Behind the Mask
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What to expect
Aristocrat, literary celebrity, ‘Rose Queen’, devoted wife, lesbian, recluse, iconoclast – Vita Sackville-West was many things, but she was never straightforward. Her life is re-told here in a dazzling new biography.
In this stunning portrait of Vita Sackville-West, Matthew Dennison traces the triumph and contradictions of Vita’s extraordinary life. His narrative charts a fascinating course from Vita’s lonely childhood at Knole, through her affectionate but ‘open’ marriage to Harold Nicolson (during which both husband and wife energetically pursued homosexual affairs, Vita most famously with Virginia Woolf), and through Vita’s literary successes and disappointments, to the famous gardens the couple created at Sissinghurst.
The book tells how, from her privileged world of the aristocracy, Sackville-West brought her penchant for costume, play-acting and rebellion to the artistic vanguard of modern Britain.
Dennison is the acclaimed author of many books including a biography of Queen Victoria. Here, in the first biography to be written of Vita for thirty years, he reveals the whole story and gets behind ‘the beautiful mask’ of Vita’s public achievements to reveal an often troubled persona which heroically resisted compromise on every level. Drawing on wide-ranging sources and the extensive letters that sustained her marriage, this is a compelling story of love, loss and jealousy, of high-life and low points, of binding affection and illicit passion – a portrait of an extraordinary, 20th-century life.
‘Dennison captures both Vita’s irresistible charm and her selfishness. Like his subject, he is a natural story-teller, and his impeccable scholarship never weighs down his lively narrative. By seamlessly interweaving Vita’s fiction, he shows how her life influenced her art, and reminds us of the muddled compromises forced on the generations before homosexuality was legalised’ Independent
‘Detailed and fascinating … Dennison shows true admiration for his latest subject … freshly chronicled here for the first time in more than 30 years’ Daily Express
‘Subtle on the autobiography in [Vita’s] fiction and [her] dark, developing allure … There remains something grandly unknowable about her’ Country Life
Praise for ‘Queen Victoria’:
‘Sometimes caustic about her stubbornness and passions, often admiring of her frankness and honesty, Dennison’s Queen Victoria sweeps us through the monarch’s long and colourful life at a collected canter. He draws on imagery of her reign, including portraits of her with John Brown, to startlingly good effect, making us see with new eyes the lone young queen, later the Widow of Windsor and, in a final role, Grandmama of Europe’ Flora Fraser
‘Matthew Dennison has pulled off a tremendous coup in writing a short and concise book, encapsulating Victoria’s life in 152 small pages. Short books can sometimes be superficial overviews, but this one has the confidence of considerable research, well digested and well delivered… For anyone approaching Queen Victoria for the first time, this is perfect’ Hugo Vickers, Times
‘This illuminating book gives us Victoria in deliberately bite-sized chunks … Dennison’s dry wit and concise analysis bring new life to a monarch we all thought we knew’ Daily Express
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