More genealogy from Knole

Vita Sackville-West, c. 1940

Juliet Nicolson follows in their footsteps in determining to write a novel about herself and her forebears.

To get a very long time she was impressed by something her grandma’s Virginia Woolf, lover said to her dad: ‘Nothing has actually happened until it’s written down.’ This notion is rejected by her; but by composing her perceptive, self-aware novel that is she herself makes something important occur. She’s not joined a family convention as interrogated it, as well as in doing thus liberated herself from another family custom and her female forebears: psychological suppression and alcoholic self destruction.

A few of the stories she associates are recognizable, but she tells them having the flourish of a romantic novelist, a joy in graphic detail as well as a brand new vigor. The couple travelled and lived together in France and created five kids before Pepita’s death, although Spanish girls cannot subsequently divorce.

Among those illegitimate children became Nicolson’s great grandmother, Victoria, probably the most shocking of every one of the girls in this saga. In 1890 he was married by her where her dad had taken her to dwell, in the chapel where John Donne had frequently preached.

In the beginning, the wedding was thrilled: The newlyweds found the best thing about married life, a common exhilaration. She writes:

The cupboards and drawers and attics of my life have been crammed with all manner of wedding veils and mouldering hats, youth drawings, pictures, paintings, Christmas cards, and notebooks. We look helpless to resist the impulse to create an archive.
But married bliss will not last long in this family. Their sex life was, destroyed by the arrival of her only child, Vita. Lionel took up with the opera singer whom he installed at Knole, Vita grew up lesbian and wilful, and Victoria became demanding, stout and eccentric to the idea of insanity. A lot of the territory is well-trodden, though Nicolson adds it and many personal touches that are powerful; but most courageous the most innovative & most subversive element of the novel concerns herself and her own parents. It’s difficult to get a kid to think about her parents’ miserable union without blame or self pity, but she manages to do thus; her dad, Nigel, wed because he desired an acceptable, docile wife to help his career and give him a family, while her pretty, unintellectual mom, Philippa Tennyson d’Eyncourt, just wished to escape at house. Her daughter’s accounts of this is truthful, as is her admission as her own first marriage failed, of how she turned to the bottle. She is close to her two daughters, wed recuperated and is quite happily a grandma herself.

Finally, it is a novel about how exactly a family survives problems and psychological dilemmas down the generations, and at what price — particularly, though not entirely, to the girls concerned. Each of the privilege in the world — as well as the Sackville-Wests Nicolsons and were exceptionally privileged — cannot shield any family in the effects of sexual and mental dysfunction. Shortly past such issues used to not be discussed, not as written about; Nigel Nicolson himself, with Portrait of a Marriage, where he released his mom’s accounts of her lifelong bisexuality, took among the very first steps in 1974. His daughter takes truthfulness about family issues considerably additional. In writing this accounts that is tremendously amusing, she reveals extraordinary emotional resilience.

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