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Archive for the ‘Sissinghurst’ Category

sissinghurst nyt screenshotThe New York Times special fall travel section of Oct. 6 asks the question, “Can a modern family make a home among hordes of tourists under the watchful eye of England’s National Trust?”

Adam Nicolson, provides an answer. He discusses Sissinghurst in Kent, the gardens lovingly created by his grandparents, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, and how things went for him, his wife and their two daughters when they moved in to the National Trust “home” in 2004.

It did not go well. The new setup was something of a shock. We had moved into a museum: our dogs not allowed in the garden, being shouted at by gardeners if they did wander in; our children not allowed near the greenhouses; our cars to be parked in exactly prealigned ways; instructions that we were not to have parties on the weekends – Adam Nicolson in the NYT.

Nicolson writes about the struggle to create the “placeness” inherent in the Sissinghurst of his childhood, along with the “fug of beauty” that made the site so memorable.

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Sissinghurst. It was home for Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson and their sons. It is the site of one of the most celebrated gardens in English history. It is the location for Stephanie Barron’s mystery, The White Garden. And for Adam Nicolson, grandson of Vita and Harold, it is a working farm.

Anne Fernald reviews Nicolson’s book, Sissinghurst, for Open Letters Monthly. She traces the history of the property through its many incarnations and documents Nicolson’s love of the land.

Nicolson’s Sissinghurst story was also the subject of an eight-part BBC series last year, but it is not available online. However, the Kent News published a story on the project.

Fernald teaches at Fordham University and is currently at work on the Cambridge University Press edition of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. You can read more from her at Fernham.

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NPG 5933. Virginia Woolf (née Stephen) by Vanessa Bell (née Stephen), 1912. Oil on board, 15 3⁄4 x 13 3⁄8 inches (400 x 340 mm). National Portrait Gallery, London

If I paid more attention to painting details, I would have known that Virginia Woolf was a knitter.

Since I don’t, I had to depend on Mark Hussey‘s VWoolf Listserv alert to a knitting website article about Woolf and knitting, “Did you know Virginia Woolf was a knitter?”.

In it, the writer cites Vanessa Bell’s small portrait of her sister, painted while Virginia was working on the draft of The Voyage Out, published in 1915. In the portrait, pictured at right. Virginia is knitting.

Also mentioned are:

  • Dame Edith Sitwell’s reminiscence about Virginia: “I enjoyed talking to her, but thought nothing of her writing. I considered her ‘a beautiful little knitter.'”
  • Virginia’s 1912 pronouncement to Leonard: “Knitting is the saving of life.”

Addendum: This bit of news has generated discussion on the VWoolf Listserv. Steve Posin contributed this tidbit: While reading the Vita Sackville West biography, he learned that Vita supplied Virginia with  knitting wool as late as 1941 from sheep raised at Sissinghurst.

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white gardenMany people consider mystery novels the perfect escape. Whether you dip into the genre regularly or infrequently, Woolfians may find it hard to resist a literary “whodunit” with Virginia Woolf at its center.

Stephanie Barron preceded this novel with a series of Jane Austen mysteries; she professes to enjoy making things up about real people, knowing they might not approve of her embellishments on their lives.

The White Garden revolves around the discovery of a new diary, believed to be in Woolf’s hand, but started the day after she was supposed to have drowned herself in the River Ouse. Intending to commit suicide that day, she goes instead to Sissinghurst, where she is comforted and cared for by Vita Sackville-West.

And there’s more, much more, including Woolf’s discovery of some nefarious wartime activities involving Maynard Keynes and others in the Bloomsbury circle, but it’s all too convoluted, and I wouldn’t want to give anything away.

And of course there’s the contemporary angle. The diary is found by an American garden designer, who is at Sissinghurst in order to duplicate the White Garden for her wealthy New York employer, while at the same time trying to uncover a hidden secret in her own family. A number of people become involved in the intrigue and with each other, including the Head Gardener at Sissinghurst, manuscript specialists at Sotheby’s, and a Woolf scholar at Oxford.

Barron reminds her readers that this is fiction, hoping that they will enjoy exploring the possibilities and forgive the license that she takes. There’s plenty of that, from the bald facts of Woolf’s death and the implausibility of the plot to some manipulation of the topography, so one has to suspend disbelief and just go with it. And in the process, you can soak up the atmosphere of Sissinghurst, Monks House and Charleston Farmhouse along with Oxford and Cambridge. You could do worse!

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