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

by Nigel Nicolson (Editor), Vita Sackville-West

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0311212,406 (4)30
  1. 20
    Orlando by Virginia Woolf (Hibou8)
  2. 00
    Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter by Diana Souhami (susanbooks)
    susanbooks: Souhami's brilliant take on the same material
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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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 |
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 vote shojo_a | Apr 4, 2013 |
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. ( )
  shojo_a | Apr 4, 2013 |
Written by their son Nigel, he tells the story of Harold Nicolson's 49 yr marriage to Vita Sackville-West, a union based on trust, shared interests, deepening love, frankness and reciprocal infidelity. It's chronicles Vita's love affair with Violet Trefusis, the crisis which nearly broke their marriage.

Contains BW photographs. ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nicolson, NigelEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sackville-West, Vitamain authorall editionsconfirmed
Buddingh', C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Franken, GerardineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226583570, Paperback)

Vita Sackville-West, novelist, poet, and biographer, is best known as the friend of Virginia Woolf, who transformed her into an androgynous time-traveler in Orlando. The story of Sackville-West's marriage to Harold Nicolson is one of intrigue and bewilderment. In Portrait of a Marriage, their son Nigel combines his mother's memoir with his own explanations and what he learned from their many letters. Even during her various love affairs with women, Vita maintained a loving marriage with Harold. Portrait of a Marriage presents an often misunderstood but always fascinating couple.

"Portrait of a Marriage is as close to a cry from the heart as anybody writing in English in our time has come, and it is a cry that, once heard, is not likely ever to be forgotten. . . . Unexpected and astonishing."—Brendan Gill, New Yorker

"The charm of this book lies in the elegance of its narration, the taste with which their son has managed to convey the real, enduring quality of his parents' love for each other."—Doris Grumbach, New Republic

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:23 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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. Originally published: London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973.… (more)

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