Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > Quicksands: A Memoir

Quicksands by Sybille Bedford
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's review
Apr 16, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: reading-group
Read from April 16 to 22, 2012

‘I shall begin as I hope to continue: from the middle.’

Sybille Bedford, OBE (16 March 1911 – 17 February 2006) was a German-born English writer: a novelist, journalist and biographer. She was born Sybille von Schoenebeck in Berlin. Her parents were Baron Maximilian Josef von Schoenebeck (1853–1925 and his wife, Elizabeth Bernard (1888- 1937). Sybille was raised in the Roman Catholic faith of her father at Schloss Feldkirch in Baden, and had a half-sister, from her father's first marriage ( Maximiliane Henriette von Schoenebeck).

Her parents divorced in 1918, and she remained with her father, until his death in 1925. Sybille then went to live in Italy with her mother and stepfather. With the rise of fascism in Italy, her mother and stepfather settled in Sanary-sur-Mer, a small fishing village in the south of France. Sybille settled there as a teenager, living near Maria and Aldous Huxley, with whom she became friends. Sybille Bedford also met some of the other writers and intellectuals (including Alma Mahler, Wilhelm Herzog, Lion Feuchtwanger, Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht) who also settled in this area during that period.

During this period, Sybille’s mother became addicted to morphine and, in what was for me, some of the most moving writing in this memoir, Sybille describes how this occurred and how she became responsible for procuring and administering the drug to her mother. There is no self-pity in Ms Bedford’s account, simply a description of causation, events and consequences.

‘My next account – not joyful – will have to be about a destructive blow of fate brought about through a blend of antecedents, chance, ill luck.’

In 1935, Sybille entered a marriage of convenience with Walter ‘Terry’ Bedford. The marriage did not last, her use of his family name did. With the assistance of Maria and Aldous Huxley, Sybille Bedford left France for America before the German invasion of France. Her memoir ends once she is in America.

‘Wish I could tell the half of it … But, I repeat, there seems to be no time.’
‘Had I but world enough and time … I have not. And shall not now write about the life that followed.'

This memoir covers Sybille Bedford’s life from World War I in Berlin, to World War II when she leaves Europe for the USA. I do not recognise much of the world in which she lived and of which she writes, but her writing gave me some sense of that world and of her experiences within it. At one stage, when she has a guest for a period, she writes:

‘What I minded was the loss of solitude – essential to the cashing in of writing-thoughts.’

This is the first of her books I have read: I hope to read some of her novels later this year. I enjoyed both the content and the presentation of this memoir. I found it inspiring: there is no room for self-pity, nor is there any sign of resentment. Things just happen, and they are written about. Perspectives may change.

‘To get into one language deeply, I found, one has to forsake all others.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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