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By Matthew Dennison

A unbelievable new biography of Vita Sackville-West, the twentieth century aristocrat, literary big name, committed spouse, well-known lover of Virginia Woolf, recluse, and iconoclast who defied categorization.

In this gorgeous new biography of Vita Sackville-West, Matthew Dennison's Behind the Mask strains the triumph and contradictions of Vita's awesome lifestyles. His narrative charts a desirable direction from Vita's lonely formative years at Knole, via her affectionate yet ‘open' marriage to Harold Nicolson (during which either husband and spouse energetically pursued gay affairs, Vita such a lot famously with Virginia Woolf), and during Vita's literary successes and disappointments, to the well-known gardens the couple created at Sissinghurst. The publication tells how, from her privileged global of the aristocracy, Sackville-West introduced her penchant for dress, play-acting and uprising to the inventive leading edge of recent Britain. Dennison is the acclaimed writer of many books together with a biography of Queen Victoria.
Here, within the first biography to be written of Vita for thirty years, he finds the complete tale and will get in the back of ‘the attractive masks' of Vita's public achievements to bare a frequently bothered character which heroically resisted compromise on each point. Drawing on wideranging resources and the huge letters that sustained her marriage, this can be a compelling tale of affection, loss and jealousy, of high-life and occasional issues, of binding affection and illicit ardour – a portrait of a unprecedented, 20th-century life.

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Press cognizance her anywhere she went – ‘Mummy is lionised like nohow. She is given orchids and met through teams of individuals at stations,’ Harold wrote to Ben on the finish in their first week;93 she labored difficult to make sure that her talks have been good obtained. ‘Americans are simply and all at once amused,’ Vita suggested in her diary on 27 February. there have been inadvertently wonderful incidents: ‘In the center of my lecture a display falls down at the heads of the viewers yet they don't seem to mind,’ she famous in Chicago. ninety four there have been additionally a superb many events, continually hosted via the neighborhood department of the Women’s membership of the USA. ‘I don’t imagine i will be able to stand many extra women,’ Vita wrote to Harold on the halfway element, ‘America is speedily curing me of any weak point i could ever have entertained for my very own intercourse. ’95 from time to time Vita chanced on either americans typically and particular contributors attempting. ‘It is lousy how those humans speak in trains,’ she noted;96 the next week, having been avoided from going to mattress via an over-attentive host, she additional ‘with all their kindness, those humans have little or no imagination’. ninety seven Vita retained her skill to encourage robust responses of actual appeal in these she encountered, regardless of fresh weight achieve and the more and more ruddy complexion which triggered one photographer to request that she eliminate her rouge. generally the click mentioned her as ‘Juno-esque’, ‘Portia-like’ and ‘Orlando’;98 others reacted extra idiosyncratically. At Cincinnati, Vita recorded in her diary: ‘A woman comes up afterwards and tells me she has had a imaginative and prescient in the course of my lecture, and i was once Balkis, Queen of Sheba in a prior incarnation. attempt to glance certainly thankful. ’99 She too used to be no longer absolutely resistant to her new neighbors. In Columbus, Ohio, on 20 February, she was once relatively struck by way of a Mrs Edmunds, ‘who is admittedly attractive with no hat – stunning broad brows and a serene glance; darkish hair; a Madonna-like type’. a hundred At Northampton, Massachusetts, she stumbled on respite within the corporation of the rich Mina Curtiss. The latter’s farm within the Berkshire Hills reminded Vita for the 1st time on American soil of ways of existence at lengthy Barn and Sissinghurst: pigeons colonised the roofs of the wood structures, within the meadows Jersey cows grazed. one hundred and one Vita felt a pang of homesickness and committed a poem to Mina, her thank you for a fleeting get away from ‘voices, towns, trains,/ … the clamour of a urban highway/ And vapid unending speak of books, books, books’. 102 Predictably Vita’s response to the USA itself used to be equally diverse. whereas dazzled by way of the South California barren region, which reminded her of Persia, and the Grand Canyon, which might later shape the centrepiece of her wartime novel of an analogous identify (she defined it to Virginia as ‘the so much amazing factor within the world’103), she used to be much less inspired through American towns. ‘A huge, aged, Edwardian-looking woman known as Mrs Thompson then drives me off to “see Pittsburgh – any such appealing city”,’ she mentioned on 27 February.

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