the ordeal and remained friends with such a raucous group of intellectual luminaries." —Anka Muhlstein, author of Monsieur Proust’s Library
"Klaidman makes clear the importance of this engaging couple." —The Buffalo News