BEHIND THE MASK: VITA SACKVILLE-WEST Beyond the Panorama November 6, 2022


Vita Sackville West

Written by Triasha Mondol

The androgynously gorgeous Lady Nicholson or as we know the sapphic baroness Vita Sackville-West had a fabulously dynamic identity transcending beyond her passionate and notorious liaisons, through the annals of the past. Vita’s larger than life personality declared assertively, in a letter to Virginia, that she would rather fail gloriously but dingily succeed. Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen she had composed almost five full length novels—one in French, five intense plays, and brilliant ballads to boot. She quite candidly describes her childhood self in a diary as “rough” and “secret.” Virginia Woolf who read Vita like no one else, describes her shortly after they had met: “She shines in the grocery shop in Seven oaks, with a candle-lit radiance. Stalking on legs like beach trees. Pink-glowing, grape-clustered, pearl-hanging.” 

She grew up at Knole, the Kent home of their long-gestating aristocratic legacy, where she wrote fervently and prolifically. Vita married the young diplomat Harold Nicolson, at the age of 21, in a private chapel at Knole. Their open marriage availed her of other turbulent romances with Violet Trefusis; whom Vita met as a child; when before she left, Violet offered her a disarming parting kiss. Time thus invited them, to a decade-long obsession brewing from a mutually ardent intrigue, emphatically on non-platonic terms. Gradually being besotted with the incandescent Virginia Woolf, ten years her senior. It blossomed into a profoundly sacrosanct emotional affinity, timeless tenderness, intellectual cohesion, sensuous passion and the most steadfast of friendships, all of which are deeply and delicately human. “I wish you would be induced to call me Virginia”, “I often think of you, instead of my novel” and so on. Vita has been lurking in the context of Woolf through most of her revolutionary novels and many experimental compositions like ‘The Waves’ until the sacred sacrilege of a deferential obeisance to her own emotions, when she documented Vita in her 1948 novel, “Orlando” as she became her eternal muse and played an explosive ultrafeminine role—effortlessly shapeshifting between being a man and lady, which transmogrified the nature and course of LGBT love for the centuries to follow. Nicolson himself quite poetically calls this “the longest and most charming love letter in Literature, in which Virginia explores Vita.” 

Vita herself was quite capable, a novelist, a diarist, and a poet publishing over more than a dozen compendium of poetry and 13 novels in her lifetime. She was twice awarded the very reverential Hawthornden Prize for Imaginative Literature for her outstanding pastoral epic, ‘The Land’ in 1927, and for ‘Collected Poems’ in 1933. Her glorious column at The Observer is eternally evoked, as a token of remembrance for the celebrated garden at Sissinghurst created with her consort Harold Nicolson. Ergo, the nonpareil utterance of the name of Lady Nicholson may provoke prismatic identifications; some of those who know Vita Sackville-West as the intrepid Orlando, some for her idyllic gardens at Sissinghurst or equally quintessential garden advice. Another cohort associates this name, for her ultrafeminine role in the annals of history and for the brazen and unabashed sapphism. Among the several vacillations of Virginia, she has rightly identified that Vita had little interest in feminism—the only emancipation that she deemed worthy of remarkable consequence, was the Freedom of choice and Freedom to publish. In Woolf’s Personalities, she proceeds true great writers as having “something elusive, enigmatic, impersonal about them—which makes them relatively uninteresting biographically. It is the imperfect artist who never managed to say the whole thing in their books, who wield the power of personality over us” and that was the single most psychedelic pneuma; whose charm has seized time and freed breath of its breathless tides. That was Vita.

Image Credits – Picryl

Triasha Mondol
Triasha Mondol

Writing to me is a keenest pleasure and the happiest indulgence. I engage in this pursuit for I think it’s a cathartic relief. Through the annals of what I write and have written, I attempt toward a disjunction from the corporal mundanity with total semblance to reality. For art is a mirror to the realistic. A tryst with the known and the unknown. I personify my poems to be a safe space. To write is to liberate my soul to the unfamiliar yet thousand times familiar with the presence of it. 

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