Love…in words

let the olives reign

Let the olives reign

by Neil Waldman

Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf

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 down my defences. And I don’t really resent it. However I won’t bore you with any more.
We have re-started, and the train is shaky again. I shall have to write at the stations — which are fortunately many across the Lombard plain. …The waterfalls in Switzerland were frozen into solid iridescent curtains of ice, hanging over the rock; so lovely. And Italy all blanketed in snow.
We’re going to start again. I shall have to wait till Trieste tomorrow morning. Please forgive me for writing such a miserable letter.”
The following January—a year later—Vita wrote to Virginia:
“My darling, I hoped I should wake up less depressed this morning, but I didn’t. I went to bed last night as black as a sweep. The awful dreariness of Westphalia makes it worse: factory towns, mounds of slag, flat country, and some patches of dirty snow. … Why aren’t you with me? Oh, why? I do want you so frightfully.  I want more than ever to travel with you; it seems to me now the height of my desire, and I get into despair wondering how it can ever be realised. Can it, do you think? Oh my lovely Virginia, it is dreadful how I miss you, and everything that everybody says seems flat and stupid.
I do hope more and more that you won’t go to America, I am sure it would be too tiring for you, and anyway I am sure you wouldn’t like it. …
So we bundle along over Germany, and very dull it is — Surely I haven’t lost my zest for travel? No, it is not that; it is simply that I want to be with you and not with anybody else — But you will get bored if I go on saying this, only it comes back and back till it drips off my pen — Do you realise that I shall have to wait for over a fortnight before I can hear from you? poor me. I hadn’t thought of that before leaving, but now it bulks very large and horrible. What may not happen to you in the course of a fortnight? you may get ill, fall in love, Heaven knows what.
I shall work so hard, partly to please you, partly to please myself, partly to make the time go and have something to show for it. I treasure your sudden discourse on literature yesterday morning, — a send-off to me, rather like Polonius to Laertes. It is quite true that you have had infinitely more influence on me intellectually than anyone, and for this alone I love you.”
Shortly after she received this letter, Virginia Woolf came up with the idea for a new novel, inspired by Vita, who often liked to dress up in men’s clothes. That novel was Orlando: A Biography (1928), about a transgender writer who lives for hundreds of years. Vita’s son Nigel wrote, “The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando … in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the 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.” He calls Orlando “the longest and most charming love letter in literature.”
They ended their affair in the late 1920s but stayed friends until Virginia Woolf’s death in 1941. The relationship is chronicled in Vita and Virginia: The Work and Friendship of V. Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf (1993), written by Suzanne Raitt . Vita and Virginia, a movie based on the book, was released in 2018.

from the Writer’s Almanac Jan 21, 2021

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