1 March 2017 Susannah

Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf

Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf

Some months ago in a newsletter, I wrote about the Nicolson family of writers, descendants of Vita Sackville-West.

I recently read, and loved, A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson, a book which begins with her great-great grandmother, the Spanish dancer Pepita, and ends with Juliet’s own granddaughters. It covers seven generations. I knew a lot about some of them from various biographies, but found it fascinating to follow the family through the female line, seeing how the troubles of one woman impacted on the next generation.

With that book fresh in my mind, I was delighted to learn that a biopic is being made about Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Starring Eva Green as Virginia and Gemma Arterton as Vita, the film will focus on the relationship between the two writers at the time Woolf wrote Orlando, which Vita’s son Nigel has called “the longest and most charming love letter in literature” (I personally do not agree about the ‘charming’ part – I am not a fan of Orlando). The script is based on the stage play written by Eileen Atkins.

And on the topic of films about the lives of authors, did you know that a film has been made about Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein when she was only 18? The film stars Elle Fanning as Mary, and Douglas Booth as her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is based on an original screenplay by Australian writer Emma Jensen. The movie is due to be released this year.

Have you read Orlando, or A House Full of Daughters? What do you think of Vita’s writing or the relationship she had with Virgina Woolf? Please tell me by leaving a comment.

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Featured image- Vita Sackville-West & Virginia Woolf, public domain images
Body image- A House Full of Daughters: A Memoir of Seven Generations by Juliet Nicolson. book cover image from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24909800-a-house-full-of-daughters
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Comments (10)

  1. Lynda

    I found All Passion Spent an interesting and amusing book, though some of the humour may be because it is dated. When Lady Sloane is negotiating the lease, her landlord basically says, ‘At your age you won’t be wanting a five year lease, let’s make it a yearly lease’. She is I think 70 ish at the time. We would consider that tactless!
    The early scene with her children planning how she should be shared out ‘3 months with you, then 3 with me….’ Probably still happens today, though not the outrage when she decides to live ‘alone’ meaning with servants.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, the novel is something of a period piece. I guess then 70 was what 90 might be today. And servants were so taken for granted they didn’t need to be mentioned – poor things!
      Glad you enjoyed the novel.

  2. John wilson

    “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me” CS Lewis. He practised what he preached with The Chronicles of Narnia (No not read it, not my cup of tea) He also enjoyed a beer at the Eagle and Child in Oxford with the Inklings so not just.a tea drinker

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Have you been to the Eagle and Child? It is a fascinating pub and so amazing to think of those Inklings all drinking and talking literature – Tolkein, Lord David Cecil, CS Lewis etc. I am not a huge CS Lewis fan, and am not a tea drinker, but of course I get his point. A long book and a glass of chilled white wine would do it for me.

  3. Margaret Debenham

    I do love “Orlando” – I think the concept is brilliant, and it created the most wonderful pictures in my head. I particularly love the description of the coming of the Great Frost, with the birds dropping from the trees, and the old bumboat woman visible under the Thames ice, frozen on her way to sell her apples (I can still see her, even though I encountered her over forty years ago). But there are so many more gorgeous scenes, often created with just a few impressionistic strokes. (And the images created by Virginia’s words are not the same as the images from the movie – which I also thoroughly enjoyed.) However I do love Virginia’s writing generally (even when I have to concentrate hard to follow its thread, or read it out loud to find the rhythm of the poetry in her prose) – and my greatest treat over many Christmases was to buy the latest volume of her letters and diaries as each was published. Fascinating reads!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      OK, I am clearly missing something and perhaps I should go back and read it again. Thanks for pointing out some of its beauties, Margaret. Have you read a book about V Woolf and her servants. From memory it is called ‘Mrs Woolf and the Servants’. I found it fascinating, though I can’t say it made me love Virginia.

      • Margaret Debenham

        I haven’t read “Mrs Woolf and the Servants” – yet; it is on my list, and as soon as I see it in a bookshop… (I try to use real bookshops as much as possible, as I don’t want them to disappear!) I do love Virginia, the person who comes through in her letters and diaries, her extraordinary mind, although I concede she wouldn’t have been the easiest person to get on with. I do, however, sympathise with her servant difficulties. I think she was essentially shy and didn’t fit easily into the role of “upstairs” to their “downstairs”, which some of them took advantage of. I think that is partially why she fell for Vita – Vita’s commanding ways, her aristocratic imperiousness. I’m not sure that Virginia was ever really passionately in love with anyone (except for some long-dead authors, or Walter Scott, perhaps?), but I think the brief affair with Vita was rewarding for her, mentally and emotionally, as it showed her a glimpse of a(to her) fascinatingly romantic world – which became Orlando’s world. I haven’t read Vita yet (apart from her correspondence, and “A Passenger to Tehran”, which is fascinating), but “The Edwardians” sits on the shelf waiting.

        Quite possibly you haven’t missed anything in Orlando – it simply doesn’t appeal. Have you enjoyed other VW books – “To the Lighthouse”, for instance?

        • Susannah Fullerton

          I do like ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘A Room of One’s Own’, and Virginia was perceptive about Jane Austen, so she gets top marks for that. I think you are right about the servants – Vita found it much easier to boss servants, whereas Virginia was probably always uncomfortable with servants looking after her. I have been to Monk’s House and seen her room and lovely garden there, which I did find very moving. The river where she drowned herself was nearby. Her life is so sad. I am very much looking forward to the new film about Vita and Virginia.

  4. Trish Farrar

    Thanks, Susannah, for the heads-up on A House Full of Daughters. I am a big fan of the fascinating Bloomsbury women having inherited my late aunt’s enormous collection of VW. However one of my favourite biographies of recent time is “Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter” by Diana Souhami about Alice Keppel (Edward VII’s mistress and Camilla Parker-Bowled great grandmother!)and her daughter, Violet Trefusis who had a protracted and destructive affair with Vita Sackville-West. Rivetting stuff! Sadly, I’m with you on “Orlando” but it’s a great example of modernist literature.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I’ve seen the Mrs Keppel biography and will add that to my list, as they were fascinating women. Biographers of the past tended to look at subjects through the male line, and it is rgeat that the balance is being redressed. Glad you agree with me about ‘Orlando’? Is there someone out there who loves it and can tell me what I’m missing?

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