Vita Sackville-West

About the Author

Victoria Mary Sackville-West, known throughout her life as Vita, was born to Lionel Edward, 3rd Baron of Sackville, and his first cousin Victoria Sackville-West, at Knole House in Kent on the 9th of March 1892. As the setting of her early life, Knole had a profound effect on Sackville-West, inspiring a lifelong passion for gardening for which she was recognised by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1955.

Sackville-West began writing as a child and published her first work, the verse drama Chatterton, in 1909, aged seventeen. By this time she had already met Violet Keppel, later Trefusis, with whom she was to have an affair which would endure until long after both women were married. The pair eloped to the Continent several times, having to be coaxed back to England by their husbands. The affair inspired Sackville-West’s second novel, Challenge, written in 1923. Perhaps the most notorious episode of Sackville-West’s life was her later affair with Virginia Woolf, to whom she was introduced by the art critic Clive Bell in 1922. Sackville-West famously inspired Woolf’s Orlando.

 

Although her lesbian liaisons achieved a certain notoriety, Sackville-West was married in 1913, aged 21, to Harold Nicolson, also a bisexual with whom she had a famously open relationship. The pair remained married until Sackville-West’s death and had two sons, Nigel and Benedict. Nicolson was supportive of Sackville-West’s horticultural passions, and in 1929 the family acquired and moved to Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, then virtually derelict. The property, now owned by the National Trust, owes its current splendour to Sackville-West. Horticultural pursuits also inspired her long narrative poem, The Land, for which she was awarded the Hawthornden Prize in 1926, and from 1946 she wrote a gardening column for The Observer.

 

Sackville-West’s best-known writings, The Edwardians and All Passion Spent, were written in the early 1930s, and she won the Hawthornden Prize a second time in 1933 for her Collected Poems. She was made a Companion of Honour for literature in 1946, and died of cancer in June 1962.

Books by the author