Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Vita: The Life of Vita Sackville-West" by Victoria Glendinning

Vita Sackville -West
Vita:  The Life of Vita Sackville-West by Victoria Glendinning   (1983-436 pages)

I first became interested in learning about Vita Sackville-West from Hermione Lee's biography Virginia Woolf in which it is suggested that Vita was the most important same sex relationship of  Virginia Woolf  (aside from that of Katherine Mansfield and there was no romantic side to their relationship).     One of the great things about Virginia Woolf is the number of fascinating people in her life.    I confess to never having heard prior to a month ago of Vita Sackville-West.    

I did an Amazon search on Vita and found that there was a fairly recent biography of her available by Victoria Glendinning, who has also done biographies on Elizabeth Bowen and Edith Stillwell.    Glendinning's biography is very well done and takes us deeply into the life of Vita.     Vita was born into a   very old aristocratic English family.    Glendinning says the family line can be traced back prior to the Norman Invasion in 1066.    Vita grew up in an incredible estate which is now part of the National Trust.   She also wrote several novels (which are still in print) about the Edwardian era.        At one time her novels outsold the work of Woolf.    She also became a famous garden designer.

There is one reason really that Vita is still known outside a very small group of professional scholars  and that is the fact that one of Virginia Woolf's most highly regarded books, Orlando, is dedicated to her.    The character of Orlando was based on Vita.   Vita's son said that Orlando can be seen as a love letter to Vita.   

I hesitate to say this as Glendinning researched this era and the central characters for years but she said one thing in the book I feel is very wrong.    Vita and Woolf had begun to become close nearly the exact same time that Katherine Mansfield died and Glendinning says that Vita filled the void in Woolf's life left by the passing of Mansfield.   To me the relationships were very different and I see little sense in which this is true.   Woolf was a bit afraid of Mansfield, for one thing.     Vita was a larger than ordinary life woman whom I visualize descending from one of the family Rolls- Royces in the company of her distinguished  husband Harold Nicholson or one of her many lovers of both sexes.    One wonders and the question is not pondered elsewhere as I have seen, if Woolf would have been so fascinated by an impoverished Vita.     

Vita:  The Life of Vita Sackville-West by Victoria Glendinning  is an excellent biography.   I would endorse it to those who already have an interest in Virginia Woolf and those who enjoy a good literary biography.   I would have to say if you do not have these interests it might be hard for you to get into this book.   I am glad I read it and will, in time, I hope, read her biography of Elizabeth Bowen also.

Mel u


ds said...

Mel,I think your criticism of Glendinning's biography of Vita is spot-on. Virginia Woolf's love/hate relationship with Katherine Mansfield was in no way similar to her relationship with Vita Sackville-West. VW feared/was made uncomfortable by Mansfield's talent & considered her to be her closest literary rival in that way (The Hogarth Press published Prelude so Virginia was an early reader.). Vita was a very popular author, but had nothing like Woolf's talent; I believe their relationship might have been very different if VW had regarded VSW as her intellectual & literary equal. Instead, Vita was an aristocrat and not ashamed to flaunt it, which appealed to VW immensely as you say. All of the fun (money, privilege) and none of the responsibility (will her next novel be similar to mine?)...
Victoria Glendinning also wrote the recent bio of Leonard Woolf. Isn't that interesting?
Thank you for always cutting to the heart of every book you review.

Mel u said...

ds-yes I have seen the book on Leonard Woolf in the stores here and think I may read it soon-even if the authors perceptions may be off a bit she still gives a lot of information from which we can form our own perceptions

Tiina said...

You might also like Suzanne Raitt's Vita & Virginia -The Work and Friendship of V. Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. I found it very interesting. I wrote a bit about it here
I've read The Erwardians by Vita Sackville-West & have another one of her novels waiting for its turn. The Edwardians made quite an impression on me.


Lyndsey said...

I thought that the story of Vita in her own right was just as interesting as her relationship with VW. For example, I thought the story of her ancestors was absolutely fascinating. Agree with the other commenters - both the bio of Leonard Woolf and the Edwardians are well worth a read.

Mel u said...

Tina-thanks for telling me of the second book on the friendship of VW and Vita

Lyndsey-yes did not mean to really suggest the story of Vita was not of intrinsic interest-I will read, I hope, the biography of Leonard Woolf soon-thanks for visiting my blog

VirWoolf said...

It is rather impossible to find a copy of this biography, unless it's used (the only two new copies I found on Amazon were extremely expensive). Any help?

Mel u said...

Virgywolif- I bought this used on Amazon mid 2010 for a few dollars- I sold it after reading it - it is a very good book - I hope you find it.