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Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West


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Product Description

Aristocrat, literary celebrity, gardener extrordinaire, devoted wife, lesbian, recluse, iconoclast – Vita Sackville-West was many things, but she was never straightforward. Her life is re-told here in a dazzling new biography.

Vita Sackville-West is perhaps best known as the creator, with her husband Harold Nicolson, of the gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, now the most visited gardens in Britain. In a career spanning more than forty years, she also made her mark as a prolific and accomplished writer. She was an award-winning poet, a best-selling novelist, a biographer, a travel writer and a journalist with a huge and devoted following. Images of Vita – striking, poised, aristocratic, and intellectual – remain iconic even now. Yet these public images do not tell all. Behind the mask another, more complicated Vita lay.

Here, in the first biography to be written for thirty years, Matthew Dennison reveals a renegade, brave and charismatic woman: from a lonely childhood of immense privilege in her beloved family house Knole (which she, as a woman, could never inherit); from the hubbub of jewel-encrusted parties at Buckingham Palace, to the solace Vita found in nature and gardening and the eventual seclusion of her tower at Sissinghurst.

But Dennison is also not coy about his subject’s sex life, a frisky business that was never going to be compromised by Vita’s marriage in 1913 to the writer and diplomat Harold Nicolson, who was gay. This catalogue of conquests begins in 1917 with Violet Keppel, the daughter of Edward VII’s mistress and ends with Alvilde, the wife of the diarist James Lees-Milne. Along the way it takes in, among many others, Virginia Woolf; Hilda Matheson, a director of talks at the BBC; and Gwen St Aubyn, Vita’s sister-in-law. 

Drawing on sources from archives across the globe as well as Vita's own prolific written output, Dennison traces the inspiration, triumphs and contradictions of Vita’s extraordinary life, deftly weaving together the myriad strands of Vita’s life to create a revealing and insightful portrait of the woman behind the mask.

Paperback, 416 pages, Orig.Published 2014, This Ed. Publ. 2015

Author: Matthew Dennison

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