The Art of Love: Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West

Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West have met on a dinner party in 1922, dinner party then being a Bloomsbury equivalent of hipster’s house party which is nothing but booze and sex disguised by surface sophistication. What started as a work relationship – Virginia offered Vita to publish her novel with her small press – soon developed into a passionate friendship. Passionate it was, indeed… as in deeds, so in words.

Maybe the best depiction is the letter to Virginia, written on January 21, 1927…

I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in a sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is just really a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this – But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken my defences. And I don’t really resent it.

To which Virginia passionately responds…

Look here Vita – throw over your man, and we’ll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads – They won’t stir by day, only by dark on the river. Think of that. Throw over your man, I say, and come.

 

In this day and age it might seem even surreal, having the art of letter writing developed to that level that each word is perfectly placed to depict the depth of emotion. And that was who Virginia was, as she describes in her own words…

I love with such ferocity that it kills me when the object of my love shows by a phrase that he can escape.

Vita never escaped. In her own words, she never resented it, either. She was there to be given eternity by becoming Orlando, once described by Vita’s son Nigel as

the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her…
 

Which leaves me breathless.
Thank you, Virginia, and thank you, Vita, for sharing your unique story of friendship, love and lust.

Love Gina Wings

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