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Sackville-West, Vita (1892-1962)  
page: 1  2  

Critic Suzanne Raitt, moreover, calls attention to the almost invisible homosexual subplot in The Edwardians and points out that the charged use of the word queer in a dialogue between the explorer Anquetil and the main character--a dialogue in which Anquetil urges Sebastian to abandon his proposed marriage and "Come away with me"--predates by two years the OED's first recorded use of the word to mean "homosexual."

If Challenge (1923) is a roman à clef about the affair with Violet Keppel, Dark Island (1934) is another, about her relationship with Gwen St. Aubyn. Sackville-West here projects herself into both the jealous husband, Venn, and the devoted secretary, Cristina, who battle each other for possession of Shirin (Sackville-West's real-life Persian petname for St. Aubyn), and the erotic quality of the relationship between Shirin and Cristina, though not explicit, is unmistakably suggested.

Only in her last novel, No Signposts in the Sea (1961), does Sackville-West make any explicit reference to lesbian love, however, and there she carefully distances herself from it. "Perhaps a relationship between two women must always be incomplete," the main character, Laura, speculates to a male friend, "--unless, I suppose, they have Lesbian inclinations which I don't happen to share. Then, or so I have been given to understand, the concord may approach perfection."

Sackville-West was not the great writer she longed to be. Her poetry and prose fiction were conservative compared to the new modes being forged by T. S. Eliot, Stephen Spender, W. H. Auden, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce. But her long poem, The Land, won the Hawthornden Prize in 1927, The Edwardians was a best-seller, and her works consistently made money for Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press, which published them between 1924 and 1940.

More important, her works, her letters, and her life provide a glimpse into a period when something identifiable as "lesbian consciousness" can first be seen coming into existence, and they document the struggle of one passionate, intelligent, upper-class woman to articulate what it might mean.

Sherron E. Knopp

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DeSalvo, Louise. "Lighting the Cave: The Relationship between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf." Signs 4 (1979): 718-739.

Glendinning, Victoria. Vita: The Life of V. Sackville-West. New York: Knopf, 1983.

Jullian, Philippe, and John Phillips. The Other Woman: A Life of Violet Trefusis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.

Knopp, Sherron E. "'If I Saw You Would You Kiss me?': Sapphism and the Subversiveness of Virginia Woolf's Orlando." PMLA 103 (1988): 24-34.

Nicolson, Nigel. Portrait of a Marriage: V. Sackville-West & Harold Nicolson. New York: Atheneum, 1973.

Raitt, Suzanne. Vita and Virginia: The Work and Friendship of V. Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Stevens, Michael. V. Sackville-West: A Critical Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973.

Trautmann, Joanne. The Jessamy Brides: The Friendship of Virginia Woolf and V. Sackville West. University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 1973.

Watson, Sara Ruth. V. Sackville-West. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.


    Citation Information
    Author: Knopp, Sherron E.  
    Entry Title: Sackville-West, Vita  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 23, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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