Now that the nation's booksellers have cleared out their copies of Writers and Their Houses worry not if you didn't snap up a 1p copy, I plan to refer to it a great deal in future reading here, starting today with the Sackville-West family.
Described as the 'mildly local kind' rather than the 'hunting. wenching. riotous sort,' her family encouraged Vita's literary sensibilities. They were 'melancholy; they were patrons; they wrote,' and U.A.Fanthorpe's imagining of the little girl alone in the Sackville attics at Knole conjures up a wonderful picture of a child busy soaking up the family's past poetic and literary connections. The 6th Earl, Charles, himself a Restoration poet, numbered Dryden and Pope amongst his friends.
I had wondered about Knole, family seat of the Sackville-Wests, and where and how Sissinghurst came into the picture, and haven't read Knole and the Sackvilles, so it was down to U.A.Fanthorpe to fill me in on the detail. I had no idea that despite previous sister heiresses who somehow side-stepped the male lineage rule and inherited, those rules changed to limitation in default of male issue on creation of the barony of Sackville in 1876. Since then both property and title have been entailed, as per all the regular kerfuffle in Jane Austen's novels...
'When Vita Sackville-West was shown Sissinghurst, she 'fell flat in love with it'. Like an offended lover, she turned her back on Knole for thirty years. The bitterness of her disinheritance reveals itself in her choice of phrase - it was the result of a 'technical fault' : she was a woman.'
Makes you want to spit for her really doesn't it. Thirty-six years of being in love with your home when suddenly it is given to someone else and there is no place there for you, someone else will be moving in and you have to leave, it must have been a huge wrench..
'I suppose my love for Knole has gone deeper than anything else in my life'
Bit like me driving away from our little terraced cottage nineteen years ago last week, with the guinea pigs, the dog, the cat and the TV (not sure why the TV) piled in the back of the car to move in here... Bookhound had gone on ahead with the removal vans, the children and the chickens. Well no, not a bit like it really, that was out of choice, but I remembering wondering how on earth anyone else could possibly ever be as happy there as we had been, and love the little place and look after it as much as we had, and even though they had paid us money for it I still felt...well a bit usurped and bereft. It was an odd and unexpected feeling. Vita must have felt a whole lot worse.
Vita's renunciation of Knole (as E.A.Fanthorpe describes it) seems to have happened at the height of her affair with Virginia Woolf, and browsing Virginia's Collected Letters III, 1923-28 reveals some passionate and imploring letters from her showing concern for Vita and begging her to visit. It all makes me intrigued enough to know what Vita may have been writing to Virginia, but Vita's own letters in the volume I have give little away, she was obviously being very circumspect about it all (or the editors were). I'd love to know what this is about, as written in a letter from Virginia to Edward, the heir of the Sackville-West dynasty...
'I have just been down to Long Barn. Vita seems better, and has answered about three hundred letters [about her father], but I'm afraid it is a dismal affair for her; and your aunts [Lady Sackville] behaviour could only be tolerated in an Elizabethan play. That she may take a dagger to her own throat or drink broken glass is rather my hope, I admit. What on odd race you are!'
Turning to the novels of Vita I have read and loved All Passion Spent this summer and will write more about it soon, and have a few more V S-Ws on the shelf which I am looking forward to. I fancied reading the poetry, The Land and The Garden, even though Virginia's praise for it in a letter to Vita is rather measured...
'...I've been reading The Land - so good, I think, some lines.'
I was never going to be so lucky again with 1p copies, they are all quite pricey, but then I made the mistake of listening to this clip on youtube, of Vita reading The Land.
It's everso slytly put me orf, but that's silly, I'll come round.
So any Vita fans out there... any recommends??