Bookish Birthday: Vita Sackville-West

9th Mar 2012

Bookish Birthday: Vita Sackville-West
Vita Sackville-West, a woman of numerous skills, has left behind a legacy spanning not just the literary world, but the world of horticulture and is still considered among the greatest women in both fields of work and creation.

Born 9th March 1892 to parents (and first cousins) Lionel Edward Sackville-West and Victoria Josefa Dolores Catalina Sackville-West, Vita began writing from a very early age and completed an extraordinary amount of writing before even turning eighteen, consisting of eight historical novels, five plays, and an array of poetry.

Vita married her husband Harold Nicholson in 1913, after which they moved to Cospoli, Constantipole, but shortly returned to England in 1914 when they purchased Long Barn in Kent.

A love of spectacular gardening seemed to flourish as they hired their friend, architect Edwin Lutyens to design them a parterre. In 1930 they purchased Sissinghurst Castle where they transformed the derelict estate from ruins into spectacular gardens and lodgings.

Throughout her life, Vita participated in numerous lesbian affairs, the most infamous of these being with the writer Virginia Woolf whilst at the same time having another affair with Mary Garman.

It has been said that Woolf was unconcerned with the controversy of the sexual elements of the affair, and felt a deep love and affection for Vita, and she became incredibly jelous of Vita’s affair with Garmen.

Dedicating her novel Orlando (1928) to her, as well as including three pictures of Vita in the eight illustrations that accompanied the novel, the text explores the concept of sexual ambiguity, and Woolf made it very clear to Vita in a letter that the character of Orlando was inspired and used as a literary comparison to Vita herself.

Vita’s husband Harold was also an active homosexual though they remained married and cohabiting together, and this was a fact known to all their friends.

When inviting Garmen and her husband Roy Campbell to reside with them in their castle, Campbell protested when he became aware of the affair and referred to their home as a “posh brothel”.

Campbell was devastated by the affair and after a meeting it was agreed the affair would cease. However, when Campbell was in hospital, the affair resumed once more.

Vita’s complete works comprises of seventeen novels, alongside translated works, numerous biographies and a large amount of poetic writing. The Edwardians is considered by many to be her greatest piece of work, though Vita herself became irritated by even the mention of the novel.

Her writing covered a great span of topics including her relationship with her family and historical events, while her poetry conveyed her love of gardening amongst a number of other topics.

In 1948, Vita was appointed Companion of Honour for her services to literature, and towards the latter years of her life, she wrote a regular gardening column for The Observer. In 1955 she was awarded the gold Veitch medal of the Royal Horticultural Society for her work and knowledge of horticulture.

After completing another biography and a final novel, No Signposts in the Sea, Vita eventually died of stomach cancer 2nd June 1962. For her lasting influence upon the literary world alongside refusing to conform in her personal life, we wish Vita Sackville-West a very happy birthday!


  • Simon T says:

    Happy birthday Vita, indeed! I really love one of her lesser known novellas, The Heir, about a man who inherits a huge house and slowly falls in love with it.

  • Jess says:

    The Edwardians is a fanstastic novel and well worth a re-read this year from me. I read No Signposts In The Sea over Christmas and it is a heart breakingly sad, beautiful little book that would be perfect for a long train journey where you need something to reflect on.