LADY SACKVILLE: A Biography by Susan Mary Alsop


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The story could have come straight out of an Offenbach operetta of the period."" The story, that is, of the 1850s Parisian romance between handsome, married diplomat Sackville-West and Spanish dancer Pepita. Among their brood of illegitimate offspring: Victoria, who, raised in a French convent after Pepita's untimely demise, emerged virginal, beautiful, and poised enough at 18 to transcend her illegitimacy and become papa's official hostess at the British ministry in Washington, D.C. That intriguing social anomaly is the most surprising aspect of Victoria's long, self-indulgent life--and the only episode to jump off the pages of Alsop's chatty, breathy biography. After papa lost his D.C. post through a ghastly political faux pas, Vicky returned with him to the family estate in Kent and quickly legitimized her position by marrying cousin Lionel (though truly in love with a French marquis). Lionel, however, surprised her with his rampant sensuality (bawdy, decoded diary excerpts), and all was ducky till the second half of Vicky's life was blighted by Lionel's infidelities, daughter Vita's bisexual shenanigans, and two lawsuits: brother Henry's doomed try at being declared legitimate (""the scandal of the day""); and a nasty attempt--here recreated in tedious detail--to contest the will of one of Vicky's generous admirers. (Others included J. P. Morgan, W. W. Astor, and Rodin.) A bizarre life--but, instead of psychological insight or stylish drama, Alsop provides gushy empathy (""oh, how sad it was"") and digressive padding (""The detailed description of the working of the servants' hierarchy is fascinating""). Be prepared to flesh out Alsop's Lady S. with your own imagination--or wait for somebody like Masterpiece Theater to do her up right.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1978
Publisher: Doubleday