Monday, October 8, 2012

All Passion Spent

All Passion Spent,
by Vita Sackville-West

I'd heard of Vita Sackville-West but didn't know much about her before my book group chose this for October's selection. Sackville-West was married to Sir Harold Nicholson and spent most of her life at their estate at Sissinghurst Castle. She and Nicholson had an open marriage, and both of them carried on extensive same-sex relationships. Sackville-West's most famous lover was Virginia Woolf. Some describe this novel as the fictional version of A Room of One's Own.

The story begins with the death of Lady Slane's husband, who had been prime minister and Viceroy of India during his prime. Suddenly, Lady Slane is presented with freedom for the first time in her the ripe age of 88. Her scheming children devise a plan by which she would be passed around from family to family, but she has other ideas. She retires to a modest cottage in Hampstead and directs them that she is to live on her own, and she doesn't want her grandchildren or grandchildren to visit her (no one under 60)...and doesn't much want her children around either.

Vita Sackville-West, later in life
Lady Slane reflects back on her life and her regrets, chief among them the fact that she was never able to pursue her artistic ambitions. She is quite happy with her little circle--her French maid, Genoux; her landlord, Mr. Bucktrout; and Mr. FitzGeorge, a reclusive, wealthy collector who fell in love with her in India, in another time, and saw immediately what she had given up.

My copy from the library was published in 1931
She revels in the precious time she has left, finding pleasure in sitting outside in her back garden, going for brisk winter walks, and quietly reflecting back on her life, mistakes, and relationships. It's a beautiful, feminist story about what women in those days (and still, now) give up to pursue marriage and family. Lady Slane never really enjoyed motherhood, being a wife, or being a grandmother. She just wanted time to reflect and paint, and she never got it. She comes to peace with her realization that she did not really love her husband and she had given up everything to be with him.
It even had a hole-punched watermark
 saying "Library Association of Portland Ore."!

And she realizes that she doesn't, really, want to be completely alone. She just wants to carefully choose her companions and how she will spend the remainder of her time.

I enjoyed this book very much and plan to view the BBC miniseries about Vita Sackville-West's relationship with her husband, "Portrait of a Marriage," based on their son Nigel's book of the same name.

To hear Vita's own voice, listen to this recording of her talking about Virginia Woolf and Orlando.


  1. Haven't read this one. I'll explore the book as soon as I can lay my hands on it. Thanks for the post.