Vita The Life of V. Sackville-West

Author(s): Victoria Glendinning

Garden Writing

' What each of us would look for in an ideal future biographer is what each of us looks for in an ideal doctor: sympathy, trustfulness and acute powers of diagnosis. All these three qualities are here present. Vita would undoubtedly have shared our approval and gratitude' Sunday Telegraph


Vita Sackville-West was a vital, gifted and complex woman. A dedicated writer, she made her mark as poet, novelist, biographer, travel writer, journalist and broadcaster. She was also one of the most influential English gardeners of the century, creating with her husband the famous gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent.


Vita documents her extraordinary life, focusing on her relationships with Violet Trefusis, Virginia Woolf, her husband, and her two sons together with her unpublicised love affairs. Vita was determined to be more than just a married woman; her passionate, secretive character, and the strains, mistakes and achievements of her remarkable life makes " Vita" a absorbing and disturbing book.

Hb with protective dj and owners name on fep, good copy

Product Information

This is an absorbing, meticulous biography of Vita Sackville-West. It is written with objectivity and so Glendinning does not judge or come to any broad conclusions about Vita; she leaves that to the reader. She expects the reader to go elsewhere to learn more about the other actors including Harold Nicolson. I felt there could have been more about the fundamental, crucial change in Vita and her marriage to Harold after her love affair with Violet Trefusis. And more about Harold's story to make the whole a bit more balanced. This is my only criticism - basically I would have welcomed an even longer book. However, Glendinning does include a lot (because there is no major biography of her) about Vita's mother; I found a lot of this very entertaining plus it provides important background to Vita's own passionate nature and also her need for equilibrium and Harold.

The book left me with a sense of Vita as a self-centred (not all in a bad way) woman who lived life as far as she could on her terms. Did what she wanted. And broke hearts and even lives with little apparent remorse. She was also kind, passionate, thoughtful and elegant. Maybe her heart had been broken too. At the end of the book I felt ambivalent about her.

Last week I visited Sissinghurst. The book came to life. I saw the haven of gorgeous large gardens that were wrought, by day, through hard manual work over many years; the haven of the tower room where Vita worked, by night, in solitude writing and reading. There is the surrounding privacy cordon of wonderful Kent countryside gradually bought by Vita and Harold over the years. Not much of Vita's energy or money could have been wasted on the ephemeral or purposeless; it was invested in this perfect un-leavable place. I remembered she gave up her trust fund income to work for her living. She worked hard. She didn't waste time on the unproductive; she cut off unruly lovers that threatened her equilibrium. A visit to Knole this last Sunday made me see Vita in her natural romantic surroundings - just like Woolf's Orlando in his vulnerable youth. Despite her losses, and using her advantages Vita became herself, fused her different dimensions as far as she could; she found a certain freedom and an equilibrium. There were a few signs towards the very end of her life ('No Signposts in the Sea'), that she felt she might have got the balance wrong. But there was no guidebook, no signposts for such an individual life. Flaws and all, I've got to appreciate her. She comes from a different planet to me in terms of class and history - but her journey and choices make her fascinating and valid. Victoria Glendinning's biography is excellent but she admits it's not comprehensive. There is more to understand and this book is the most excellent place to start that journey. If you're able to, visit Sissinghurst and Knole - they are where you'll truly find and understand Vita. I enjoyed reading this book and didn't want it to end.

General Fields

  • : 0297783068
  • : Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd
  • : Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 430
  • : B&W Photographs
  • : Victoria Glendinning
  • : Hardback