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Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West [Kindle Edition]

Matthew Dennison
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Matthew Dennison creates a revealing portrait of the brave and charismatic Vita, in the first biography of her to be written for thirty years.

Vita Sackville-West was a woman who defied categorisation. She was the dispossessed girl whose lonely childhood at Knole inspired enduring feats of imagination, the celebrated author and poet, the adored and affectionate wife whose marriage included passionate homosexual affairs (most famously with Virginia Woolf ), and the recluse who found in nature and her garden at Sissinghurst Castle solace from the contradictions of her extraordinary life. In this dazzling new biography, Matthew Dennison traces these complexities, depicting a prolific, radical, sensitive and uncompromising figure in all her depth.

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BOOK OF THE YEAR as chosen by:

The Times

'Dennison captures both Vita’s irresistible charm and her selfishness. Like his subject, he is a natural storyteller, and his impeccable scholarship never weighs down his lively narrative' Independent

‘Brave man to take on the biography of Vita, and he has brought it off superbly … It studies and reveals this extraordinary woman as well as could possibly be. A fine achievement’ Spectator, Susan Hill

‘Astute and engaging, Dennison looks again at Vita’s extraordinary life and makes a new sort of sense of it … fascinating … an insightful book. The connections between Vita’s childhood, her dispossessions, her sexuality and her writing are compellingly explored. Vita emerges as a complex and interesting character, and far more than a gay icon’ Literary Review

‘Dennison emphasises the desire for solitude that existed in tension with her joyous sensuality and need for love’ Guardian

‘Detailed and fascinating … Dennison shows true admiration for his latest subject … freshly chronicled here for the first time in more than 30 years’ Daily Express

‘Intimate … A splendid biography of a splendid character’ The Lady

'This astute and engaging book looks again at Vita's extraordinary life and makes a new sort of sense of it … Fascinating … Insightful … The connections between Vita's childhood, her dispossession, her sexuality and her writing are compellingly explored. Vita emerges as a complex and interesting character, and far more than a gay icon' Literary Review

‘Comprehensively documents her literary … with evocative portraits of her husband [and lovers] … Dennison’s Vita is convincingly ambivalent and inflammatory, a product of her age’ New Statesman

'This carefully researched book is intelligently and elegantly written … balanced, oratical and confident’ Spectator

‘Brilliant … thorough and engaging’ Daily Mail

About the Author

Matthew Dennison is the author of the critically acclaimed ‘The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria's Youngest Daughter’, written with the full assistance of the Royal Archives and published in nine UK editions to date, ‘Empress of Rome: The Life of Livia’, ‘The Twelve Caesars’ and ‘Queen Victoria’. Described in the Independent as 'one of those rare marvels, a historical biographer whose work has reached the bestseller lists', he is also a regular contributor to Country Life, Telegraph Magazine, the Times and Majesty.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book of the year!!! 14 Dec. 2014
By Lucy
I have always been very intrigued by the life and loves of Vita Sackville West. Ever since finding a book of love letters sent to her by Violet Trefusis in a second hand book store in Gloucester in the early 90s. I have wondered what her allure was, she seemed to bewitch all those whom she met, both male and female. Looking at the wonderful pictures included in the book, she certainly wasn't really a stunner in a traditional sense but certainly did have an androgynous quality to her. You can see how Virginia Woolf imagined her as `Orlando' the male and female hero or heroine of that wonderful book. And wow what a love letter to receive, not only to Vita but also to her ancestral home. A lot has been made of how saddened Vita was to lose her beloved Knowle, due to male succession. This book gets to the core of why she was hit so hard. The house in fact became a childhood friend to her, she would lose herself for hours within its rooms and the costumes and paintings of her ancestors were her playmates and inspirations for her literature later in life.

I didn't know anything really about her parents prior to reading the book. Her mother was her father's cousin but from Italy and a very fiery controlling individual, who controlled or at least tried to control Vita, yet seemed to take her daughter's love life in her stride. However, she did prefer it when her daughter had marital affairs with men rather than women, throw into the pot the fact that Vita's husband was himself bisexual and you certainly have an interesting book! The fact they went on the radio to discuss the joys of marriage is hilarious!

Vita doesn't come across as a very likeable lady; in fact she wrecks the lives of those she meets throughout her own live.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 Stars) Good in Parts 12 Oct. 2014
Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) renowned gardener, novelist, travel writer and gardening writer, is the subject of Matthew Dennison's aptly-titled biography: 'Behind the Mask'. Vita, only child of Lionel, 3rd Lord Sackville and his wife, Victoria, grew up at Knole, in Kent, a huge Tudor-built stately home with 365 rooms and 52 staircases, a home which she loved ardently and knew she would, as a female, be unable to inherit. Vita's mother, Victoria (the illegitimate half-Spanish daughter of the 2nd Lord Sackville) was a passionate and difficult woman who did not give Vita sufficient or consistent affection, but felt no qualms about sacking Vita's nannies once she thought Vita was becoming too fond of them. Her father, Lionel, was pre-occupied with his own life and with his succession of mistresses, and Vita, a proud, secretive and solitary child, who did not find it easy to form friendships with other children, spent her time dressing up and roaming through the vast house, imagining herself to be one of her ancestors: 'at one with the portraits and historic artefacts which surrounded her: the silver furniture made for James I in the King's Room; the paintings by Holbein, Frans Hals, Van Dyck and Gainsborough;[and] the heraldic leopards which prompted her to verse.'

Vita began her schooling at Helen Woolff's School for Girls in London at the age of thirteen, where she became friendly with (and physically attracted to) Rosamund Grosvenor, a relation of the Duke of Westminster, and also with the Violet Keppel (the daughter of Mrs Keppel, the mistress of King Edward VII) who fell deeply in love with the dark, handsome, heavy-lidded Vita, attracted by her appearance and personality which appeared to embrace both the masculine and feminine aspects of her character.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
I knew very little of Vita Sackville West, other than her creation of the gardens at Sissinghurst. What I really enjoyed about this biography was that, rather than being just a blow by blow account of her day to day life and doings, it is a fascinating analysis of the woman herself. After reading the book (which I confess, I couldn't put down) I came away with a much better understanding of why Vita was the woman she was. Her ambitions, frustrations and passions are at the core of the biography and it makes for a fascinating read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book 16 Jan. 2015
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This a fantastic read and beautifully written well researched and fascinating I highly recommend this book and the author
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting 16 Jan. 2015
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Excellent book. Gives a sad,yet revealing insight into the british aristocracy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars you either love this stuff or you don't 16 Jan. 2015
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I mean, duh?... you either love this stuff or you don't... I loved it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 15 Jun. 2015
By Eddie C
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
great book bought as a present and greatly appreciated
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