Inventors of Gay: Vita Sackville-West
March 9, 1892 –June 2, 1962
Beautiful, talented and extremely unconventional, Victoria Mary Sackville-West, a.k.a. The Honorable Lady Nicolson, best known as Vita Sackville-West, was an English author and poet and peripheral member of the Bloomsbury group.
The Bloomsbury group was an early 20th century clan of intellectuals, artists, writers, and free-thinkers whose discussions, writings, and lifestyles influenced feminism, the hippie movement of the 1960s, and the sexual revolution.
Sackville-West is most remembered for her long affairs with both writer and intellect Virginia Woolf—the cerebral core of Bloomsbury— and Violet Trefusis, another English writer. These affairs, as well as her open marriage to bisexual husband Harold Nicolson, were documented in the 1973 book Portrait of a Marriage, by her son Nigel Nicolson.
Her most noted novel, The Edwardians, was a brilliant comedy of manners. It was well received by all except, of course, those depicted. She was awarded the Hawthornden prize for poetry twice, and was the only writer to ever do so.
In the 1930s, the family acquired and moved to Sissinghurst Castle, near Cranbrook, in Kent. Sissinghurst had once been owned by Vita's ancestors. There the couple created the renowned gardens that are now run by the National Trust.
Lytton Strachey - British writer and critic
Dora Carrington - Strachey’s companion and the eponymous heroine of the film Carrington)
E.M. Forster - Author of Muarice
John Maynard Keyes - Renowned economist
Duncan Grant - Artist
Why we care:
Vita and Harold Nicolson’s unorthodox marriage helped normalize bisexuality. Her affair with Virginia Woolf is lovingly fictionalized in Woolf’s novel Orlando. Her life, as well as many of the others in the Bloomsbury group, helped break down the Victorian culture of repression still clinging from the 19th century.
Below, Sissinghurst Castle and gardens.
"Inventors of Gay" is our series on important people in LGBT history who helped create the culture we enjoy today.