Vita Sackville-West had many lovers. Virginia Woolf was but one.

An English author and garden designer as well as a successful novelist, poet, and journalist, prolific letter writer and diarist, Vita would describe her onetime lover and lifelong friend as “the loveliest mind and spirit” she ever knew and “a loss which can never diminish.”

“I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia…It is incredible how essential to me you have become,” she wrote to the novelist in 1926. A popular writer herself Sackville-West proclaimed her love for Woolf during the most intense years of their romantic relationship in the 1920’s. Both married to men, they penned hundreds of poetic love letters to one another and their affair inspired Woolf’s most celebrated work Orlando in 1928.

In an eighty page autobiography-cum-confessional discovered in the tower of Sissinghurst castle (purchased in 1930 with her husband Harold Nicolson where they maintained a happy if unconventional marriage) she writes that her mother called her “ugly” and told her she could not bear looking at her. Later in life she withdrew into the solitude of her garden.

Nicolson Wrote in his novel Portrait of a Marriage, “she was always in love. I do not know of any moment in her life when she was not longing to see or hear from the only person who could satisfy that longing”.

Portrait of a Marriage
Early Bird Books
Time.com

Written by Vita to Virginia Wolfe
Milan [posted in Trieste]
Thursday, January 21, 1926

I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is just really a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this—But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it …

Please forgive me for writing such a miserable letter.

V.

GLS219806
GLS219806 Lady with a Red Hat (oil on canvas) by Strang, William (1859-1921); 102.9×77.5 cm; Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove, Glasgow, Scotland; (add.info.: portrait of Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) poet, novelist and gardener; created the gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent, England; wife of Harold Nicholson (1886-1968) diplomat, author and politician); © Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums); Scottish, out of copyright

93 thoughts on “Vita Sackville-West and Virgina Woolf

  1. Absolutely fascinating, dear Holly.
    This is a wonderful post that makes one think of whom they truly love, and who they are.
    I’m feeling a bit like a Moody Blues song right now… “Letters I’ve written Never meaning to send”.
    So, lovers and friends I love, I need not many. Yet I value a quality, that precludes quantity.
    Parallels present themselves in such emotion. My mom always said I was unattractive (I wont put ugly in her mouth, but she did say not pretty, not what men would like or prefer, but I was smart and could catch a good husband anyway…. perhaps a pharmacist, a doctor was aiming to high.) She told me I was not a beauty, but my sister was. Her beauty would unlock the world for her. I would have to work hard.
    I prate. Thank you for this lovely post, and for reading. xoxoxo

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    1. Dear Resa, I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Vita and Virginia. I know all about letters written only to be tossed out or saved but not sent. You are beautiful but you know that now, with such a beautiful soul and blessed with the gifts of gods. Women can be harsh but more often they are the ones who lift us up. I imagine that is what Vita needed from Virginia, to relate on a different level. You are the best and so beautiful.
      xoxoxo

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      1. OMG! I think you are the best and most beautiful!
        Interesting, and yes, women can be wolverines.
        However… many are affirmation- ists!
        We have many beautiful sisters on WP.
        You & Gi do lift me up. I like different levels.
        Adoremus!

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        1. I’ll always lift you up. I’m like Simon and Garfunkel’s bridge. Gi’s a badass in a good way! I always want to have her on my side !
          All the ladies who come to HOH are fabulous and you’re the best! Adore too.

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          1. I have loved reading the exchange between you to gorgeously exquisite women as much as the post itself. It’s such a crazy thing how women are the worst at trying to destroy each other and yet also the best at lifting each other up – depends on the women.
            Ironically, I participated in the #challengeaccepted thing about an hour or so ago where we post a black and white selfie and tag with things like #emplowerwomen…
            Perfect timing, no?

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          2. Sometimes I enjoy the comments more than the actual post too Dale. They can be most revealing and sincere , funny and poignant. I have to go over read your challenge response. Thank you beautiful. I’m glad you enjoyed this.

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          3. This is the part of blogging I love because yes, we really do get to know each other with our shares triggered by what we have just read.
            I did. Very much.

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          4. IKR!
            Great gals over here!
            I suppose that’s why I enjoy drawing the Art Gowns Models…It’s kind of like having you over for a visit. I’d like to have more models, lol, but I’ll have to learn to draw faster, first! xoxo

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      1. Thank you Dale. I’m glad you enjoyed reading this. Did you see the movie The Hours? It’s a dark film about the lives of three women, one being Virginia Woolf. Snippets actually, it’s excellent but it left me feeling rather bleak yet I’ve watched it three times. ❤️

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          1. I will watch it again, It’s on my list of great movies. I have to keep a box of Kleenex nearby. The scene with Julianne Moore and the little boy is heartbreaking but they carry the scene so perfectly. 😊

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        1. I did. I absolutely loved it. Yes, it was bleak but the three stories blending one into another was brilliant – as we’re all the actors. I’ve seen it at least twice. 💖

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          1. She was and she absolutely deserved it. Everyone was fantastic in it. I haven’t read the book, either, but I will (I am a fan of reading the book after the movie because I am never disappointed with either, this way) 💖
            Though, here’s the funny thing. I have tried to start “Mrs. Dalloway” three times… Haven’t been able to get into it but I have a feeling it’s because I just wasn’t in the mood.

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          2. I just recently received Mrs. Dallaway… I intend to read it, I have a stack of books (many indies) that are calling me. BTW, I love you selfie on the challenge, Vulnerable. Such a great pic, you are adorable.

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          3. I mentioned it to you and now I am searching for it in my bookshelves. Feeling I want to try again, now! And don’t tell me about stacks. I’ve mountains.
            Oh you! Took it on a whim last night after my friend challenged me. No make-up, not even showered ;-). A right mess and here you are saying such things. 😘

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          4. I work this weekend (well, every weekend) from 7:15a.m. to 8:00pm but might be able to squeeze some reading time in during the down times. Or, I just might on Thursday-Friday when I don’t work. Then we can maybe get a discussion going on our thoughts!
            Gosh… 🤭

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          5. Oh, no, not really. I’m no spring chicken and these 13 hour days on my feet and making huge recipes of sandwich filler are being felt all over my body. I am looking forward to the end of October! Unless, of course, I manage to find something else before then.
            It must be absolutely nuts there. What do you do at the hospital?

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          6. It is. Bah. I don’t consider what I do at work, cooking. But it does break the monotony of making hot dogs and grilled cheeses 😉
            I hope so to.
            The boys are doing rather well. One is partying in Banff with four of his buddies and, upon his return, will start his new career as an electrician.
            The other is working a dream job of game tester from home… Actually, I wouldn’t mind him going back to work in Montreal 😉

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          7. Partying in Banff? It’s a tough life but someone has to live it! I was at Banff resort a couple of years ago, no snow,I hope to get back there someday when we can cross the border. Gaming is not bad either! Hang in, I hope your dream job is just around the corner.

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          8. I know, right? I went on my first honeymoon (ahem). Yes, this border thing is such a pain. Let us hope the powers that be find a solution for the world.
            Gaming – not a bad gig.
            Could be.

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          1. I put it on to tape after she one the Emmy – figured I’d be able to find season 1 eventually – and, since it was already scheduled, it did season 2 without my having to lift a finger.
            I live on Netflix and Amazon Prime, having reduced my cable to the basic minimum. So many good shows and movies to watch!

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          2. Thank heavens for the movie channels. There are few options here for the time being, so it’s reading or movies. I’ve been able to watch a lot of movies that I have wanted to see. I’m actually a noir fan. Love it!

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  2. I have always wondered what the writers of these letters would think considering their influence on today’s generation. Have you ever read about Virginia’s sister, Vanessa Bell, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, or her mother Julia Prinsep Stephen, who was noted for her beauty as a Pre-Raphaelite model. All three women lived Interesting unconventional lives that held both glory and tragedy . I do enjoy looking back. I especially appreciated your addition of the painting.

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    1. I need to do a bit more research into VW, I find her life very intriguing and fascinating and her writing remarkable. I am not familiar with the lives of her sister or mother but you have peaked my interest! I find the attraction between these enigmatic women extremely interesting. Thank you for further arousing my curiosity about Vita and Virginia.

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      1. I have been looking into their lives, too. There seems to be a defining moment in this time period that allowed for unconventional lifestyles, which was possible because they had monetary resources to pursue and explore alternative lifestyles. I am also interested in Mary Parker Follett, who was a brilliant woman who lived in the same time frame. There are so many stories and their lives were not for the faint of heart (Virginia struggled with mental health problems). I have just found a book called simply Virginia Woolf by Gillian Gill. The blurb states: “An insightful, witty look at Virginia Woolf through the lens of the extraordinary women closest to her.” Will let you know how it reads. Always enjoy your posts and discussions.

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        1. There is a movie about the relationship between Vita and Virginia, the trailer may be on YouTube. Vita supposedly was influential in Woolf’s writing , encouraging her to continue despite her struggle with mental illness. I am eager to see the movie. Let me know how the book reads.

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  3. I am fascinated with the period that produced so many epic writers. The command of language in writing seems to me so masterful and natural. Whether a confession of love or a novel of conquest, the beauty expressed in the writing of it was captivating. Many find it too cumbersome to get through, but, to me it isn’t the sentence structure as much as the ability to transport me into that time period and deeper still into the story. It is nice to know in those times of iron clad public decorum,

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    1. The novels written by the 20th century modernists are fascinating. Woolf ‘s use of stream consciousness as a narrative device is genius. Thank you for your input , I completely agree Dan. 🤗

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      1. For me, to learn of the human side of icons of literature gives me more insight into their work and makes them all so real. I see in this a more human artist whose work is made all the better considering the great challenges they faced in their lives. The painting made it all the more fascinating. 🤗

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        1. I like biographies, I’m curious about these extremely gifted writers etc. their eccentricities. I must have read the biography of every writer whose book I read as a kid. Talk about eccentric! Thank you for a delightful comment Dan. I hope you are doing good and out of Q. 🌻

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        2. Thank you Dan, ironically Who’s afraid if Virginia Woolf was on TCM last night. I watched it again. It hard to connect the movie with Woolf but it is a disturbing film. I like it. 😊🤗

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    1. Thank you Alaedin, the letter remains and reveals how passionate and all-consuming their relationship was at the time though Vita had many love affairs with both men and women. Fascinating ❤❤🥰

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  4. It’s interesting how Vita diminishes her writing and yet it’s just beautiful. I can almost hear her speaking those words and the feelings are vividly expressed. A beautiful post, Holly.

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    1. Thank you so much Gabriela, I am a huge fan of Virginia Woolfs writing and she led such an intriguing life….sometimes I like to break away from the norm and get into the lives of modernist writers such as these two. I hope you enjoyed, sending hugs!

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