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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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... ceased to love her from that moment.’ The person who said that was known as Christopher St John, though her real name was Christabel Marshall. We know how she felt about the object of her passion, VitaSackville-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 John to hold her ...

A Tale of Three Novels

Michael Holroyd: Violet Trefusis

11 February 2010
... Alice Keppel, a famously discreet mistress of the future Edward VII. ‘I wonder if I shall ever squeeze as much romance into my life as she has had in hers,’ Violet wrote in the summer of 1918 to VitaSackville-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 Sackville-West called ...

Two Poems

Claire Crowther

1 November 2007
... Once Troublesome Let them call her a wicked old woman! She knew she was no such thing. VitaSackville-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 ...

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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... that ends ‘But where’s the bloody horse?’). Campbell is one now of that large, sad category, the Neglected Poets, along with many whom, in his day, he despised: Humbert Wolfe, for example, and VitaSackville-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 ...

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 VitaSackville-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 ...

At the NPG

Jean McNicol: ‘Virginia Woolf’

10 September 2014
... supremely elegant’, Frances Spalding writes in the exhibition catalogue.* There was also a hat, presumably not the one Woolf was wearing when she went to see the latest Stravinsky ballet with VitaSackville-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 ...

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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... and Mr James Lees-Milne, who has written the first volume of his biography, refer to it as a great success, it cannot be regarded as anything but a disaster in terms of Nicolson’s public career. VitaSackville-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 ...

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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... in one sense how similar, was the experience of two debs (bridesmaids-to-be of Princess Elizabeth) who came to the islands in 1946 as guests of Nicolson’s father, Nigel (son of Harold Nicolson and VitaSackville-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 ...

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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... in 1931, the High Court described him as ‘a peculiarly shameless litigant’. On her mother’s side, Camilla’s relatives are racier still. Her great-aunt was Violet Trefusis, the lover of VitaSackville-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 ...

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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... Of course Some People was published many years before Nigel Nicolson’s Portrait of a Marriage (1973), which, with all the attendant volumes of correspondence and diaries, made Harold Nicolson and VitaSackville-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 ...

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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... leapt into the forefront of popularity with the middle-brow British listeners.’ In spite of all his airs, and not a little because of them, it was to this public that Nicolson, like his consort VitaSackville-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 ...

Dipper

Jason Harding: George Moore

21 September 2000
George Moore, 1852-1933 
by Adrian Frazier.
Yale, 604 pp., £29.95, May 2000, 0 300 08245 2
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... the conversations sound artificial and savour too much of an after-dinner raconteur enjoying the sound of his own voice. ‘Never did anyone talk such nonsense as George,’ Virginia Woolf wrote to VitaSackville-West in 1926. A large part of the problem was Moore’s summary dismissal of contemporaries such as Hardy, James and Conrad. Jealous of his literary fame, Moore was aptly described by ...

From culture to couture

Penelope Gilliatt

21 February 1985
The ‘Vogue’ Bedside Book 
edited by Josephine Ross.
Hutchinson, 256 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 09 158520 1
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The Art of Zandra Rhodes 
by Anne Knight and Zandra Rhodes.
Cape, 240 pp., £18, November 1984, 0 395 37940 7
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... Like a magazine, it reads best and most naturally if one starts from the back. The section on Books and Writers is first-rate and reads as though it had been written as a series, though it wasn’t. VitaSackville-West, for instance, on ‘What do women readers look for?’ (1923), not afraid to be anti-feminist – no one represented in this book is – and very funny about women’s insistence on ...

Exotic Bird from Ilford

Robert Baird: Denise Levertov

24 September 2014
Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life 
by Dana Greene.
Illinois, 328 pp., £22.99, October 2012, 978 0 252 03710 8
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A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov 
by Donna Krolik Hollenberg.
California, 515 pp., £30.95, April 2013, 978 0 520 27246 0
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Collected Poems 
by Denise Levertov.
New Directions, 1063 pp., £32.99, December 2013, 978 0 8112 2173 3
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... when she says that Levertov’s early poems possess more biographical than poetic interest. But her first collection, The Double Image, which appeared in 1946, earned an appreciative mention from VitaSackville-West in the Observer, and attracted the attention of Kenneth Rexroth, who chose to include her work in an anthology he was assembling. In the course of their correspondence Rexroth became ...

If everybody had a Wadley

Terry Castle: The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of ‘Joe’ Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water by Kate Summerscale

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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... France, Italy and the United States in the Twenties and Thirties. The links between Carstairs and various prominent figures in this extraordinary sapphic society – Radclyffe Hall, Natalie Barney, VitaSackville-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 ...

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