Vita Sackville West

Trendsetter, forward thinker, poet, novelist, gardener, lesbian lover...

Vita Sackville West was an iconic, eccentric figure of the early 20th century. Born in 1892 she was the grandaughter of a famous Spanish dancer, Pepito who had had an intimate liason with the 2nd Lord Sackville, Lional Sackville West. Their daughter Victoria Sackville West married her cousin, the 3rd Baron Sackville, Lionel Edward Sackville West and together they produced little Vita. Phew.

The newly arrived little Sackville West was christened Victoria too but to save confusion with her mother she was universally known as 'Vita'. Naturally, as the daughter of an English aristocrat, her upbringing was one of cultured privilege, though as a female, she was unable to inherit the family home Knole House in Kent,  after the death of her father. This was no small loss, as you can observe in the picture below...

Vita Sackville West's childhood home, 'Knole House' in Kent

A Serious Writer
Vita's interest in poetry began in childhood and at seventeen she had a volume of dramatic verse published privately - Chatterton. Throughout her life she published several more volumes of poetry, thirteen novels, including The Edwardians and All Passion Spent . In addition to this, West wrote books on history, biographical works and from 1947 wrote a regular column called In Your Garden for the Observer. Though she may have been on the wild side, she was no literary slouch and in 1946 was given a Companion of Honour for her services to literature.

Vita sackville West stood out in a crowd, as much physically as through her antics. She was strikingly tall...over six foot, which in the early 20s was a particularly noticable departure form the norm. Her clothes too, were flamboyant and original and she was among the first to paint her nails in daring, vivid colours.

At twenty-one she marrried politician Harold Nicolson, though the latter revealed quite early in the relationship that he enjoyed sexual relationships with other males. However, this proved no impediment to the longevity of their marriage and they remained together, despite many affairs on both sides of the union. Nor did it prevent them from producing two children together - Nigel, who like his father became a writer and politician and Benedict, an art historian.

Virginia Woolf
Vita and Harold were outer satellites of the Bloomsbury Group, a gathering of free-thinking Bohemian imtellectuals, who refused to live by the strict Victorian moral codes of their era. Virginia Woolf was a member, as was economist Maynard Keynes, critic Clive Bell and biographer Lytton Strachey. 

Although West had lesbian affairs with several women throughout her life, it was her romantic liason with Virginia Woolf in the late 20s that garnered the most notoriety. Woolf is said to have modelled the main character for her novel Orlando in her lover, Vita Sackville West and indeed, West's son Nigel described the book as "the longest and most charming love-letter in literature". Yet her most enduring affair was probably with Violet Kepple, the daughter of Edward VII's mistress, Alice Kepple, whom she had known since early adolescence. Rumor has it at one stage the pair eloped together to Paris and were only parted when their respective husbands trudged over there and persuaded them to return.

West died in 1962- post-WW2 she had become something of a recluse, devoting herself to her beloved interests - gardening and writing.