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Pepita by Vita Sackville-West

Pepita (1937)

by Vita Sackville-West

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Back in the less adventuresome years of my reading life, I think I read The Edwardians because I knew its author was a Lesbian and Virginia Woolf's One True Love. I retain no particle of memory for that book, so it may very well be that I *bought* the book in order to epater la bourgeoise aka my mother, and simply failed to read it.

I'll see about remedying that lapse some other time. Now, all I can say is, what a treat it is for me, at this juncture of my life, to meet Vita Sackville-West and her rackety great-grandmother, her louche grandmother, and her wildly eccentric mother. These women...! My dears, these are the Titanesses that make our own rather drab little lives recede into proper grayish flannely perspective.

(Vita warn't no slouch, either.)

There is a certain grandeur to the stories of the Pepitas' lives, a very odd kind of magnificence in these women's inability to be anyone other than themselves fully and entirely, no matter the cost. And costs there were, even unto the third generation: Lawsuits appear to have trailed glorious wings behind all the women up to Vita, whose Englishness seems to have squelched that side of things. (Didn't squelch her insistence on being herself, though, thank goodness!)

I love this sort of story. I hope that, one day, Anderson Cooper will take up his father Wyatt's mantle and tell us what Gloria Vanderbilt was like as a mama...his would be the only story I can imagine, barring a breach in the Kennedy walls, that would equal Pepita for glamour and sheer, inescapable romance. These personalities become rarer as the world that gives rise to them becomes more pedestrian and hugely boring in its upper reaches.

I feel compelled to say a word about another world now, seemingly, passed forever as well: The world of making lovely books for mass consumption. This book has a dustjacket that was, for its day, a luxe presentation, being four-color and quite charmingly designed; its paper is at least twice as thick as modern book papers, so that I found myself trying to peel the pages apart; its lovely cloth binding has a blind block of the author's initials surmounted by a coronet, and a spine attractively gold-blocked in a printed black ground; it is, in short, a lovely object.

The good people at Chin Music Press are doing what they can to prevent beautiful books from vanishing entirely; they are not, however, publishing books that will appeal to a mass audience more often than not. Pepita was intended to sell many copies, and so far as I am aware, did. How I wish that was still a realistic possibility!

Should you read this book? Well...maybe, maybe not. I think anyone with an ounce of romance in their soul should read it. But then, as it's not a novel, it doesn't have An Ending, really, so most romantics might find that a little off-putting. But really, since the book's hard to find, I'd say let it come to you serendipitously, the way my copy came to me from a library sale. It will find you ready and it will reward you for your patience, as it did me. ( )
15 vote richardderus | Sep 9, 2010 |
I kept pushing this one off for the longest time . Finally read it and was shocked to find it one of Vita's best yet that I have read . What an incredible view of her Spanish Hertiage and the trials and tribulations she went through with her mother .

The book is in two parts , The first is about her maternal grandmother "Pepita" who was a famous dancer with poor roots who managed to climb to the top with the help of her eccentric mother then the second part which focus's' on her mother Victoria who led a totally amazing and equally eccentric life . Eccentricty is the keyword here . Great Grandmother , Grandmother & Mother and lets face it even Vita herself . Strongly recommend this book ( )
1 vote DeadFred | Apr 5, 2010 |
I finished "Pepita" last night and I really enjoyed this read. It is by Vita Sackville-West and I have yet to find a book by her that I do not care love. There is just something about this author that I am really taken with!~!
Pepita is a memoir to/about her maternal grandmother, Pepita, and her mother, Victoria. I found it to be well written & though it does skip back and forth throughout the book, that only enhanced it for me. I found the women fascinatingly eccentric and I really liked them. The men were kind of just along for the ride, but then again it is a memoir of the women and the important things in the lives of the men ARE reported in the book. Sackville-West is very careful to let the reader know where she found her information and I liked that about the book as well.
I would probably give this one a 4 out of 5.
Thank you DeadFred for the rec!~! ( )
4 vote rainpebble | Mar 27, 2010 |
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Spain, in the middle of the nineteenth century, had scarcely been 'discovered' by the foreigner.
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Pepita tells the extraordinary story of writer Vita Sackville-West's grandmother Josefa (known as Pepita), and her mother Victoria. Pepita, the half-gypsy daughter of an old-clothes pedlar from Malaga, makes her fortune as a dancer in Madrid; soon she is the toast of all Europe. Over the course of a 19-year love affair -- never legalized, for Pepita has a living but estranged husband -- with the British aristocrat and diplomat Lionel Sackville-West (later the 2nd Baron Sackville), conducted around the capitals of Europe, Pepita produces five children: two sons, Max and Henry, and three daughters, Victoria, Flora, and Amalia. After Pepita's death in childbirth in 1871, her daughter Victoria is sent to an austere Paris convent to be educated. Socially ostracized without knowing why, she comes to meets her powerful relatives and is suddenly whisked off by them to serve as the hostess of her father's household in Washington when he's appointed British Minister to the USA. Eventually, against all odds, this illegitimate half-Spanish outsider becomes the mistress of Knole, one of the grandest stately houses in England. Vita Sackville-West's fascination with this unlikely history brings her two subjects vividly to life: the wild and mysterious Pepita, and the adored yet impossible Victoria.
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