Sybille Bedford Biography

Sybille Bedford (16 March 1911 – 17 February 2006) was a German-born English writer. Many of her works are partly autobiographical. Julia Neuberger proclaimed her "the finest woman writer of the 20th century" while Bruce Chatwin saw her as "one of the most dazzling practitioners of modern English prose".

She was born as Freiin Sybille Aleid Elsa von Schoenebeck in Charlottenburg on the noble outskirts of Berlin to Baron Maximilian Josef von Schoenebeck (1853–1925), a German aristocrat, retired lieutenant colonel and art collector, and his German-Jewish wife, Elizabeth Bernard (born 1888-died 1937). Sybille was raised in the Roman Catholic faith of her father at Schloss Feldkirch in Baden. She had a half sister, by her father's first marriage, Maximiliane Henriette von Schoenebeck (later Nielsen, aka Jacko or Catsy). Her parents divorced in 1918, and she remained with her father, under somewhat impoverished circumstances in the midth of his art and wine collection. He died in 1925, when she was 14 years old and Sybille went to live in Italy with her mother and stepfather, an Italian architectural student. During these years she studied in England, lodging in Hampstead.

In the early 1920s, Sybille often traveled between England and Italy. With the rise of fascism in Italy, though, her mother and stepfather settled in Sanary-sur-Mer, a small fishing village in the south of France. Sybille herself settled there as a teenager, living near Aldous Huxley, with whom she became friends. Bedford interacted with and was influenced by many of the German writers who settled in the area during that time, including Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht. During this time, her mother became addicted to morphine prescribed by a local doctor, and became increasingly dysfunctional.

In 1933, Sybille published an article critical of the Nazi regime in Die Sammlung, the literary magazine of Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann. When her Jewish ancestry was subsequently discovered by the Nazis, her German bank accounts were frozen. At this time it was difficult for her to renew her German passport, and staying in Italy without a valid passport or source of income carried the risk of being deported to Germany. Maria Huxley came with a solution in 1935. Maria is known to have said, on occasion who should marry Sybille "We need to get one of our bugger friends". Sybille entered a marriage of convenience with an English Army officer, Walter "Terry" Bedford, (who had been an ex-boyfriend of a former man-servant of W.H Auden's) whom she described as a friend's "bugger butler", and obtained a British passport. The marriage ended shortly thereafter, but Sybille took her husband's surname, publishing all of her later work as Sybille Bedford.

With assistance from Aldous Huxley and his wife Maria, Bedford left France for America in advance of the German invasion of 1940. She followed the Huxleys to California and spent the rest of World War II in America.