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
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.