Monday 29 September 2014

Vita Sackville-West and Sissinghurst

I came across Vita Sackville-West, the author and gardener, for the first time about thirty years ago when I first started wearing vintage clothes and being interested in historical females who had achieved something in their field. I find I like hearing about history from a female perspective, it's often more interesting. I love reading biographies, and hers was one of the first I picked up.

She led me onto other biographies and people of the time, the first of which was her lover, Violet Trefusis, for whom she briefly left her husband.

Violet was the daughter of Mrs Keppel, who herself was the lover of the King, Edward VII. Mrs Keppel was the great grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles, and the King the great grandfather of Prince Charles. Apocrypichally, CP-B said to Charles when they first met, 'my great grandmother was your great great grandfather's mistress, so how about it?'

What an opener!

I bought this Victorian brown bear's head when I was 19, believing I would one day live in a castle. I named him Sackville. By my early 40s, it had become clear that I was more terraced or semi-detached material, which rarely feature minstrel's galleries, so he went off to live out his days in a stately home in the South West.

Anyway, to come back to the subject in hand, Vita was quite masculine in appearance and liked to dress as a man. This watercolour, by artist unknown, which lives in one of my old sketchbooks, shows Vita in pursuit of Violet. I produced a homage showing me and my cat Wellington. He lived to the ripe old age of 18.
I still have that red dress, somewhere in the dressing up trunk. I must dig it out and give you a twirl if I can squeeze into it.

So I think it's fair to say my recent visit to Sissinghurst, the amazing garden Vita built in Kent with her husband Harold Nicholson, has been in the pipeline for quite some time. 
Me-made sheet sun dress and necklace, clogs by Lotta from Stockholm, and bag from lovely Krista
It was worth the wait.

Originally I had my doubts about visiting gardens in late September, but I needn't have worried. The weather was extremely kind and the planting is clever enough that there is still plenty of colour. I'm talking dahlias, woodland anenomes, decorative sages, lavenders, black eyed susan vines, roses even.

It is actually called Sissinghurst Castle, because that's precisely what it is: the reclaimed ruins of an Elizabethan castle. At one time it was used as a prison for French soldiers captured during the seven years' war. 
When Vita and her family went to live there, there wasn't a lot remaining, but they lovingly put it back together. In an unconventional arrangement, Vita had her rooms in the tower, Harold had a cottage and their two sons lived in another little house. What a great arrangement!

We went and visited a few other places, mainly house and gardens, on what was a rather cultural trip. I'll be writing about them soon. I hope you'll join me!


Vix said...

Didn't Vita have a thing with one of the Garman sisters, too? Those feisty women always held a fascination for me, too. Love the reasons behind buying the bea's head and glad he ended up in a stately home. You don't look any different in the photo with him!
Sissinghurst looks glorious, what are the chances of the weather still being this good so late in the season you you being able to swank about in that gorgeous yellow dress and bare legs! xxxxxx

Curtise said...

Sissinghurst looks really beautiful, as indeed do you in your sheet chic frock! Oh those Bloomsbury types; they're not really my favourites, if I'm honest, but their lives certainly were unconventional, and they had their talents.
Love the photo of you and Sackville. So he got to live in a stately home, but you're still awaiting your castle, Princess T-T? One day, love, one day! Ha, look at you chasing after the gorgeous Wellington; did you pursue Pool Boy with the same enthusiasm?!
You've been out and about then - yes please, I'll be happy to join you! xxxx

Fiona said...

Sissinghurst is lovely isn't it. I visited some years ago, in June I think...the white garden was a picture. I didn't know that Vita's lover was a Keppel, another one of Camilla antecedents ...Lord Ashcombe owned Denbies, the estate that the vineyard is now on.
Love that frock of yours.

Miss Magpie said...

I first heard of Vita when we did a load of culture with my parents in the summer holidays (my Dad is from Kent) Of course I was deeply unimpressed as a child!

I then got reminded with Portrait of a Marriage on T.V which made me buy the book.

mondoagogo said...

Oh, that bear's head! Taxidermy hipsterism way ahead of its time :) I love your watercolour (it looks very 30s!)

Sissinghurst always looks so lovely in photos, as do you in that pretty dress. The story of their rooms reminds me of I Capture The Castle, which was written at a similar time of course, I wonder if the house was the basis for that idea....?

Connie said...

I just love literature by badass women. And it is so fun to visit artist's homes. Sissinghurst is just as pretty as I thought it would be and oh my aren't you lovely in your sheet frock. Really really pretty. The clogs are so cute and cloggy. I love those little glimpses into your childhood. A bear rug for your castle. So cute. I'll bet you were out in the park recruiting footmen and ladies in waiting from amongst your playmates.

Krista said...

Great stories here oh my sweet seduction! Thank you for the back story it's all so delicious better because it was back in the day. The place is beautiful it looks like it was the perfect day. You are a vision in that yellow frock and the bag is just so perfect honey, it makes me smile seeing it on your arm.

The thought of you buying that bear head threw me for a loop, I love how life changes us, change makes me as content as it does crabby:). Can't wait to see some more!

Helga said...

I haven't read a bio on Vita, surprisingly! She's cropped up in so many others I've read. I too love historical bios on women, for the same reasons!
You and that bear head! No wonder you love Lisa St Aubin de Teran so much!!! I immediately thought of her and the castle she lived in with Lally's father!
Feck me, you are a dreamboat in your sheet frock! I want to squeeze you!