Books About Vita Sackville-West

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If you are a Vita Sackville-West fan looking to learn more about her, these books are a great place to start.

Although there haven’t been a lot of books written about Vita Sackville-West, the ones that do exist are quite good.

The following is a list of books about Vita Sackville-West:

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1. Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson by Nigel Nicholson

Published in 1973, this book by Nigel Nicholson is written by Vita and Harold’s son and is about the couple’s open marriage.

Two chapters of the book were written by Vita Sackville-West herself, which are mostly about herself and her affair with Violet Trefusis, and the remaining three chapters were written by Nigel Nicholson and are about his parents and the love they shared.

Vita’s two chapters are actually from an unpublished memoir she had started working on in her later years but never finished.

The book received positive reviews when it was published. The Guardian described it as “a brilliantly structured account of the dramas, infidelities and deep emotional attachments” while the New York Times said it was “an intimate and controversial account of his bisexual parents’ open relationship.”

The New Yorker called it “unexpected and astonishing” while the New Republic stated:

”The charm of this book lies in the elegance of its narration, the taste with which their son has managed to convey the real, enduring quality of his parents’ love for each other.”

The Times Literary Supplement described it as “one of the most absorbing stories, built around two very remarkable people, ever to stray from Gothic fiction into real life.”

Nigel Nicholson, who died in 2004, was a British writer, publisher and politician. Nicholson wrote numerous books such as Sissinghurst Castle: An Illustrated Guide; The World of Jane Austen; Great Houses of Britain; and a biography of Virginia Woolf.

2. Vita: The Life of Vita Sackville-West by Victoria Glendinning

Published in 1983, this book by Victoria Glendinning examines Vita’s fascinating life and her many achievements, mistakes and memorable moments.

The book focuses on Vita’s love affairs with Violet Trefusis and Virginia Woolf as well as her marriage, her two sons and even her undocumented love affairs.

The book received mixed reviews when it was published. The New York Times praised Glendinning as a biographer, stating “Miss Glendinning is a sensitive biographer who uses her sense of compassion to delineate a subject’s interior life, and she writes with fluidity and poise” yet lamented the book’s lack of attention to Vita’s impressive literary career.

The Observer stated it was “a biography that conceals nothing… gives her life in fact the strangeness, subtlety, complexity and ambivalence missing from her fiction” while The Times of London described it as “superb… much more than just a record of events but an opening up of understanding and experience.”

The Irish Times also called it “superb,” adding “It required both literary skill of the highest order and a rare imaginative compassion to fashion a work of art out of life… superb” while Country Life magazine describe it as “modest, masterly, well-written treatment of a subject so absorbing in both intimate detail and public ramification is as good as it could be.”

Kirkus Reviews was critical of the book and its emphasis on Vita’s personal life over her literary career, describing the book as “a meticulous, un-probing, ultimately wearisome account of an ‘open’ marriage complicated by homosexuality.”

Victoria Glendinning is a biographer, broadcaster and novelist. She is the only person to have won the Whitbread Prize twice for biography for her book on Vita Sackville-West and her biography of Anthony Trollope.

Glendinning also won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1981 for her biography of Edith Sitwell.

Glendinning has written many books about writers such as her books on Leonard Woolf and Rebecca West. She is also the Vice-President of English PEN, Vice-President of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1998 for her services to literature.

3. Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville West by Matthew Dennison

Published in 2014, this book by Matthew Denninson chronicles the ups and downs of Vita Sackville-West’s complicated life.

From her lonely childhood at her ancestral home, Knole, to her open marriage and various love affairs, as well as her literary achievements and disappointments, the book explores how Vita’s privileged role in the aristocracy turned her into the creative, rebellious spirit that she was.

The book was the first biography written about Vita in nearly 30 years and received mixed reviews when it was published.

Publisher’s Weekly described it as “dense and tedious” with “plenty of information to offer but unfortunately little focus” while the Guardian criticized its lacking details on both Vita’s literary career and her famous gardens at Sissinghurst.

Other publications praised the book. The Spectator magazine stated “this carefully researched book is intelligently and elegantly written … balanced, oratical and confident” while The Independent praised Dennison’s writing, stating ‘Dennison captures both Vita’s irresistible charm and her selfishness. Like his subject, he is a natural storyteller, and his impeccable scholarship never weighs down his lively narrative.”

The Daily Express called the book “detailed and fascinating” while the Daily Mail called it “brilliant … thorough and engaging.”

The book was named ‘Book of the Year’ in The Times, The Independent, The Observer, and The Spectator.

Matthew Denninson is an author, journalist and broadcaster. Dennison has written eight biographies about historical women including The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria’s Youngest Daughter; Queen Victoria: A Life of Contradictions; and Empress of Rome.

4. Vita & Virginia: The Lives and Love of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West by Sarah Gristwood

Published in 2018, this book by Sarah Gristwood is a double biography of both Vita Sackville-West and her lover Virginia Woolf.

The book chronicles their love affair during the 1920s and their enduring friendship that continued even after they broke up as a couple.

The book received positive reviews when it was published. The Times Literary Supplement of London described it as a “well-judged and absorbingly told account – Gristwood shows why their long affection…is worth telling again and again.”

Sarah Gristwood is a journalist and author who has written a number of history books about women such as Arbella: England’s Lost Queen; Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the War of the Roses; and Elizabeth: Queen and Crown.

If you want to learn more about Vita Sackville-West, check out this article on Vita Sackville-West’s novels or this article on Vita Sackville-West’s gardening books.

Sources:
Behind the Mask by Matthew Denninson.” Waterstones, waterstones.com/book/behind-the-mask/matthew-dennison/9780007486984
Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West.” Publisher’s Weekly, publishersweekly.com/978-1-250-03394-9
Harris, Alexander. “Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West by Matthew Dennison – review.” The Guardian, 7 Nov. 2014, theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/07/behind-the-mask-the-life-of-vita-sackville-west-matthew-dennison-review
Vita by Victoria Glendinning.” Waterstones, waterstones.com/book/vita/victoria-glendinning/9781788312431
Vita: The Life of Vita Sackville-West.” Kirkus Reviews, kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/a/victoria-glendinning-5/vita-the-life-of-vita-sackville-west/
Kakutani, Michiko. “Books of the Times.” New York Times, 1 Nov. 1983, nytimes.com/1983/11/01/books/books-of-the-times-008994.html
Vita & Virginia Woolf: A Double Life.” Sarah Gristwood, sarahgristwood.com/books/vita-virginia-a-double-life/
Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson.” The University of Chicago Press, press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/P/bo3616437.html

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