The Amorous Vita Sackville-West

Day 306 of Colourisation Project – March 9

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

English poet, novelist and horticulturalist, Vita Sackville-West was as prolific a writer as she was a lover.

Childhood friend and lover, Violet Trefusis wrote of her in her autobiography, Don’t Look Round:

“No one had told me that Vita had turned into a beauty. The knobs and knuckles had all disappeared. She was tall and graceful. The profound, hereditary Sackville eyes were as pools from which the morning mists had lifted. A peach might have envied her complexion.”

Vita Sackville West

Photographer Unknown  ~  Vita Sackville-West c 1915  ~ Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Born on this day, March 9 1892, the only child of the Honourable Lionel Sackville-West and his illegitimate Spanish wife, Victoria (who was also his first cousin, the daughter of his uncle’s mistress). If Facebook was around in Lionel’s day his relationship status would have surely read “It’s complicated.”

Born into wealth and privilege, Vita’s grandmother ironically had been a Spanish gipsy from Malaga. To all appearances, Vita’s life presented an Edwardian upper-class respectability; a baron’s daughter, married to a knight of the realm, Harold Nicolson to whom she bore two sons.

However, The Hon Lady Nicolson, led a double life of subversion and rebellion behind closed doors. A tall, dark and handsome figure, most of her lovers were women. At the time the word ‘lesbian’ wasn’t even heard of. Though its first usage can be traced back to the 1800s, it wasn’t until the lesbian feminist era of the 1960s and 1970s, that it came into popular use…but that’s another story.

Throughout her long marriage to Harold, a pillar of the Establishment, who as it turns out was also gay, (another term that wasn’t in use at the time), Vita took in a conveyor-belt of lovers, including; Violet Trefusis, (the daughter of Alice Keppel, the mistress of Edward VII);  Virginia Woolf, (Vita was the inspiration for Woolf’s novel, Orlando: A Biography); Hilda Matheson, (the highest achieving woman in the BBC before the 2nd World War); Gwen St Aubyn, Vita’s sister-in-law; and Evelyn Irons, Scottish war correspondent and the first woman to be decorated with the French Croix de Guerre) just to name a few.

Always in love and rarely with only one person, Vita left a trail of wreckage in her wake; ruined marriages, ruined careers, broken suicidal hearts. Her marriage to Harold however, survived the turmoil and in fact they remained very much in love with each other and best friends to the very end. In a letter to him 18 months before her death, she wrote,

“Isn’t life odd? There once was a time when Violet and I were so madly in love, and I hurt you dreadfully, and now how dead that is. Passion completely spent. And the true love that has survived is mine for you and yours for me.

Oh what a very unexpected letter to write to you suddenly. You won’t like it, because you never like to face facts. Anyhow, I love you, much more than I loved you on October 1, 1913, and that is something more than most people can say after 45 years of marriage.”

Much has been written about Vita Sackville-West, but then most of it she wrote herself in her revelatory diaries, journals and letters published after her death.

Vita Sackville-West died in 1962 at her home, Sissinghurst Castle at the age of 70.

Ah, you have to love the Gentry…..without them there would be no Downtown Abbey!


“It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it.”     ~  Vita Sackville-West Letter to Virginia Woolf

This entry was posted in Britain, Colorization, Colourisation, Literature, Photography, Women, Women in Literature, Women writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Amorous Vita Sackville-West

  1. Pingback: The Amorous Vita Sackville-West | Kentallinoneplace's Blog

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