cover image Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West

Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West

Matthew Dennison. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-250-03394-9

Biographer Dennison (The Last Princess) offers a dense and tedious portrait of British writer Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) that begins in 1910 with the legal troubles of Victoria, the author’s mother, who acquired a scandalous reputation for her out-of-wedlock birth and (possibly platonic) relationship with an older man who bequeathed his estate to her husband. These events thrust the aristocratic Sackville-Wests into the spotlight for the first time. Dennison then backtracks to Sackville-West’s birth and privileged upbringing that laid the groundwork for Sackville-West’s complicated nature, including her need for role play, her tendency toward drama and cruelty, and the contradictions between her actions and work. Her long engagement to diplomat Harold Nicolson and their eventual marriage are explored, as are her affairs—with her childhood friend Rosamund, novelist Violet Keppel, and Virginia Woolf. The book then moves onto the final decades of Vita’s life, when creating the famous Sissinghurst Castle Gardens became her priority, and when, perhaps for the first time, she was rejected by a potential lover. Dennison has plenty of information to offer but unfortunately little focus. Fans of Sackville-West’s, or of Woolf’s novel Orlando (inspired by Sackville-West), will be interested nonetheless, but they’ll have to wade through a great deal of undigested information to get to the story. [em]Agent: Georgina Capel, Capel & Land (U.K.). (June) [/em]