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All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West

All Passion Spent (1931)

by Vita Sackville-West

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8634310,340 (4.07)259
  1. 20
    Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge (GeraniumCat)
    GeraniumCat: Thematically similar to All Passion Spent this wise and gentle book is much less well-known and makes an interesting comparison.

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» See also 259 mentions

English (41)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All (43)
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
This book was mentioned when I read 'Second Nature'. This novel is about an 88 year old woman who loses her husband a prominent political figure in England in the 1860's. She decides it's time for her to be true to herself and do just what she wants, much to the dismay of her 6 children. Very poetically written, she things back on her life where she gets swept away in customs of the time as she disavows her true self. Very sweet and melancholy. ( )
  camplakejewel | Sep 24, 2017 |
When 90-year-old Lord Slane dies, his six children and their spouses come to the home of their mother and condescendingly pat her hand while they plan her future. Ah, but Lady Slane has already made a different plan -- a plan of independence and solitude that she’s been dreaming of through the decades that she devoted to her husband, children and public service.

If you like English-literature classics (including Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own), you’ll like this 1931 novella. If you like quiet stories about aging (for example, Taylor’s Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont and Pym’s Quartet in Autumn), you’ll like it. It called to my mind Kate Chopin’s short-short work, “The Story of an Hour” which captures in a brilliant flash the devastation of going-along vs pursuing one’s own interests. This novella captures it also, though the extended rumination dulls it a little.

(Review based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher.)
  DetailMuse | Sep 17, 2017 |
The Lady Slane’s husband dies at the ripe age of 92, leaving her a widow with a small pension, six children (all over the age of 60), and innumerable grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Imagine her family’s surprise when this venerable and venerated old woman takes up a small house in London and asks her relatives not to visit her. It’s a quiet, beautifully told vignette of a woman’s last year of life. She had dreamt of being a painter, and retains an artist’s eye, but subsumed herself in her husband and children, as was expected of her, rather than buck convention. It’s a tragedy, but society is not blamed so much as her own love for her late husband. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
It begins with a death.

The children gather – although children hardly seems the right word to describe this batch of elder-folk themselves, who have children and grandchildren of their own.

However, they are indeed the man’s children so children they shall be.

The children gather. They discuss in hushed tones not so much their late father but their widowed mother. Making plans, planning her future. Who she should live with. What she should do. Forgetting, or perhaps never really knowing, that she is a person, not just a helpless widow whose mind needs to be made up for her.

So while it begins with a death, Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent is hardly a sad story. Instead it is a rather ticklish one. It doesn’t make you burst out in a guffaw but snickers are inevitable, hidden behind that cup of tea or lace hanky or gloved hand.

I suppose there’s always that hesitation to read a book about an elderly lady. I know I would have never picked it up just a few short years ago. But I’ve since learnt that older women sometimes make delightful characters (take Elizabeth Moon’s Ofelia in Remnant Population and Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith). All Passion Spent‘s Lady Slane, – and the elderly children of hers who make all kinds of assumptions and presumptions and other sumptions about their mother – make this book quite a delight.

( )
  RealLifeReading | Jan 19, 2016 |
An elderly woman’s husband dies, and her six children (in their 60’s themselves) debate what is to be done with her. They get a surprise when she makes decisions for herself, counter to their wishes, and we readers later get a surprise as she reminisces over her life and find out what her interests really were, long ago. While ostensibly she led a fulfilling, successful life by traveling the world, raising a family, and appearing in society’s eye, we find out how she really felt about it, and in a nuanced way. There are few absolutes, like most lives.

This is a landmark book in feminist literature, with a clear message of the hypocrisy and unfairness of women having to subjugate their desires (and lives!) in marriage to men, who went merrily on as before with complete freedom.

However, the book is also empowering to the elderly, showing that it’s never too late to take control of one’s life - and given that there are only so many years of it, one really should, regardless of the opinions of others. (“Compromise is the very breath of negation.”) Sackville-West was 39 when she wrote it, but somehow channeled great wisdom and the perspective of one who learned from living a full life.

Lastly, she empowers those who are unconventional, those who don’t want to fit the mold society makes for them. The others on the road ‘more travelled’ cannot know what it’s like for artists or eccentrics, and while they are ‘not practical’, their lives are meaningful nonetheless, and there is a place in the world for them too, for they “act as a leaven”, and, “as the present-day became history, the poets and the prophets counted for more than the conquerors.”

Authenticity is what matters, both in relating to others, and most importantly, to oneself.

On life, and whether one is “happy”:
“Absurd of ask of those, had she been happy or unhappy? It seemed merely as though someone were asking a question about someone that was not herself, clothing the question in a word that bore no relation to the shifting, elusive, iridescent play of life; trying to do something impossible, in fact, like compressing the waters of a lake into a tight, hard ball. Life was that lake, thought Lady Slane, sitting under the warm south wall amid the smell of the peaches; a lake offering its even surface to many reflections, gilded by the sun, silvered by the moon, darkened by a cloud, roughened by a ripple; but level always, a plane, keeping its bounds, not to be rolled up into a tight, hard ball, small enough to be held in the hand, which was what people were trying to do when they asked if one’s life had been happy or unhappy.”

On solitude:
“All he asked was to be let alone; he had no desire to interfere in the workings of the world; he simply wanted to live withdrawn into his chosen world, absorbed in his possessions and their beauty. That was his form of spirituality, his form of contemplation. Thus the loneliness of his death held not pathos, since it was in accordance with what he had chosen.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Aug 23, 2015 |
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Vita Sackville-Westprimary authorall editionscalculated
Glendinning, VictoriaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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His servants he with new acquist
Of true experience from this great event
With peace and consolation hath dismist,
And calm of mind, all passions spent.
Samson Agonistes
For Benedict and Nigel
who are young
this story of people who are old



First words
Henry Lyulph Holland, first Earl of Slane, had existed for so long that the public had begun to regard him as immortal.
Vita Sackville-West began writing All Passion Spent in the spring of 1930. (Introduction)
Man has founded his calculations upon a mathematical system fundamentally false. His sums work out right for his own purposes, because he has crammed and constrained his planet into accepting his premises. Judged by other laws, though the answers remain correct, the premises would appear merely crazy; ingenious enough, but crazy.
Of course, she would not question the wisdom of any arrangements they might choose to make. Mother had no will of her own; all her life long, gracious and gentle, she had been wholly submissive - an appendage. It was ssumed that she had not enough brain to be self-assertive. "Thank goodness," Herbert sometimes remarked, "Mother is not one of those clever women." That she might have ideas whcih she kept to herself never entered into their estimate.
Henry by the compulsion of love had cheated her of her chosen life, yet had given her another life, an ample life, a life in touch with the greater world, if that took her fancy; or a life, alternatively, pressed close up against her own nursery. For a life of her own, he had substituted his life with its interests, or the lives of her children with their potentialities. He assumed that she might sink herself in either, if not in both, with equal joy. It had never occurred to him that she might prefer simply to be herself.lf.
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Book description
In 1860, as a young girl of seventeen, Lady Slane nurtures a secret, burning ambition: to become an artist. She becomes, instead, the wife of a great statesman, and mother to six children.

Seventy years later, released by widowhood, she abandons the trappings of wealth and retires to a tiny house in Hampstead -- to the dismay of her pompous offspring. She revels in her new-found freedom, and in an odd assortment of companions: her French maid, Genoux; her benign landlord Bucktrout, and a coffin maker who pictures people dead in order to reveal their true characters. And then there's Mr FitzGeorge, an eccentric millionaire who met and loved her in India, when she was young and very lovely...

First published in 1931, Vita Sackville-West's masterpiece is the fictional companion to her great friend Virginia Woolf's A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN.

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0860683583, Paperback)

In 1860, as a young girl of 17, Lady Slane nurtures a secret, burning ambition—to become an artist. She becomes, instead, the wife of a great statesman and the mother of 6 children. Seventy years later, released by widowhood, and to the dismay of her pompous children, she abandons the family home for a tiny house in Hampstead. Here she recollects the dreams of youth, and revels in her newfound freedom with her odd assortment of companions: Genoux, her French maid; Mr. Bucktrout, her house agent; and a coffin maker who pictures people dead in order to reveal their true characters. And then there's Mr. FitzGeorge, an eccentric millionaire who met and loved her in India when she was young and very lovely. It is here in this world of her own that she finds a passion that comes only with the freedom to choose, and it is this, her greatest gift, that she passes on to the only one who can understand its value. First published in 1931, Vita Sackville-West's masterpiece is the fictional companion to her great friend Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:16 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

1860. At 17, Lady Slane nurtures a burning ambition to become an artist. She becomes, instead, wife of Henry, first Earl of Slane, and mother of six children. Seventy years later, released by widowhood, she abandons the family home, much to the dismay of her sons and daughters. Retiring to a tiny house in Hampstead she recollects the dreams of youth. In this world of her own, Lady Slane finds, at last, a passion.… (more)

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