V. SACKVILLE-WEST by Michael Stevens


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Fortunately, in one sense, considering the success of Nigel Nicholson's Portrait of a Marriage, this does not trespass on Vita Sackville-West's personal life to any extent (the famous Violet episode is reduced to a few pages and Stevens comments only passingly on her sexual duality and the ""true marriage of minds"" she found with Harold Nicholson, ""so unphysical"" -- her words). Less fortunately, in another sense, this critical biography carefully evaluates all of her writing -- novels, poetry, biography -- and when toward the end of her life she realized that she was ""a damned out-moded poet,"" the same might be said today for her other works. Perhaps All Passion Spent is the only novel we scarcely remember. The child of a capricious, dazzling, extravagant woman who neglected or rather ignored her for the most part, V. S-W grew up in relative isolation in the ancestral family estate Knole to which she gave her entire affection -- places rather than people would always be closest to her. Thus toward the end, having lost Knole, she sparked Harold into purchasing Sissinghurst Castle in Kent which became her sanctuary while the development of its beautiful gardens was a true vocation. They no doubt will outlast her books and in spite of Stevens' tacitly appreciative explication de texte, we are unlikely to return to them.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1974
Publisher: Scribners