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Hon. Victoria Mary Sackville-West (Hon. Victoria ‘Vita’ Mary Sackville-West) Biography

(1892–1962), (Hon. Victoria ‘Vita’ Mary Sackville-West), The Edwardians, The Heir, Challenge, Orlando

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British poet and novelist, born at Knole, in Kent, which provided the setting and inspiration for much of her writing, including The Edwardians (1930) and The Heir (1922). Her parents were first cousins; her father became the 3rd Baron Sackville and her mother was the illegitimate daughter of Lionel Sackville-West and the Spanish Flamenco dancer, Pepita de Oliva, about whom she wrote a book published in 1937. In 1913 she married Harold Nicolson, with whom she travelled extensively during his diplomatic career. In 1918 she began a passionate affair with her schoolfriend Violet Keppel (later Trefusis), daughter of Alice Keppel: their three-year liaison is fancifully portrayed in her novel Challenge (1923). Her subsequent friendship with Virginia Woolf, whom she met in 1922, was to be the inspiration of Woolf's novel Orlando (1928); The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf appeared in 1984 (edited by L. DeSalvo and M. Leaska). In 1930 the Nicolsons moved to Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, where they created their famous garden. She wrote books on travel, biography, history, and on literary and gardening topics. Her poetry includes the pastoral poem The Land (1926, Hawthornden Prize), Collected Poems (1923), and The Garden (1946). Her novels are uneven, but include some fine work, in particular All Passion Spent (1931), the story of a woman finding freedom from the constraints of society and marriage in old age; Seducers in Ecuador (1942), in which the influence of Virginia Woolf can be detected; and No Signposts in the Sea (1961). Her unusual marriage was described by her son Nigel Nicolson in Portrait of a Marriage (1973).

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