I have always been very intrigued by the life and loves of Vita Sackville West. Ever since finding a book of love letters sent to her by Violet Trefusis in a second hand book store in Gloucester in the early 90s. I have wondered what her allure was, she seemed to bewitch all those whom she met, both male and female. Looking at the wonderful pictures included in the book, she certainly wasn’t really a stunner in a traditional sense but certainly did have an androgynous quality to her. You can see how Virginia Woolf imagined her as ‘Orlando’ the male and female hero or heroine of that wonderful book. And wow what a love letter to receive, not only to Vita but also to her ancestral home. A lot has been made of how saddened Vita was to lose her beloved Knowle, due to male succession. This book gets to the core of why she was hit so hard. The house in fact became a childhood friend to her, she would lose herself for hours within its rooms and the costumes and paintings of her ancestors were her playmates and inspirations for her literature later in life.
I didn’t know anything really about her parents prior to reading the book. Her mother was her father’s cousin but from Italy and a very fiery controlling individual, who controlled or at least tried to control Vita, yet seemed to take her daughter’s love life in her stride. However, she did prefer it when her daughter had marital affairs with men rather than women, throw into the pot the fact that Vita’s husband was himself bisexual and you certainly have an interesting book! The fact they went on the radio to discuss the joys of marriage is hilarious!
Vita doesn’t come across as a very likeable lady; in fact she wrecks the lives of those she meets throughout her own live. Mathew really delves into what made her thus, how the impact of her parents’ relationship and personalities permeated into her own life.
I really enjoyed Mathew’s book, it was a joy to read not just due to the fascinating subject matter but also as it was so very well written and even if you know nothing of the subject matter you would thoroughly enjoy the book! I highly recommend it, and will be seeking out his other works in the future.