She writes that the wooing was entirely chaste and throughout they did not so much as kiss. He was the third secretary at the British Embassy in Constantinople and his father had been made a peer only under Queen Victoria. The couple had an open marriage. Both Sackville-West and her husband had same-sex relationships before and during their marriage, as did some of the Bloomsbury Group of writers and artists, with whom they had connections.
Harold had a series of relationships with men who were his intellectual equals, but the physical element in them was very secondary. He was never a passionate lover. To him sex was as incidental, and about as pleasurable, as a quick visit to a picture-gallery between trains. Following the pattern of his father's career, Harold Nicolson was at various times a diplomat, journalist, broadcaster, Member of Parliament, and author of biographies and novels. After the wedding the couple lived in Cihangir , a suburb of Constantinople now Istanbul , the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
Sackville-West loved Constantinople, but the duties of a diplomat's wife did not appeal to her. It was only during this time that she attempted to don, with good grace, the part of a "correct and adoring wife of the brilliant young diplomat", as she sarcastically wrote. They employed the architect Edwin Lutyens to make improvements to the house. The British declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire in November , following Ottoman naval attacks on Russia, precluded any return to Constantinople.
The couple had two children: Benedict — , an art historian, and Nigel — , a well-known editor, politician, and writer. Another son was stillborn in Sackville-West continued to receive devoted letters from her lover Violet Keppel. She was deeply upset to read of Keppel's engagement. Sackville-West and Keppel disappeared together several times from on, mostly to France.
One day in Vita writes that she experienced a radical 'liberation', where her male aspect was unexpectedly freed. The mothers of both women joined forces to sabotage the relationship and force their daughters back to their husbands. Vita often dressed as a man, styled as Keppel's husband. The two women made a bond to remain faithful to one another, pledging that neither would engage in sexual relations with their husband. Keppel continued to pursue her lover to great lengths, until Sackville-West's affairs with other women finally took their toll.
In November , while staying at Monte Carlo, Sackville-West wrote that she felt very low, entertaining thoughts of suicide, believing that Nicolson would be better off without her. From to , Nicolson lived in Tehran where Sackville-West often visited him. Sackville-West's book A Passenger to Tehran recounts her time there. Her relationship with the prominent writer Virginia Woolf commenced in and ended in , reaching its height between Sackville-West greatly admired Woolf's writings, considering her to be the better author, telling Woolf in one letter: "I contrast my illiterate writing with your scholarly one, and I am ashamed".
The two grew close and Woolf disclosed how, as a child, she had been abused by her step-brother. Sackville-West counselled her to have greater confidence in her many strengths and to cast off the self-image of the sickly semi-recluse. She persuaded Woolf that her nervous ailments had been misdiagnosed, and that she should focus on her own varied intellectual projects; that she must learn to rest. Seducers in Ecuador , the first Sackville-West novel to be published by Hogarth, did not sell well, selling only copies in its first year, but the next, The Edwardians , was a huge success and sold copies in its first six months.
A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor
The boost helped Hogarth financially, though Woolf did not always value the books' romantic themes. The increased security of the Press's fortunes allowed Woolf to write more experimental novels such as The Waves  : Though Woolf is generally considered today to be the better writer, in the s Sackville-West was viewed by the critics as the more accomplished author and her books outsold Woolf's by a large margin.
Sackville-West loved to travel, frequently going to France, Spain and to visit Nicolson in Persia, and these trips were emotionally draining for Woolf, who missed Sackville-West intensely. Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse with its theme of longing for someone who is not there was inspired partly by the frequent absences of Sackville-West.
Woolf was inspired by Sackville-West to write one of her most famous novels, Orlando , featuring a protagonist who changes sex over the centuries. This work was described by Sackville-West's son Nigel Nicolson as "the longest and most charming love-letter in literature.
There were, however, tensions in the relationship. Woolf was often bothered by what she viewed as Sackville-West's promiscuity, charging that the great need for sex led her to take up with anyone who struck her fancy.
She felt that Sackville-West was unable to critique the system she was both a part of and, to a certain extent, a victim of. Sackville-West supported rearmament while Woolf remained loyal to her pacifism, leading to an end of their relationship in Irons had interviewed Vita after her novel The Edwardians had become a best-seller. In the family acquired and moved to Sissinghurst Castle , near Cranbrook, Kent. This gave it a dynastic attraction as she was excluded from inheriting Knole and a title.
Nicolson provided the architectural structure, with strong classical lines, which would frame his wife's innovative informal planting schemes. She also innovated single colour-themed gardens and design principles orientating the visitors' experience to discovery and exploration. Her first garden at Long Barn Kent, — was experimental, a place of learning by trial and error and she carried over her ideas and projects to Sissinghurst, utilising her hard won experience.
Sackville-West took up writing again in after a six-year break as she needed money to pay for Sissinghurst. Nicolson, having left the Foreign Office, no longer had a diplomat's salary to draw upon.
She also had to pay tuition for her two sons to attend Eton College. She felt she had become a better writer thanks to the mentorship of Woolf. In the early s Sackville-West wrote a memoir of her relationships. In it she sought to explain both why she had chosen to stay with Nicolson and why she had fallen in love with Violet Keppel.
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The work, titled Portrait of a Marriage , was not published until She wrote that in the future "it will be recognized that many more people of my type do exist than under the present-day system of hypocrisy is commonly admitted". Reflecting a certain ambivalence about her sexuality, Sackville-West presented her sexual desires for Keppel as both "deviant" and "natural", as if she herself was uncertain of whether her sexuality was normal or not, though the American scholar Georgia Johnston has argued that Sackville-West's confusion on this point was due to her wish to have this memoir published one day.
Several times, Sackville-West stated that she wrote Portrait of a Marriage for scientific purposes so people would be able to understand bisexual people, which would thus allow her, despite her self-condemnation, to present her sexuality as in some way normal. In , when her son Nigel Nicolson published Portrait of a Marriage , he was uncertain if he was going to be charged with obscenity, going to considerable lengths to stress the legitimacy of a love for a person of the same sex in his introduction. Sackville-West's novel Challenge also bears witness to her affair with Keppel: Sackville-West and Keppel had started writing this book as a collaborative endeavour.
It was published in America but banned in the UK until The male character's name, Julian, had been Sackville-West's nickname when passing as a man. Reflecting her obsession with the Romany people, Eve is portrayed as a seductive Romany woman with an "insinuating femininity" that Julian cannot resist, calling him away from his political mission of winning independence on a fictional Greek island during the Greek war of independence.
If you read it, you will find your tormented soul changed and free". Her mother, Lady Sackville, found the portrayal obvious enough to refuse to allow publication of the novel in England; but Vita's son Nigel Nicolson praises his mother: "She fought for the right to love, men and women, rejecting the conventions that marriage demands exclusive love, and that women should love only men, and men only women. For this she was prepared to give up everything How could she regret that the knowledge of it should now reach the ears of a new generation, one so infinitely more compassionate than her own?
A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor - Lib
Sackville-West was fascinated with and often wrote about the Roma people. As the British scholar Kirstie Blair noted, for her: "Gypsies represent liberation, excitement, danger and the free expression of sexuality". The idea of a people who belonged nowhere, existing outside of the values of "civilization", held genuine appeal to her as it offered up the possibility of gender roles different from those held in the West. Woolf was inspired by Sackville-West to write her most famous novel, Orlando , featuring a protagonist who changes sex over the centuries.
Sackville-West's novel Family History tells the story of Evelyn Jarrold, a rich widow who married into a family which owes its recent wealth and social position to the ownership of coal mines, and her ill-fated love affair with Miles Vane-Merrick, a much younger man with progressive social ideas.
Evelyn Jarrold's husband, Tommy, died in the Great War, and she has nothing to occupy her apart from her son Dan, the Jarrolds' heir, who is away at Eton, social events and visits to her dressmaker. Vane-Merrick is a farming landowner and Member of Parliament, and is writing a book on economics. He represents new, progressive values and the male world of work and economic activity, and Evelyn Jarrold represents traditional values and the female world of family ties and social engagements.
The characters of Viola and Leonard Anquetil in Family History are socialists, pacifists and feminists, thinly veiled versions of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. In casting her fictional alter-ego as an excellent mother she was offering a "gift" to Woolf. All Passion Spent and Seducers in Ecuador sold especially well.