Isle of Lesbos : Letters & Journals : Vita Sackville-West's Letters

 

Letters from Vita Sackville-West

To Virginia Woolf and Violet Trefusis

Letters

Milan [posted in Trieste]

I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn't even feel it. And yet I believe you'll be sensible of a little gap. But you'd clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. 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.

Venice. The stations were many, but I didn't bargain for the Orient Express not stopping at them. And here we are at Venice for ten minutes only, -- a wretched time in which to try and write. No time to buy an Italian stamp even, so this will have to go from Trieste.

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.

V.

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Near Hanover

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. And you are going to the Webbs. Well, well....

Why aren't you with me? Oh, why? I do want you so frightfully.

The only thing which gives me any pleasure is Leigh's get-up. He has bought a short sheepskin coat, in which he evidently thinks he looks like a Hungarian shepherd, but horn-rimmed glasses and a rather loud pair of plus-fours destroy this effect. Dottie on the other hand has appeared in a very long fur-coat, down to the ankles, so thick as to make her quite round; she looks like a Russian grand-duke. We are all rather cross, and have rows about luggage. 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. Come to Beirut instead??

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. I feel my muscles hardening,

'Il poeta e un' artiere
Che al mestiere
Fece i muscoli d'acciaio . . . .'

Yes, my very dear Virginia, I was at a crossways just about the time I first met you.

You do like me to write well, don't you? And I do hate writing badly -- and having written so badly in the past. But now, like Queen Victoria, I will be good.

Hell! I wish you were here - The team of ponies prances with temper. Send me anything you write in papers, and send 'On reading'. Please. I hope you will get my letters quick and often. Tell me if I write too often, I love you.

V.

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My darling,

It was a real event in my life and my heart to be with you the other day. We do matter to each other, don't we? however much our ways may have diverged. I think we have got something indestructible between us, haven't we? Even right back to the library seat in your papa's room at Grosvenor Street -- and then at Duntreath -- and then to everything that came afterwards. Glissons, mortels ... but what a bond, Lushka darling; a bond of childhood and subsequent passion, such as neither of us will ever share with anyone else.

It has been a very strange relationship, ours; unhappy at times, happy at others; but unique in its way, and infinitely precious to me and (may I say?) to you.

What I like about it is that we always come together again however long the gaps in our meetings may have been. Time seems to make no difference. This is a sort of love letter I suppose. Odd that I should be writing you a love letter after all these years - when we have written so many to each other. Parceque c'etait lui parceque c'etait moit.

Oh, you sent me a book about Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Thank you, darling generous Lushka and you gave me a coal-black briquet. It lights up into the flame of love which always burns in my heart whenever I think of you. You said it would last for three months, but our love has lasted for forty years and more.

Your Mitya

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Where to Learn More

  • Vita Sackville-West The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf , Louise De Salvo, Mitchell A. Leaska, editors

  • Suzanne Raitt, Vita and Virginia: The Work and Friendship of V. Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf (Clarendon Press, 1993)

  • Panthea Reid, Art and Affection: A Life of Virginia Woolf, (Oxford Univ Press, 1996)

  • Virginia Woolf, Congenial Spirits: The Selected Letters of Virginia Woolf, Joanne Trautmann Banks, editor (Harcourt Brace, 1991)

  • Mitchell Leaska, Granite and Rainbow: The Hidden Life of Virginia Woolf (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1998)

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