Happy Birthday, Vita!


Today I am featured on the OxfordWords blog, which is now very well managed by our own lovely Simon. I wrote about Vita Sackville-West, as it is her birthday this week. 121 years young!

If you’ve never read any Vita, you’re missing out. My favourite of her books so far is All Passion Spent; a more perfect evocation of the waste of Victorian womanhood would be impossible to find. If I get a snow day tomorrow, I’m going to curl up with a Vita I’ve had sitting on my pile for a long while; English Country Houses. I’m hoping it will give me some inspiration for places to visit during the Easter holidays – if it’s not snowing, that is!



  1. Simon T says:

    Thanks so much for writing it, Rachel, and for the link! I was staring at that very edition of English Country Homes this evening, at Slightly Foxed, trying to decide whether or not to spend on it. You’re going to make me regret leaving it behind, aren’t you…

    1. bookssnob says:

      It was a pleasure to be asked, Simon! Did you indeed? You silly boy! Don’t worry, they crop up here all the time – there is an actual Vita Sackville West SHELF in the Oxfam books in town because of the Knole connection. I’ll keep an eye for you!

  2. Dear Rachel: I want to address a comment you made in your last post which I was too busy to respond to at the time and which hopefully others responded to. Do not give up this blog….repeat after me, I will not give up this blog. You are allowed to feel overwhelmed/busy/used-up but I’m sure I speak for every one of your readers when I say you are cherished. Keep up the good work – however sporadically. Dawn

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Dawn! I am going to keep going, don’t worry. Just at a reduced rate! I appreciate your support and enthusiasm for my writing very much. 🙂

  3. Here’s hoping you get that snow day, Rachel, and a chance to have a good sit down with Vita.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Penny – I do indeed have a snow day, and once I’ve got some school work out of the way, Vita and I have a date! 🙂

  4. I have just read your piece on OxfordWords blog and it is of course up to your usual standard of sparkling, witty and insightful writing…thank you for that, and for introducing this well worn seamstress to the description of plocking. My needle has done a fair biut of plocking lately and it is super to have a name for it – here’s to Vita!
    So glad to hear you shan’t be giving up on Book Snob – you are my reason for blogging and your blog is a such a pleasure to read and something I look forward to so much. So pleased!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you very much! How lovely you are! 🙂 You are my favourite new voice in the blogosphere so the admiration is mutual!

  5. Monica Sandor says:

    Thanks for this tribute to Vita! And hope you enjoy your snow day. That reminds me of her Vita S-W’s garden at Sissinghurst in Kent (you must visit, it’s conveniently en route to Cantebury, so why not make a double pilgrimage…?). I remember first seeing the “winter garden” section, and being amazed as a Canadian that there were sufficient plant varieties (and a lack of snow cover most of the winter in Kent) to be able to maintain any sort of garden over the winter months. It is really beautiful and at least when I visited in the late 1990s nicely kept up.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks – snow day was lovely 🙂 Oh I have been to Sissinghurst – it’s not far from my house actually! It’s very beautiful, isn’t it? I had a wonderful day there last summer with an American friend. We were enchanted!

  6. teamgloria says:


    We also share a march 9th birthday….and just happened to have signed our first book contract in Manhattan this morning – feels So good.

    Lovely post.

    1. bookssnob says:

      What wonderful news! Congratulations! 🙂

  7. Martina says:

    Thanks for the link and your article there – I enjoyed it a lot as it gave me some kind of explanation why I need my dictionary so frequently when reading Vitas novels or poems. As a non-native speaker, I have less problems understanding the meaning of individual words in Virginia Woolf (my problems here are on a quite different level…) as in Vita’ s works. Could you say Vita is sort of “oldfashioned”? For me, some of her “creations” are just very unfamiliar and I really ask myself if she did’t just enjoy being creative with the language, mixing in her profound knowledge of foreign languages. ( Like the word “incognisance” in her poem “Sissinghurst” – is it really used in your language?!)
    So, did you have a nice date with her ;-)?
    I really would love to meet her for an evening and talk about her (barely obtainable) translations of Rilke’s “Duino elegies”. These are poems I almost cannot understand in German, but when I read an excerpt in her translation, things became clearer. Which is really strange. But perhaps the mind is switching to a different, more analytical level of understanding when reading in a different language?

    1. bookssnob says:

      How interesting, Martina! Vita is definitely old fashioned, and her use of language is eccentric and inventive – her words are certainly not commonplace and ‘incognisance’ is not exactly widely used, no!

      I did have a lovely date with Vita – snow days are brilliant!!

  8. Elena says:

    I haven’t read any Vita yet, but I’m certainly curious. Your description of All Passion Spent sounds amazing 🙂

    1. bookssnob says:

      You must give her a try, Elena!

      1. Elena says:

        I know! Especially after this wonderful review 🙂

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