“I simply adore Virginia Woolf”

Vita Sackville-West portrait

Have just read an excellent post (as ever) at Brain Pickings on How Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West Fell in Love.

Four days after their first meeting in December 1922, Virginia asked Vita to a small dinner party. Vita was enraptured, writing the next day to her husband Harold Nicolson (who also had same-sex relationships during their marriage):

I simply adore Virginia Woolf, and so would you. You would fall quite flat before her charm and personality… Mrs. Woolf is so simple: she does give the impression of something big. She is utterly unaffected: there are no outward adornments — she dresses quite atrociously. At first you think she is plain, then a sort of spiritual beauty imposes itself on you, and you find a fascination in watching her. She was smarter last night, that is to say, the woollen orange stockings were replaced by yellow silk ones, but she still wore the pumps. She is both detached and human, silent till she wants to say something, and then says it supremely well.

Vita most clearly and famously inspired the writing of Orlando, elegantly characterised by Nigel Nicolson in Portrait of a Marriage (his biography of his parents) as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature.’

However, their growing friendship and intimacy over this period, during which Virginia Woolf was writing Mrs Dalloway, surely also informs the deeply sensual way in which Clarissa Dalloway seeks to understand and express how she has sometimes felt about women:

It was a sudden revelation, a tinge like a blush which one tried to check and then, as it spread, one yielded to its expansion, and rushed to the farthest verge and there quivered and felt the world come closer, swollen with some astonishing significance, some pressure of rapture, which split its thin skin and gushed and poured with an extraordinary alleviation over the cracks and sores. Then, for that moment, she had seen an illumination; a match burning in a crocus; an inner meaning almost expressed. [ … ] But this question of love (she thought, putting her coat away), this falling in love with women. Take Sally Seton; her relation in the old days with Sally Seton. Had not that, after all, been love?

Image: Portrait (Detail) of Vita Sackville-West painted by William Strang, 1918.

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Author: westrow

Author of 'Walking with Mrs Dalloway'; tech writer working in London and Dorset

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