Unravelling the real Vita Sackville-West
Vita Sackville-West, the English poet and novelist, could have been a character that walked straight out of a scene from the British historical TV drama Downton Abbey.
After all, the Honorable Victoria Mary Sackville-West, Lady Nicolson– who wrote the acclaimed novel The Edwardians— knew all the proper graces and the pleasantries.
She also knew how to lead a scandalous life, but without letting it interfere with her quite honorable status. She was the daughter of a Baron and she later married a diplomat, after all.
Constantly under the public eye, she knew she had to do all her mischief under the covers of the bed.
Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf
Just as with Lorena Hickok, whose relationship was revealed in the voluminous correspondent with Eleanor Roosevelt, Vita’s long and intense relationship with Virginia Woolf came into light through their exchange of letters.
To sum up the fervency Vita felt for Virginia, she once wrote: I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia.
In return, Vita was the basis for Virginia’s novel, Orlando: A Biography, an immortal character who could change his or her sex.
What’s more, Vita’s son, Nigel Nicolson called Virginia’s novel “the longest and most charming love-letter in literature.”
Vita Sackville-West: Lover of both sexes
Still, it would be an injustice to Vita to say she was just Virginia’s lover. There were many more who fell in love with, became obsessed, or became suicidal over Vita.
While the term “lesbian” had yet to be coined, and despite a happy family life with her husband, Harold Nicolson, and their two children, Vita’s lovers leaned more towards women.
At the age of 18, Vita’s beauty had commandeered many men’s hearts. Her parents were looking forward to a wonderful union with one of the aristocrats seeking her hand.
Still, she married at the late age of 27 because none of these men interested her. She called them: “little dancing things in ballrooms.”
Vita Sackville-West and Rosamund Grosvenor
One of Vita’s greatest love was Rosamund Grosvenor, who hailed from a family of the Duke Westminster. She described her feelings for Rosamund in that the latter “used to make my head swim sometimes.”
It was during this period that she met Harold for the first time. She realized she was in love with him two years later when he kissed her.
“It never struck me as wrong that I should be more or less engaged to Harold and at the same time very much in love with Rosamund,” Vita said.
Fortunately, Harold was also into same-sex relationships. Long before their marriage– and long after it– he had and would engage in sexual relations with men. At one point, he even contracted a sexual disease from his flings.
However, he was cooler about his dalliances as opposed to Vita, who was passionate about her lovers. But then again, that was Vita Sackville-West: passionate as writers are wont to be.