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Vita Longa

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 1 December 1983

VitaThe Life of V. Sackville-West 
by Victoria Glendinning.
Weidenfeld, 430 pp., £12.50, September 1983, 0 297 78306 8
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... her real name was Christabel Marshall. We know how she felt about the object of her passion, Vita Sackville-West, because she kept a ‘love-journal’ in Vita’s honour. Miss Sackville-West, who had recently (and most unusually) been abandoned by another woman, allowed Miss St ...

A Tale of Three Novels

Michael Holroyd: Violet Trefusis, 11 February 2010

... as much romance into my life as she has had in hers,’ Violet wrote in the summer of 1918 to Vita Sackville-West. She had begun to squeeze a very indiscreet romance with Vita into her own life. The girls’ passion for each other was to be the subject of an early novel by ...

Two Poems

Claire Crowther, 1 November 2007

... Once Troublesome Let them call her a wicked old woman! She knew she was no such thing. Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent It isn’t New Year yet so Happy What? Till then, it’s Boxing Day every morning. Empty bags hang off the radiators. Chilly: hot                       cold                                  Cordelia position ...

Bloody Horse

Samuel Hynes, 1 December 1983

Roy Campbell: A Critical Biography 
by Peter Alexander.
Oxford, 277 pp., £12.50, March 1981, 0 19 211750 5
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The Selected Poems of Roy Campbell 
edited by Peter Alexander.
Oxford, 131 pp., £7.50, July 1982, 9780192119469
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... Neglected Poets, along with many whom, in his day, he despised: Humbert Wolfe, for example, and Vita Sackville-West and Edward Shanks. Can it be that he belongs in such forgotten company? Is his a just neglect? Reading the life, one must conclude that if he indeed had a genuine poetic gift, he had other qualities of mind and character that worked ...

A Bride for a Jackass

Christopher de Bellaigue: Vita in Persia, 25 March 2010

Twelve Days in Persia 
by Vita Sackville-West.
Tauris Parke, 142 pp., £9.99, August 2009, 978 1 84511 933 1
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... Nineteen twenty-seven was a fine year to be Vita Sackville-West. She was 35, attaining what her son would call her ‘tumultuous maturity’, besieged by lovers. Her elegy to Kentish life, The Land, had won the Hawthornden Prize, and she was hesitantly revising her earlier, somewhat churlish opinions of her own talent ...

At the NPG

Jean McNicol: ‘Virginia Woolf’, 11 September 2014

... presumably not the one Woolf was wearing when she went to see the latest Stravinsky ballet with Vita Sackville-West just before she visited Garsington, ‘a sort of top-hat made of straw with two orange feathers like Mercury’s wings’, Sackville-West wrote to her husband, Harold Nicolson. It ‘pleased Virginia ...

One of the Pyramids of Egypt

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 27 May 1999

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Comet of the Enlightenment 
by Isobel Grundy.
Oxford, 680 pp., £30, April 1999, 0 19 811289 0
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... of Women” ’. Woolf may have intended her mock-biography as an affectionate portrait of Vita Sackville-West, but Isobel Grundy is surely right in thinking that these episodes in Orlando’s career were primarily inspired by the life and letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Of course Lady Mary was not herself Britain’s Ambassador to the ...

Landlord of the Moon

David Craig: Scottish islands, 21 February 2002

Sea Room: An Island Life 
by Adam Nicolson.
HarperCollins, 391 pp., £14.99, October 2001, 0 00 257164 1
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... came to the islands in 1946 as guests of Nicolson’s father, Nigel (son of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West). They lasted a night. Wakened by noisy rats, they screamed. Nigel would have to row them back out to a fishing boat in the morning. But he had forgotten to tie up his dinghy, which had drifted out and shattered on the rocks: ‘Nigel ...

Ambitions

Robert Blake, 18 December 1980

Harold Nicolson: A Biography: Vol. 1, 1886-1929 
by James Lees-Milne.
Chatto, 429 pp., £15, November 1980, 0 7011 2520 9
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Harold Nicolson Diaries 1930-1964 
by Stanley Olson.
Collins, 436 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 0 00 216304 7
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... success, it cannot be regarded as anything but a disaster in terms of Nicolson’s public career. Vita Sackville-West was the daughter of Lord Sackville. Had she been a boy, she would have inherited Knole, one of the most famous country houses in England, together with the estates entailed in the male line upon her cousin Eddy. She bitterly resented this ...

Squidging about

Caroline Murphy: Camilla and the sex-motherers, 22 January 2004

Camilla: An Intimate Portrait 
by Rebecca Tyrrel.
Short Books, 244 pp., £14.99, October 2003, 1 904095 53 4
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... side, Camilla’s relatives are racier still. Her great-aunt was Violet Trefusis, the lover of Vita Sackville-West. Even better, her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, was Edward VII’s official mistress. It may be more than mere chance that the role of maîtresse-en-titre to the Prince of Wales runs in the family. Tyrrel says that, as a child, Camilla ...

Poor Harold

C.H. Sisson, 3 December 1981

Harold Nicolson: A Biography. Vo. II: 1930-1968 
by James Lees-Milne.
Chatto, 403 pp., £15, October 1981, 0 7011 2602 7
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... his airs, and not a little because of them, it was to this public that Nicolson, like his consort Vita Sackville-West, was really attuned, and the Thirties were the great age of the middlebrow. If James Lees-Milne has a fault as Nicolson’s biographer, it is one which is understandable in a friend of his subject’s and of the family – that of being ...

The Candidate of Beauty

Alexander Stille: D’Annunzio and the Pursuit of Glory, 2 July 1998

Gabriele D’Annunzio: Defiant Archangel 
by John Woodhouse.
Oxford, 420 pp., £25, February 1998, 0 19 815945 5
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... becoming a kind of stratigraphic layer in an archaeological dig. The novels of Disraeli, Vita Sackville-West, Georges Sand and Jack London and the plays of Clifford Odets come to mind. Gabriele D’Annunzio is now best known as a historical figure, as a dandy-poet in Fin-de-Siècle Rome, celebrated for his flamboyant, scandalous love-life and ...

Soothe and Scold

Helen McCarthy: Mothers, 12 September 2019

Mother: An Unconventional History 
by Sarah Knott.
Viking, 336 pp., £14.99, March 2019, 978 0 241 19860 5
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... period of ‘confinement’. Harold Nicolson pushed verbal restraint to its limit in a note to Vita Sackville-West shortly after the birth of their son in 1914: ‘Give a hug from me to that odd little funny which happened the other day.’ Revulsion for the maternal body persisted. The journalist Drusilla Beyfus, who had three pregnancies in the late ...

If everybody had a Wadley

Terry Castle: ‘Joe’ Carstairs, the ‘fastest woman on water’, 5 March 1998

The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of ‘Joe’ Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water 
by Kate Summerscale.
Fourth Estate, 248 pp., £12.99, August 1997, 1 85702 360 9
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... prominent figures in this extraordinary sapphic society – Radclyffe Hall, Natalie Barney, Vita Sackville-West, Gertrude Stein, Mercedes de Acosta, Gluck, Djuna Barnes, Ida Rubenstein, Romaine Brooks, Elsie de Wolfe, Eileen Gray, Wanda Landowksa, Winaretta Singer, Rose O’Neill, Violet Trefusis, Janet Flanner and numerous others – demand ...

A Very Smart Bedint

Frank Kermode: Harold Nicolson, 17 March 2005

Harold Nicolson 
by Norman Rose.
Cape, 383 pp., £20, February 2005, 0 224 06218 2
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... which, with all the attendant volumes of correspondence and diaries, made Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West more famous for their unusual private lives than for their works. A benefit offered by this new biography is that all that gossip has to take its place along with the non-marital rest of a life that was certainly full. Its subject was an ...

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