FOR SYLVIA: An Honest Account by Valentine Ackland

FOR SYLVIA: An Honest Account

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A sensitively rendered account of what it was like growing up ""unnatural"" and ""depraved"" (the words are the author's mother's) by the woman who was Sylvia Townsend Warner's lover/companion for nearly 40 years. Midway through this relationship, thinking she had fallen in love with another woman, Ackland, by then a published poet, penned this apologia and presented it to Warner. Thanks largely to Warner's generosity of spirit, the relationship survived and Ackland and Warner stayed together until the former's death in 1968. Now, Ackland's brief memoir (with a graceful and informative ""Foreword"" by Bea Howe) joins the growing body of lesbian literature as an ultimately compelling, though hastily sketched picture of female homosexuality in the England of the first half of this century. Ackland was the younger daughter of a successful West End dentist and his hypochondriac wife. A solitary child, she was shy, yet eager for approval; intimidated at school, though hungry for knowledge; raised by her rigidly orthodox parents for a ""proper marriage,"" but sexually attracted to women. She was torn between a sense of worthlessness and an equally strong conviction that she was somehow superior. Later, alcoholism was to further complicate matters. These conflicting traits combined to produce a life that, as Ackland herself admitted, blundered from shame to shame--a series of more or less unsatisfying affairs with both men and women, a disastrous marriage, far too many brandies and strange beds in the 1920's world of what Harold Acton called ""sloppy Bohemianism."" It was only in 1930, when she and Warner formed their relationship, that some order was imposed on this drifting existence. It was to acknowledge her indebtedness that Ackland wrote this extended thank-you note ""for Sylvia."" While comparisons will undoubtedly be drawn between this account and Vita Sackville-West's ""confession,"" written in 1920 and finally published during the 1960's, the difference in the authors' social backgrounds, their personalties and, perhaps most importantly, their literary talents makes such comparisons unfair. True, Ackland's book pales beside the headlong drive of Vita's embittered, frequently callous but always fascinating account of her scandal-provoking affair with Violet Trefusis. But when Ackland describes her struggles with alcoholism, her eventual triumph over it, and her gratitude for Warner's love and support, she achieves an emotional power and sense of reconciliation missing from Sackville-West's pyrotechnic display. Despite certain limitations, For Sylvia is a moving testimonial to the power of love to transform and comfort.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1986
Publisher: Norton