The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 9th


Raise your glasses, it’s the birthday of

Vita Sackville-West

9 March 1892 – 2 June 1962 writer, gardener and serial womaniser.

Vita’s relationship with Violet Keppel (later Trefusis) is detailed in Portrait of A Marriage, by her son Nigel Nicholson. They met at school and at one point eloped to France. In her autobiography Violet said of Vita that when they met again for the first time after school

No one had told me that Vita had turned into a beauty. The knobs and knuckles had all disappeared. She was tall and graceful. The profound, hereditary Sackville eyes were as pools from which the morning mists had lifted.

Vita on Violet:

I go down country lanes and meet a sign saying: Beware, unexploded bomb. So I have to go around another way. You are the unexploded bomb to me. You gave me a coal black briquet. It lights up in the flame of love which burns in my heart whenever I think of you. You said it would last for three months, but our love has lasted forty years.

This was not Vita’s only high-profile affair, she also had a long relationship with Virginia Woolf. However she started young and kept at it, her first lover was Rosamund Grosvenor, another school friend,

I don’t remember very clearly, but the fact remains that by the middle of that summer we were inseparable, and moreover were living on terms of the greatest possible intimacy…. Oh, I dare say I realized vaguely that I had no business to sleep with Rosamund, and I should certainly never have allowed anyone to find it out, but my sense of guilt went no further than that.

Others Vita had affairs with were Muriel Clark-Kerr, Mary Garman,(who wrote of Virginia’s book Orlando

Vita darling you have been so much Orlando to me that how can I help absolutely understanding and loving the book… Through all the slight mockery which is always in the tone of Virginia’s voice, and the analysis etc., Orlando is written by someone who loves you so obviously.)

The list continues: Journalist Evelyn Irons and Hilda Matheson of the BBC. Most of Vita’s affairs were long-lived and she was often keeping more than one lover on her string. She was not averse to flirtations: she kissed Christabel Gertrude Marshall ( known as Christopher St John, lover of Edy Craig) behind Sevenoaks station, and Chris was ‘never the same again.’

I’d be a bit nervous of having Vita to a party, there’s no telling who she’d leave with, but she is magnificently unapologetic, and quite aside from her romantic shenanigins, an innovative gardener and her novels aren’t bad either, I’ve read All Passion Spent and The Easter Party and enjoyed them. So an invitation will go out, but with a secret hope that Ms Sackville-West might decline.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 25th January


Well my dears, unless you don’t look at twitter etc at all, I suppose it might have escaped your notice that today’s birthday is celebrated on behalf of the magnificent Virginia Woolf.

I hope she needs no introduction? I’ve had her picture on my wall for about thirty years. If you don’t know who she is, go and read someone else’s blog, or even better go and read some of her books – you can come back when you are suitably impressed.

Virginia’s many talents, her feminism and her commonsense would be quite sufficient to get her an invitation, but happily we can add in an affair with Vita Sackville-West, (The inspiration for her novel Orlando); and one of the most delightful quotations known to woman:

My dear Vita, I have a perfectly romantic and no doubt untrue vision of you in my mind – stark naked, brown as a satyr and very beautiful. Don’t tell me this is all illusion. No doubt this bores you – but I cannot keep it to myself.

It might it be sacrilege to suggest that I enjoy Virginia’s essays, letters and diaries more than some of her novels, but there it is: I find the modernist novels a bit brittle, self-conscious and artificial, although despite that very readable – I’ve read The Waves and To the Light House several times – whereas her sense of humour and incisiveness are more apparent in her non-fiction – and I find the self she reveals in these works very appealing. So it is for herself rather than her fiction that Ms Woolf makes the guest list. I think she would be great fun to have around, providing she was feeling up to it.

Virginia is also the inspiration for two of my stories – Member of the Family (rather in passing – I wrote it after a trip to Rodmell -Virginia’s last home – with the Lesbian History Group. The house is not Rodmell, and Sarah is not Virginia, but all the modern-day characters are people I have passed on the stairs at places like Rodmell) and Neutral Territory, in which the house is an amalgamation of Rodmell and Small Hythe, and Greta isn’t Virginia, but Virginia could be Greta – there’s a nice post-modernist twist for you.

I don’t know why, but I have an urge to serve  Eccles cakes at that tea party.  Would Ms Woolf approve?