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Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson (1973)

de Nigel Nicolson (Editor), Vita Sackville-West

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This classic account of the marriage between Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson is regarded as one of the most revealing and endearing portraits of literary life at the time of the Bloomsbury circle.
  1. 20
    Orlando de Virginia Woolf (Hibou8)
  2. 00
    Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter de Diana Souhami (susanbooks)
    susanbooks: Souhami's brilliant take on the same material
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Like many people I first heard of Vita Sackville-West when reading about Virginia Woolf and their relationship. Sackville-West was a poet, author, gardener, and someone who, quietly, lived outside the norms of society. Her marriage to Sir Harold Nicolson remained open, but only to women. Portrait of a Marriage is part autobiography and part biography. It was inspired by a journal, Vita's son, Nigel Nicolson, found among her possessions after her death.

Nicolson presents Portrait of a Marriage in five sections. Sections one and three are the complete journal left by Vita. Sections two and four are written by Nigel and support Vit's writing with other first and second-hand accounts. They include letters from Vita's lovers as well as letters and note from family and her husband. Vita's teenage to adult relationship with Rosamund Grosvenor (which ended when Grosvenor married) and centers mostly on her relationship with Violet Trefusis. The last section is again written by Nigel and includes the Virginia Woolf affair and more on family matters.

Portrait of a Marriage provides a unique look at relationships and marriages in a time that we think as more conservative than today. Same sex relationships and even the questioning of gender roles are examined in their time period. Vita does say that she thought of herself as a boy growing up. In Passenger to Teheran, a memoir of her travel to Iran to reunite with her husband, she does not reveal her sex until the very end of the book. It has the sense of reading a male account of travel. Aside from its importance as a biography, it is also important as part of the LGTBQ history.

Vita Sackville-West is an interesting read even when writes a journal. It is difficult to rate a book that is a journal. It is the writer's actual thoughts at the time and not meant to be a published work. Without a doubt, Sackville-West excels even in this format. Nigel Nicolson compiles supporting evidence. Credit must be giving to Nigel Nicolson on several accounts. First, it is his mother he is writing about and at the time, his mother’s and even his (published in 1973) her orientation was not accepted. Secondly, Nicolson waited to publish this book until all members who are in it were dead. He did not try to sensationalize his mother or her lovers or embarrass family members. It is very tastefully done. I have read a few of Vita Sackville-West’s books in the past mostly as a spinoff on reading Virginia Woolf. However, Vita Sackville-West is worthy of reading and study in her own right. A remarkable woman who is underrated in our time.


(personal book that I own and read not for review) ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
Nigel Nicolson beschrijft het huwelijk van zijn ouders aan de hand van de autobiografie die Vita Sackville West schreef toen ze 28 was. In die biografie speelt haar relatie met Violet een belangrijke rol. De beschrijving daarvan doet soms puberaal aan. Indrukwekkender vond ik het commentaar van Nigel, de zoon van Vita en Harold. Hij beschrijft het liefdevolle huwelijk van zijn ouders, waarin seks een marginale rol speelt. Trouw aan elkaar is belangrijker, maar niet in seksuele zin. Ik vond het boek soms was langdradig, maar het was toch mooi om te lezen. ( )
  elsmvst | Mar 2, 2019 |
I read this book in parallel with Diana Souhami's [b:Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter|372810|Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter|Diana Souhami|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1311988502s/372810.jpg|2024628] and the below review combines my thoughts on both books. (Review first published on BookLikes.)


Let the cat fight begin!

In the red corner, Diana Souhami, defender of Violet Trefusis. In the blue corner, Nigel Nicolson, son of Vita Sackville-West and representing her point of view.

No, I'm not going to try and write this as a ring report, but for the most part of reading both in parallel it has been as if I was watching a boxing match - with few punches held.

Both books focus on the lives of the two women at the time of their relationship. Although both books are good general biographies, it is really the relationship between Vita and Violet that gets all the attention. Of course, it is Vita's own manuscript - her detailed confession of the relationship with Violet - locked in a drawer which Nicolson discovered after his mother's death that caused Nicolson to write his book and so the focus on this part of Vita's life is entirely justified.

And it is a fascinating story - one which would even find its way into Orlando, Woolf's adoring mock biography of Vita - full of jealousy, confusion, passion, and struggle for control.

"Behind Violet’s love for Vita was contempt for the hypocrisy of marriage as she had seen it practised by her mother and the King. For herself she knew marriage would be a meretricious show. She wanted proof that Vita was dissembling too."
(Diana Souhami - Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter

So, on one hand we have a book trying to vindicate Violet and attributing the misery of her emotional upheaval to Vita, on the other we have Vita crediting Violet's manipulation as the cause of of her emotional dependence on Violet.

"Then, when I had finished, when I had told her how all the gentleness and all the femininity of me was called out by Harold alone, but how towards everyone else my attitude was completely otherwise – then, still with her infinite skill, she brought me round to my attitude towards herself, as it had always been ever since we were children, and then she told me how she had loved me always, and reminded me of incidents running through years, which I couldn’t pretend to have forgotten. She was far more skilful than I. I might have been a boy of eighteen, and she a woman of thirty-five. She was infinitely clever – she didn’t scare me, she didn’t rush me, she didn’t allow me to see where I was going; it was all conscious on her part, but on mine it was simply the drunkenness of liberation – the liberation of half my personality. She opened up to me a new sphere. And for her, of course, it meant the supreme effort to conquer the love of the person she had always wanted, who had always repulsed her (when things seemed to be going too far), out of a sort of fear, and of whom she was madly jealous – a fact I had not realized, so adept was she at concealment, and so obtuse was I at her psychology."
(Nigel Nicolson - Portrait Of A Marriage)

As a result, neither comes across as particularly likeable and I found myself feel rather sorry for their husbands, Denys Trefusis and Harold Nicolson, who went to great lengths to both enable Violet and Vita to conduct their relationship and at the same time protect them from the destructive nature of their passions. ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
El hijo de la pareja traza un retrato honesto, valiente y fascinante de la peculiar historia de sus padres: ella aristócrata, escritora, de tendencias homosexuales y sirvió de modelo a Virginia Woolf para el personaje protagonista de Orlando, él también homosexual, era un notable escritor, político y di plomático. primera mitad del siglo XX. ( )
  pedrolopez | Apr 10, 2014 |
Continuing my reading about Vita and Violet, I felt it important to read 'Portrait of a Marriage'.To use the official lingo, is both a primary and a secondary source of sorts. The book is split into roughly for chapters, plus an introduction. Two of the chapters are by Vita, and each is followed by a chapter by Nigel Nicolson, her son and literary executor.

After his mothers death n 1962, Nigel found a locked bag among her things. Inside the bag was a notebook of her writing. After a few pages of abortive poems, he found pages and pages of writing. The first page, dated 1920 began 'Of course I have no right whatsoever to write down the truth about my life...but I do so urged by a necessity of truth-telling, because there is no living so who knows the complete truth...' The 80 pages that followed were her attempt to write down her love affair with Violet Trefusis, and, in working her way through everything she'd been through and felt, to come to terms with the fact that it was ending.

The rest of the book then, is Nigel's attempt to place that affair in the context of his parent's marriage, to show how they weathered it, to add his own insights and explain Vita and Harold's unconventional and amazing marriage, supplimented with letters and diary entries from Harold, Vita and Violet.

The result is so dense that it's almost hard to think of it all at once, except to say that the combined effect of is it all is extraordinary.

It's such a feeling book. Everyone feels so much. Violet and Vita's love, Harold and Vita's love, even Nigel's love for his parents not just as parents, but as people. That's really what came through it for me. All the different kinds of love people have for each other, the ways they can make each other miserable and the ways they can comfort each other, the ways they can set each other aflame, and the ways they can be a safe harbor, just how strong, how destructive and how healing love can be. How it can destroy lives or enrich them.

Vita knew that one day a love like what she had with Violet, and her own nature which was drawn to 'love' Harold, and be 'in love' with women, would be accepted and seen as normal, and I'm glad she was (for the most part) right.

I was also so struck by Vita and Harold's marriage, how they remained each other's anchor, each other's 'true north', as Harold said, regardless of any love affairs Vita had with women or Harold had with men. They loved each other and accepted who each other was, and it's really incredible to me. ( )
1 vota shojo_a | Apr 4, 2013 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Nicolson, NigelEditorautor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Sackville-West, Vitaautor principaltotes les edicionsconfirmat
Buddingh', C.Traductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Franken, GerardineTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat

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One day, perhaps, a book may be written about the making of the garden at Sissinghurst, and it could well bear the same title as this book, for the garden is a portrait of their marriage. . Harold made the design, Vita did the planting. In the firm perspectives of the vistas, the careful siting of an urn or statue, the division of the garden by hedges and walls and buildings into a series of separate gardens, the calculated alternation between straight lines and curved, one can trace his classical hand. In the overflowing clematis, figs, vines and wisteria, in the rejection of violent colour or anything too tame or orderly, one discovers her romanticism. Wild flowers must be allowed to invade the garden; if plants stray over a path, they must not be cut back, the visitor must duck; rhododendrons must be banished in favour of their tenderer cousin, the azalea; roses must not electrify, but seduce; and when a season has produced its best, that part of the garden must be allowed to lie fallow for another year, since there is a cycle in nature which must not be disguised. It is eternally renewable, like a play with acts and scenes: there can be a change of cast, but the script r:emains the same. Permanence and mutation are the secrets of this garden.
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This classic account of the marriage between Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson is regarded as one of the most revealing and endearing portraits of literary life at the time of the Bloomsbury circle.

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