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The Butterfly Garden; It’s Not What You Think It Is

The Butterfly Garden

The Butterfly Garden

I like to read, a lot. I read over 60 books a year and in the last year I have enjoyed reading books on gardens, especially gardens I have visited in the UK on my English Garden Tours. Virginia Woolf’s Garden by Caroline Zoob has become one of my favorite reads. I loved the photographs and details of the gardening skills of Zoob, while she and her husband were the caretakers of Monk’s House (the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf) for ten years for the National Trust. It also was a look into the Woolf’s private lives during their time at Monk’s House, beginning with how they came to own the property, up until the time of Leonard’s death. So to me it was a gardening book and a history book, which I loved!

I always have books on my Kindle and get alerts on Amazon, you know the ones; if you liked this book then you might enjoy…………  and I get alerts on books from some of my book club friends as well, so I always have a book or 20 in the pipeline. Sometimes I read a book review and I add that book to my wish list as well or a book is recommended on my Kindle Unlimited account, to read for free.

Went I left on vacation this year I looked over my list and just glanced at a title I had placed in my wish list book pile. So I downloaded The Butterfly Garden by Dot Richardson, not bothering to read an excerpt, believing I had done so before I put it on my wish list and just thinking from the title that it would make a good read while I visited the gardens on this year’s English Garden Tour.

Was I in for a surprise when I opened that book! Now I have to tell you I don’t watch scary movies or TV programs. At my age the daily news is enough bad stuff for me and and I tend to turn that off too. Neither am I a prude or shrinking violet, I was a registered nurse for many years and worked critical care, so gory is not a problem for me. But, this book turned out to be a psychological thriller and I was so shocked by the first chapter that I simply could not put the book down because I had to know how everything turned out! All I am going to say is that it was quite graphic, frightening and a good read! I will NEVER be able to look at a butterfly floating lazily among the flowers or a butterfly collection in the same way again!

That book made me promise myself to always read the review before I place a book on my wish list and again before I download it. I think I’ll go back to my lovely gardening books of flowers and vegetable patches, sun-dappled paths and golden brick walls and give my heart a rest! Take heed, but if this kind of thriller is an interest for you, you will not be disappointed!

A Day With Agatha Christie at Greenway: Getting There

Agatha Christie's Tour Bus, Greenway

Agatha Christie’s Tour Bus, (a 1947 Leyland Tiger PS1/1 single decker with Barnaby bodywork)

Agatha Christie's Tour Bus, Greenway

Agatha Christie’s Tour Bus, Greenway

I am so excited to be visiting Greenway House, the holiday home of Agatha Christie. It is the first private residence of the famous author to be opened to the public. Greenway House is situated on a 278 acre estate on the Dart River in Devon. I will be dividing the posts into several sections since there is so much to talk about and it is all so very interesting! Now let’s get on the tour bus, so to speak!

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born September 15, 1890 into a wealthy, upper middle-class family in Ashfield, Torquay, Devon. Agatha described her childhood as “very happy”, but that her childhood was over when her father died when she was eleven. She was surrounded by strong and independent women, (her mother and her grandmother especially) believing her mother was a psychic with the ability of second sight. She described her grandmother and her cronies as “always expecting the worst of everyone and everything, and were, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right.” Her mother insisted that Agatha be educated at home, so her parents were responsible for teaching her to read (which she loved) and write, and basic arithmetic, which she also enjoyed. In 1905 she was sent to Paris to further her education, but returned in 1910 when her mother was ill. They decided to go to Egypt, (a popular tourist destination for wealthy Brits at that time) to spend time in a warmer climate, and stayed three months at the Gezirah Palace Hotel, attending social functions with her mother. They were on the prowl for a husband for Agatha! 

Upon return to England Agatha met Archibald Christie at a dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford at Ugbrooke, near Torquay. Archie was born in India, the son of a judge in the Indian Civil Service. By 1913 he was an army officer in the Royal Flying Corps. The couple married on Christmas Eve in 1914, while Archie was home on leave.

Agatha involved herself in the war effort, joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in 1914, and assisted with wounded soldiers at a hospital in Torquay as an unpaid VAD nurse. She was responsible for aiding the doctors and maintaining morale; she performed 3,400 hours of unpaid work between October 1914 and December 1916. She qualified as an “apothecaries’ assistant” (or dispenser) in 1917 and, as a dispenser, she earned £16 a year until the end of her service in September 1918. In her spare time she wrote.

She was initially unsuccessful at getting her work published, but in 1920 The Bodley Head press published her novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring the character of Hercule Poirot. This launched her literary career.

Agatha Christie created several series’ characters during her writing career, but her best known was Hercule Poirot. Christie, was a fan of detective novels, having enjoyed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories. In her detective novel, Poirot was a former Belgian policeman noted for his twirly large magnificent moustaches and egg-shaped head. Christie’s inspiration for this stemmed from real Belgian refugees who were living in Torquay. He appeared in 33 novels, one theatrical play, and more than 50 short stories He first appeared in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) and last appeared in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case (1975) which famously features his death. While her fans loved Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie herself was increasingly fed up with her creation. Late in her career, she described him as “an egocentric creep.”

In 1926, Archie Christie wanted to marry his mistress, Nancy Neele, and asked Agatha for a divorce. Agatha, totally overwrought, left her home and then abandoned her car at a chalk quarry, before disappearing for ten days. There has been a lot of speculation as to what exactly went on during this time. It has been suggested that Agatha disappeared to embarrass her husband, and call him out on the divorce, (mistress and all) or that it had possibly been a publicity stunt to promote her next book. However, when she was found at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate having registered under a false name, two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia and a depressed state from literary overwork, her mother’s death earlier that year and her husband’s infidelity. Agatha never spoke of the incident again.

A quote from Agatha; “I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

Life goes on………. and Miss (Jane) Marple was introduced in the short stories called The Thirteen Problems in 1927 and was based on Christie’s grandmother and her cronies.

In 1930 Agatha married Sir Max Mallowen, (14 years her junior) having met him during an archaeological dig. Her travels with him contributed backgrounds for several of her novels set in the Middle East.

Agatha Quote; An archaelogist is the best husband a women can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.

In 1938, Agatha Christie, now independently wealthy from her writing, returned to Torbay and purchased a Georgian Manor, named Greenway. Greenway would be the setting for several of her books.

She also wrote six romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best known for the 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections that she wrote under her own name, most of which revolve around the investigative work of such characters as Hercule Poirot, and Jane Marple.

Agatha Quote; I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.

She returned to Greenway again and again in her fiction, setting many of her classic murder mysteries at the beach, cove and island. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple both ventured to Torbay to solve heinous crimes. While Greenway was never Agatha’s primary residence, it was for a generation the family holiday retreat—where the family gathered for Christmas and Easter, and where she spent her summers. In 1950 Christie turned the house over to her daughter Rosalind Christie Hicks and in 2000 Greenway was transferred to The National Trust. Today, Greenway is restored and furnished as Christie and Max Mallowen would have known it in the 1950s.


Christie Mysteries Set Locally

  • Peril at End House
  • Sleeping Murder
  • The ABC Murders
  • The Body in the Library
  • And Then There Were None
  • Evil Under the Sun
  • Dead Man’s Folly
The Ferry Stop at Greenway

The Ferry Stop at Greenway

Greenway is not easy to get to. The preferred and recommended method of arrival is by boat—passenger ferry from Torbay, Dartmouth, or across the river from Dittisham. Any way you arrive at the quay, it is a 400-yard climb up hill to the house and gardens. This is not a trip for those with limited mobility.

The Lane to Greenway, Devon, UK

The Lane to Greenway, Devon, UK

Now that we have had a little background on Agatha let’s continue to make our way to Greenway! Take a good look at that narrow country lane! It is the Green Way, aptly named!  Arriving by car and getting closer to our destination, we first meandered through a neighborhood of Galmpton and then came upon this mile or so of narrow lane to Greenway. See that little extra pavement to the right in the photo? That is how much room you have to pull over if another car or bus approaches! Add to that the idiots that do not read the details of visiting Greenway. You MUST reserve a parking space that is available in 3 hour increments at Greenway House. If you don’t have a permit, pre- arranged, you will be turning your car around and heading home! Now some think it is OK to just park your car in this tiny strip and walk on to Greenway! Now how do the cars pull over when another car approaches???? This is an adventure all in itself. Once you reach the parking lot there is another extended hike up to the house. Golf carts are available to pick you up, but you must register for assistance and the wait can be lengthy as there are over 900 visitors a day.

But, we got here, Leon (the car) was all in one piece and I had my reservation to park, so what’s another walk? The house itself is surrounded by walled gardens, orchards and woodland gardens, so the walk was pleasant.

The Walled Gardens of Greenway

The Walled Gardens of Greenway

Navelwort in Walled Garden at Greenway

Navelwort in Walled Garden at Greenway

The stables and other out buildings have been converted to a gift shop and an eatery, so you can stop and enjoy this area before going on up to the house. What a beautiful view of the river and grounds from the front of the house!

A View of the River Dart at Greenway

A View of the River Dart at Greenway

A View of the River Dart at Greenway

A View of the River Dart at Greenway

There are lawn chairs to sit and enjoy this view either before or after visiting the house.

The Lawn Chairs at Greenway

The Lawn Chairs at Greenway

Greenway, Holiday Home of Agatha Christie

Greenway, Holiday Home of Agatha Christie

Greenway, Holiday Home of Agatha Christie

Greenway, Holiday Home of Agatha Christie

Greenway, Holiday Home of Agatha Christie

Greenway, Holiday Home of Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie at Greenway

Agatha Christie at Greenway

Let’s go in! See you tomorrow!

Great Expectations


A Young Daphne du Maurier

A Young Daphne du Maurier

No this is not about the Charles Dicken’s classic novel. It’a about how I always have such “Great Expectations” before I set off on a new adventure (vacation)!

My new adventure is Cornwall in the United Kingdom and I am really looking forward to it. So I have been doing some research (as always) and this time was led to books by Daphne du Maurier, an English novelist who wrote between 1931 and 1989. She was born in Cornwall in 1907 and died in Cornwall in 1989. So I think she would know about Cornwall! Three of her books were written specifically about life in Cornwall; Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and Frenchman’s Creek. So I ordered a book from the UK that contained all three books. It was published in 1939 and the book itself was a treasure. The binding was like new, so someone cherished this book. There was that musty smell that old books have, with the pages yellowed on the edges. I felt the book had just left the library of Miss Jane Marple’s cottage in St Mary Mead! I have a good imagination, don’t I? Agatha Christie is another author I enjoy! Imagine my surprise to find out that the sweet looking, Daphne du Maurier, who wrote these fantastic romantic novels, also wrote The Birds, which was made into an equally famous movie by Alfred Hitchcock!

I read all three novels (they were romance) and I did get a good perspective of the sea, coves, bogs, moors, smugglers and inns in Cornwall. I got a good idea of the Cornish people as well; very sturdy those folks! So now in my mind I have “Great Expectations” for Cornwall. I googled Jamaica Inn with the plan of going there, since it still is a working inn. The reviews, however, were very dismal. The location is off a very busy road (as it was in the old days) but the Inn is more like a rest stop on a toll road. Very touristy. It did not meet my expectations, so rather than ruin my dream I’ll think of Jamaica Inn as written in the book.

Another book I read before my vacation was The Lost Gardens of Heligan by Tim Smit. Wow, this garden has been in Cornwall since the 1600’s and there is quite a story here! Heligan is on my “List of Gardens” to see during my Second UK Garden Tour. I won’t spoil it for you, but I must say, I think it will be the first garden I’ve ever visited that had an exorcism by a priest in the 20th century! Now that should interest you, it did me!

One of The Lost Garden of Heligan Sculptures

One of The Lost Garden of Heligan Sculptures

I was also inspired by all the documentaries, mysteries, and great TV programs to be found on the Acorn App (all British TV) that is streamed to my TV! I hardly watch anything else now! No sex, no violence, no filthy language here! How refreshing! I especially like all the Agatha Christie, Miss Marple series, with my favorite Miss Marple being Geraldine McEwan, who was the sleuth from 2004 to 2009. What a darling old lady she was! I am glad I got to peek into her cottage at St Mary Mead (on TV) because I know I will see small villages that are very similar on my Garden Tour and I just know my book came from one of those cottages! Hopefully, I’ve offered some inspiration for your pre-travels, it’s good to know something about the place you’re visiting, so you get a feel of it before you arrive! Great Expectations To You!

Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple

Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple




Color Your World: 120 Days of Crayola; Vivid Violet

Vivid Violet from Charleston House, UK

Vivid Violet Flowers at Charleston House, UK

Vivid Violet at Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Kent, UK

Vivid Violet Flowers at Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Kent, UK

Vivid Violet at Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Kent, UK

Vivid Violet Flowers at Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Kent, UK

Vivid Violet was added to the Crayola line in 1997. It is Day 112 of the Crayola Challenge and I have presented more beautiful flowers from the gardens in the UK. I thought perhaps my flowers were not quite vivid enough.  But, I came across this Vivid Violet also.

Vivid Arene Violet

Vivid Arene Violet

Arlene Violet, a real life Vivid Violet, was born into a middle class family in Providence, Rhode Island. After attending Providence College, she entered the Sisters of Mercy convent in 1961, taking her final vows in 1969. Later Violet earned a bachelor’s degree from Salve Regina University and was a school teacher in a disadvantaged neighborhood during the 1970’s.  She became interested in law and graduated from Boston College Law School in 1974. She then clerked in the judge’s chambers and did an internship in the Rhode Island General Attorney’s office. When the convent had financial difficulties she left her legal work and returned to the convent, serving as an administrative nun into the 1980’s. In 1984, Violet ran for election and won, becoming the first female Attorney General in the United States. During her term in office she focused on organized crime, environmental issues and victim’s rights. One of her innovations was to use videotape interviews of child victims rather than direct testimony. In the courtroom, she was known as Attila the Nun! After leaving office, Violet returned to prosecuting, taught environmental law at Brown University, and ran a talk show from 1990 to 2006. She has written two books, Convictions: My Journey from the Convent to the Courtroom, and Me and the Mob, a book about the witness protection program. As you can tell, Violet was no shrinking Violet!

This post is just one of many in the Color Your World: 120 Days of Crayola Challenge

Check out some of the other 150+ challenge participants, it’s amazing what we have done with the Crayola colors!


“My Thoughts Exactly, Maeve!”

View from Ashford Castle, Cong, Ireland

View from Ashford Castle, Cong, Ireland

Today I thought I would post something for my favorite author ever, Maeve Binchy. She was the most popular Irish woman writer of all time and wrote books about the interactions of everyday people; just real people in real life. Maeve had advice about writing that I never forgot. Maeve passed away on July 30, 2012, but every year on St Patrick’s Day I write her a little something. 

Maeve’s advice on writing.

Write like you talk, it is your voice.

She also wrote scenes in her books that were conversations she had overheard. One day she was so engulfed in a conversation by two women on a bus that she actually got off the bus, where they did, and followed them so she could hear the end of the conversation!

She was an excellent listener.

I have been going through my emails and letters to file for family history and came across this email I sent to my sister on Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 at 5:31pm. I thought Maeve would enjoy it too.

J, the November date is good.  Will you be here a week? 

This weekend I made hamburger and hotdog buns, because we grilled out, cooked 21 servings of chili to put up and made two batches of pizza dough, because we ate pizza on Monday, and put up 20 more pounds of tomatoes.  I am trying to get ready for winter.

I slaved over the chili, soaking beans all night before hand and I have come to the conclusion that I don’t know beans about beans.  After soaking all night they were still hard, but I thought no problem because the six pounds of meat, with onions, green peppers, chili powder, paprika, tomato sauce and tomatoes will all cook down in the pressure cooker and the beans will soften up too. Wrong, I pressured the chili and it smelled so good, then when that was done I added the beans and just cooked them down like the recipe said.  For some reason because of the gas from the beans the recipe stated NOT to put them in the pressure cooker with the other ingredients.  The chili cooked down to nothing and those beans were as hard as ever.  SO then SB and I spent the rest of the day picking 3 pounds of cooked hard beans out of the chili!!!!!!!!!!!

I guess from now on I will use CANNED BEANS.  BUMMER!!!!!!,

The news of the day: Ghost hunters every year on the anniversary of a train accident in the 1860’s near Statesville, NC meet up at 430am on the train trestle where the train went over the trestle and killed 35 people.  Supposedly after the train accident a train conductor could be found on the track at this time of morning on the anniversary day, waving his lantern looking for the derailed train.  So ghost hunters have been showing up for years to see the train’s conductor.

This year was no exception.  A group of ghost hunters started walking the track one day last week at 430am.  Suddenly a real train came around the bend and since there is not a stop or anything else there, the conductor did not blow a whistle that the train was coming, nor was he looking for people on the track.  The ghost hunters were caught off guard and were running for their lives on the trestle.  Several jumped off the trestle when the train caught up to them and one man was run over by the train. He pushed his girlfriend off the trestle telling her “he loved her”  and then was ran over.  The others that jumped from the trestle are in intensive care with critical injuries, including the girl.  Now for several days there have been stories in the newspaper about how this episode will now become one of the ghost hunters legends too and they will be looking for the guy that got ran over.  Can you believe it? !!!!!!!!! 

The book for our book club meeting this month is “Serena” and I have never read a book that from the first page git-go, I disliked the main character. A new first!

The relationship among the characters is not believable either.  I am learning about the Smoky Mountain National Park developers versus the timber industry. The mountain families were run off their land or became lumber jacks making little to no money to timber the trees.  The depression was going on and they lived horrible lives because they could so easily be replaced.  I hope it gets better, although I am half way through it and so far I am not impressed.  It is a chore to read and I have to have it read by next Wednesday.

How is K feeling?  S’s wrist/arm has held up in the cast. Today was the back surgery on SB’s mom.  She is in intensive care and in pain, following the surgery and he is on his way to see her.  HMMMM…..  If you are in pain in intensive care when you are so doped up I say you are in a pickle.  Just my two cents worth.  More later. c

Well Maeve, I hope this email has given you a good laugh and something to write about today, because I know you are still writing and the stories up there might be a little too goodie-two-shoes for you! And, you might have a buzz in your head trying to strain to hear all the conversations down here! So I am making it easy for you!

PS I also am sending you a photo I took at Ashford Castle in Cong, Ireland. It is still the greenest country in the world!

Sincerely, Cady

Who IS Ellen Terry?

Ellen Terry

Ellen Terry

Exactly who is Ellen Terry? Visiting her home, Smallhythe, on the National Trust Register in The UK, this is what I learned…………..

Ellen Terry was the Lady Diana of her day. Everyone wanted to be around her, everyone wanted to marry her. She was the rock star of Shakespeare and the theatre! She was beautiful! She could do no wrong in the eyes of her fans.  And like many stars she led a scandalous life! Upon her first retirement from the stage in 1867 she was one of the most sought after leading ladies of her time!

Born into a theatrical family, and along with her siblings, Terry began training for a touring company under the guidance of her father. At the age of eight she made her stage debut as Mamillius in “A Winter’s Tale” in London on April 28, 1856, with Queen Victoria in attendance. She also played comedy and burlesque, as well, and she and her sister, Kate, soon became the major breadwinners of the family. In 1864, when she was sixteen, she married the famous painter, G. F.  Watts, who was thirty years older than her. She was infatuated with his fine house and lifestyle and he was infatuated with her. He paid her mother and father a stipend since they would lose money when she retired from the stage upon their marriage. The so-called marriage ended within a year and they separated. He admitted that his primary concern had been to keep her off the stage, since it was considered a lowly profession.The most successful aspect of their marriage were the two paintings of her that he painted. The famous image in “Choosing depicts Terry deciding between earthly vanities, represented by showy camellias that she smells, and the nobler values, represented by the violets held in her hand.

"Choosing" by G.F. Watts

“Choosing” by G.F. Watts

Watts continued to pay her parents as long she as she agreed to be chaste.  She soon went back to the stage. So much for shrinking violets!

In 1868 while separated, but not divorced, she eloped with blossoming architect and designer Edward William Godwin, who also was married at the time. She again retired from the stage and moved to rural Hertfordshire with him, to a house he had designed. In 1869, her daughter Edith was born and her son Edward, in 1872. She gave them the last name Craig to spare them the stigma of illegitimacy. Surrounded by mounting debt, (Godwin liked very nice things), Terry returned to the stage in 1874. Godwin turned his efforts to designing theatrical costumes and scenery to be near her. Terry’s return to the stage was wildly popular, this time in the role of Portia in The Merchant of Venice, which brought her the highest fame of her career. Godwin left her, and since his wife had died, he married a young and upcoming designer from his office. During this time Terry had many admirers, both for her theatrical skill and her great beauty.

Watts filed for divorce, accusing Terry of adultery. In the meantime she had met fellow actor,  Charles Clavering Wardell, known by his stage name, as Charles Kelly. Many knew of Terry’s “invincible power”, as she was known as “the most fascinating woman in the world, when she cares to throw her spells around.” Many were dubious of the relationship between her and Kelly, but after her official divorce from Watts, Kelly married the “high strung, flighty,” Terry. Her mother called her “mad Ellen” saying, “She is greedy of praise. Yon can not lay it on too thickly, as long as you apply it with the brush and trowel.”

In 1878, Terry joined the  theatrical company managed by Henry Irving, who had assumed ownership of the Lyceum Theatre. Her relationship with Irving, which she always claimed was purely professional, lasted for over twenty years while playing opposite him in many great Shakespearean plays, as heroines such as Ophelia, Lady Macbeth, Viola, Queen Katherine, Juliet, and Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing.

It was obvious that there was more money to be made, more kudos to be gained, by acting with Henry Irving than there was by acting with her own husband. Kelly turned to “social” drinking with friends that understood him, although he never admitted to being an alcoholic. Terry went on tour to America, and they separated. When Terry announced her return to England in 1885, Kelly promptly died.

During all this time Terry’s children traveled with her and when she was not working they lived at rural Smallhythe Place, her country home. There is so much more detail of her life and that of her children’s, that I can not get into here, but it can be found in a book by  Joy Melville, called, Ellen Terry. What a complicated and sad, sad, life they lived! I suggest you read it, it is sooooooo good!

In 1906, a tribute was produced at the Drury Lane Theatre in London for Terry’s Golden Jubilee. Still so popular with her audiences, her fans lined up days ahead, for a one day matinee featuring Terry and her children and and other famous actors. It was noted that from noon until six pm, thousands of Londoners filled Drury Lane with a “riot of enthusiasm, a torrent of emotion, a hurly burly of excitement, and thunders of applause. They cheered until hoarse, laughed on the verge of hysteria, and sang Auld Lang Syne in chorus, not without tears.” The Times noted, “ For half a century, Ellen Terry has been appealing to our hearts. Whatever the anti-sentimentalists say, that is the simple truth. She is a creature of full-blooded, naive emotions that excites those emotions in us.” 

In 1907, she returned to the stage in the United States, and while in Pittsburgh, married the American actor, James  Carew. Terry continued to work into her sixties and seventies, sometimes appearing with her daughter, Edith Craig. There’s so much more to that story!!!!! Read the book!!!!!! She separated from Carew in 1910.

Ellen Terry

Ellen Terry

In 1925, Terry was named a Dame of the British Empire, and in 1928 she died from a heart attack at her home in Smallhythe on July 21st. Her obituary read, “ The death of Dame Ellen Terry has been received with universal sorrow. In the history of the English stage no other actress has ever made herself so abiding a place in the affections of the nation.”

Her daughter, Edith, was committed to preserving her mother’s legacy. She opened the family home as a museum and then turned it over to the National Trust in 1947, upon her death from coronary thrombosis. There is a Shakespeare Festival, held in the converted barn and on the grounds, every year in honor of her mother.  

Don’t you want to peek inside her cottage at Smallhythe with me? Let’s do it then! Enjoy!

Inside Smallhythe Place, near Tenterden, Kent, UK

Inside Smallhythe Place, near Tenterden, Kent, UK

Isn’t this just the coziest cottage? Next we’re going to see Ellen’s famous dress!!!! You won’t want to miss it! See you then!

Inside Smallhythe Place, Country Home of Ellen Terry

Inside Smallhythe Place, Country Home of Ellen Terry

The Dirt on the Domestics; Life with the Bloomsburys

Nellie Boxall, Lottie Hope and Grace Higgin

Nellie Boxall, Lottie Hope and Grace Higgins in their Younger Days with Angelica Bell 

In 1904, the Stephen’s children, Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby and Adrian, left their comfortable surroundings  in Kensington, after their parent’s death, to move to the bohemian neighborhood of Bloomsbury. Since they could no longer afford the grand house and the ten servants for four people, they chose to escape many of the rituals of the Victorian household.  No more dark rooms, heavy furniture, formal dinners and restrictive lifestyles for them! Vanessa painted all the rooms of their new home white and decorated with shawls and mirrors! Discussing their new lifestyle in their weekly meetings with the Cambridge Apostles, they were full of ideas about how one should live….think, talk, write and paint. This group, made up of middle and upper class men, except for Vanessa and Virginia, formed The Bloomsbury Group, who were dedicated to domestic experiments, which were scandalous to their families and the general population.  (For more information about the members of the Bloomsbury Group see my previous post on the Charleston Farmhouse.)

They all wanted to be free from the social norms of the time, however, there was one problem. None of them could live without servants. For the men it was easier, they were not expected to take care of themselves or stoop to the mundane tasks of running a household. They could either have servants or replace them with wives, who would take care of all the nitty gritty of the household. Vanessa and Virginia had a dilemma.  Staff demanded a lot of time; they would have to hire and train the servants and supervise their work. Where would they find the time to write and paint? Neither of them knew how to clean or cook, since it had never been required of them. If they did the cooking and cleaning themselves, how would they have time to write and paint? Such a dilemma! The women could only follow their grandiose lifestyle because they and their inner circle of friends relied on some sort of unearned family money for support. It certainly was not the same for their servants.

So while the social experiments were forming and taking shape, who did all the work behind the scenes for Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell?

This is what I learned……..about three of the servants, who worked for these two women.

Nellie Boxall, (1890-1965) was the youngest of ten children and orphaned by the time she was twelve. Life for many of these women meant leaving their large families and taking up work as domestics at an early age, and moving away from their villages into the big cities. They had little to no formal education and relied on their large families for emotional support. Without that support they were nervous and often afraid of the unknown in a new family, and new town. They relied heavily on the friendships of other domestics in the household.  When the wealthy could no longer support the large household, it was a blow to the domestic life in more ways than one. There was more work to do and less support and comfort. 

From 1912 until 1916, Nellie worked for Roger Fry (a member of Bloomsbury Group) and then in 1916 joined the Virginia Woolf household as cook, with Lottie Hope as maid. Nellie’s relationship with Virginia was fraught with tension from the start.

Virginia wanted to live the life of “ the fully self-directed, autonomous woman,” but because of her mental instability and nervous breakdowns was looked after by her servants, who supervised her eating, her bodily needs, and her resting times, in addition to the cooking and cleaning, as instructed by her husband. Virginia hated their meddling and felt she never had any time for herself. She constantly wrote to Vanessa with what she called “the servant problem.”  Virginia absolutely loathed the servants.

“I am sick of the timid, spiteful servant mind, my brains are becoming soft by the constant contact with the lower classes,” she wrote to Vanessa.

I think Virginia wanted life both ways. She felt she couldn’t live with the servants and couldn’t live without them. Even with Virginia’s work for Women’s rights, Virginia had no desire to improve the economic situation of her servants. When Virginia went on to make 4000 pounds a year for her writings, she paid a meager total of 40 pounds a year for her two servants! A woman is hardly going to become self sufficient on 20 pounds a year! Why did the domestics put up with all the strife? In the Woolfe and Bell household the servants didn’t have to wear uniforms, attend church, wait on tables, or do “fetching and carrying” for their employers. They enjoyed the glamour of working for famous artists and traveling with them on their luxurious vacations.  They were allowed to mingle with the guests and no longer lived in the dismal attics or basements. The arrangements with the servants appeared to be “unbelievingly lax.” It was a trade off that they all considered. 

Nellie Boxall stayed with the Woolfs until 1934, although she frequently threatened to quit, having big rows with Virginia. Nellie was doing her best to take care of Virginia and Virginia despised her. Nellie wanted recognition for all she did and Virginia refused to acknowledge her. They played on each others dependencies. Nellie did quit (after 16 years) and went on to work for the actor, Charles Laughton, in London. She made much more money and was treated with respect, something that she never had received from Virginia.  She never married or had children. In her middle age she had saved enough money to buy a house, one of the first people in her neighborhood to do so.  The neighborhood children thought she was “a lady” and “a notch higher in her manner,” but also very bossy. Perhaps she was finally able to express her personality that had been suppressed for years.

Lottie Hope (1890-1973) was a housemaid for Virginia Wollfe. She was a foundling and grew up in the Home for Deserted Children at Hambleton in Surrey. She left the Home at fourteen and went into service at the home of Roger Fry, where she worked with Nellie Boxall. She left Fry’s home and moved to the Woolf’s home when Nellie did. When Lottie had had enough of Virginia she left the Woolfe’s home in 1924, and went to work for several of the Bloomsbury Group, but finally settled with Clive Bell and eventually went with him to Charleston Farmhouse, the country house of his estranged wife. Lottie was back living near her good friend Nellie Boxall, who was like family to her.  She left the Charleston Farmhouse in 1941, to work at a local laundry, and lived with Nellie Boxall, in her house. Like Nellie, she never married or had children, but died at the Hambleton Homes for the Aged. For a fascinating read of all the servants that worked for Virginia Woolf I suggest, Mrs Woolfe and the Servants; an Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury, by Alison Light. It sheds light on all the unheard voices of the domestics, while Virginia established her reputation as a feminist. It tells of their meager existence and lack of control of their futures.

Grace Germany Higgins, (1904-1983) called “the Angel of Charleston,” worked for Vanessa Bell for more than fifty years. She came to Charleston at the age of 16 to care for Angelica Bell, Vanessa’s daughter with Duncan Grant. That’s a long intertwined story in itself. I think Grace, at such an early age, was fascinated with the lifestyle created by the Bloomsbury Group, who frequently partied, and lived off and on at Charleston. It certainly would have kept her entertained! Eventually, she was promoted to cook and housekeeper and remained full time at Charleston, even when nobody was there. Was that truly a promotion? There was no indoor facilities, no heating in the house and no running water. When the Bloomsbury gang was all there, and after she had met her household duties and served the Friday evening meal, she was allowed to take her bath outside in the tub, while all  the guests ate their dinner! After her bath she could return and clean up after them! In 1934, she married Walter Higgins, who also worked at Charleston, and they moved into a large bedsit over the kitchen. Ironically, this room is still deemed too un-important to be part of the tour at Charleston. The domestics are still kept firmly in their place.

Grace, her husband, and eventually her son, continued with the Friday night bath rituals the entire time they lived there. Vanessa did have one rule for her varied guests. They had to all be in their proper beds before Grace got up and started to cook and clean. I really think Grace would have known what was going on, she just didn’t let on. Walter Higgins, who hated working for Vanessa and living in her house, finally convinced Grace to leave Charleston, where they had continued to live long after Vanessa was dead. She had stayed to care for the ailing Duncan Grant, who she adored. Grant was always a favorite with everyone. He lived there with Vanessa, and had a child with her, (Vanessa’s wishes as she was madly in love with him), as he continued to carry on with his homosexual friends, who financially supported him until his dying days, while he lived and played at Charleston. He and Vanessa just painted their days away, including every inch of the farmhouse and furniture in squares, circles and triangles, their mantra! Grace took care of them all and never complained! When Grace finally moved to Lewes with her family in 1970, she burned all her detailed diaries of her life at Charleston. She was faithful to them until the end, but her son, John Higgins, recalled his recollections of his mother’s time there to Stewart MacKay, who wrote the book, The Angel of Charleston; Grace Higgins, Housekeeper to the Bloomsbury Group. To get the entire story of Grace and her time with the Bloomsbury Group at Charleston read the book. She truly was an angel! It is an eyeopener in the life of the domestic servant and the hardships they faced. If you read these books, I don’t think you will be disappointed! See you next time as I continue to visit the homes and gardens on my “English Garden Tour!”

The Servants of Virginia Woolfe

Nellie Boxall, Cook, in Later Life, the Woman Standing Far Right

Charleston Farmhouse, Home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex, UK

Charleston Farmhouse, the home of Vanessa Stephen Bell, (Virginia Woolf’s sister) is about six miles from Monk’s House, (Virginia Woolf’s home) as the the crow flies. The farmhouse sits in a big open field, down a long narrow road, in the middle of no where.

This is what I learned……..

In 1916, Charleston Farmhouse was rented by Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant, under the terms of his exemption from the military as a conscientious objector. He and his lover, David Garnett, were employed at a nearby farm and lived at Charleston with Vanessa Bell. Vanessa Bell was married at the time to Clive Bell and would remain so all her life. Their unconventional household became the meeting place for the Bloomsbury Group, a group of writers, artists and intellectuals who had formed from the Apostles group at Cambridge. Vanessa’s and Duncan’s decorative style, made up of squares, circles, and triangles, were featured throughout the farmhouse on every wall, ceiling and piece of furniture! People came and went over the years but the farmhouse was lived in by Vanessa and Duncan for sixty years. Vanessa stated, “it will be an odd life, but……. it ought to be good for painting.” The Bloomsbury members came here to relax and have fun. It was said the group lived in squares, painted in circles, and loved in triangles. To me their life was very complicated. To them they lived a bohemian life, and felt anything was OK as long as it didn’t hurt anybody. I’m not sure you can live that life without hurting somebody. Just my thoughts, I tend to be starchy.

There is no picture taking allowed inside Charleston Farmhouse and only a small group is allowed in at any one time with a well versed guide. You must make a reservation or risk not getting in or having to wait. The rooms show a complete example of the decorative art of the Bloomsbury artists: murals, ceramics, paintings, textiles and objects from their Omega Workshops. Vanessa’s room was painted by Duncan, Vanessa’s lover. (a triangle between her, Duncan and David Garnett) He painted a huge red dog above her bed, to always protect her, and she painted his room in delicate pastel circles, squares, and flowers. There are lots of bedrooms in the farmhouse and what struck me the most were the various ceramic numbers above the doorway representing a specific room. For some reason it reminded me of something you would find in a bordello. Maybe because the guide kept reminding us of all the people who came and went and their various activities there. They did more than paint, write, or talk. The farmhouse was interesting and different and the garden was beautiful. It is now owned by the Charleston Trust, a charity set up in 1980 to restore and maintain the property. Every May there is the Charleston Festival, which draws artists and writers alike to promote the arts. For more information about the Charleston Farmhouse see here. There were several very knowledgable artists among our tour group and artists could be found painting or sketching in the garden while we were there, so it is still an artists’ hangout. Let’s walk through the garden!

Click on any image for a larger look!

While visiting Charleston, I bought a book at the gift shop, called, Vanessa and Her Sister, by Priya Parmar,  which enlightened me further on the Bloomsbury Group, Vanessa Bell, and Virginia Woolf. Their lives were anything, but conventional. I won’t go into ALL the details, but it was a very good read! The group had ten or so core members, the males, all educated at Trinity or Kings College of Cambridge, and were called the Apostles. Vanessa and Virginia’s brother, Thoby, was friends with the Apostles and this is how they came to meeting at the Stephens home in Bloomsbury, a neighborhood in London, in which Vanessa and Virginia, the only women, were included. Here is the Bloomsbury Group.

Clive Bell, art critic, Vanessa Bell’s eventual husband.

E.M Forster, fiction writer.

Roger Fry, art critic and post impressionist painter. (Had a passionate affair with Vanessa Bell)

John Maynard Keynes, economist. (Had an affair with Duncan Grant, but married Russian ballet dancer, Lydia Lopokova, and eventually lived close to Charleston Farmhouse.

Desmond McCarthy, literary journalist.

Lytton Strachey, biographer, who was Virginia Woolf’s fiancé for one day.  He was a homosexual and in love with his cousin, Duncan Grant.

Leonard Woolf, essayist and non-fiction writer, who married Virginia Stephen.

Thoby Stephen, brother of Virginia and Vanessa, who brought all these men home for dinner and their weekly meetings in Bloomsbury.

Virginia Woolf, fiction writer, essayist and publisher.

Vanessa Bell, post-impressionist painter, started Friday painting club, an addition to the Thursday night intellectual meetings.

Duncan Grant, post-impressionist painter and Vanessa’s lover. He was also the father of Vanessa’s only daughter. He also had many homosexual affairs. What a triangle this was! There was a lot going on with them, read the book!

Were they a group of rich spoiled kids, who did what they wanted, come what may? Or were they trying to change the world? They had grown up in a strict victorian society, and then the great war and the loss of so many men changed the lives of all English men and women forever.  Women were no longer confined to the home and women’s rights were taking front and center stage.  Men and women did not want to return to service for the affluent. The affluent could no longer manage their large estates and homes. So times were changing! Were the Bloomsburys just caught up in this new way of life? Were they the survivors? You can draw your own conclusions. Next we’ll explore the lives of the maids and housekeepers that took care of Virginia and Vanessa! After I had explored  the Bloomsburys, I wanted to know about the other side of that coin! See you next time in the kitchen!

One of my Favorites in the Charleston Farmhouse Garden, Sussex, UK

One of my Favorites in the Charleston Farmhouse Garden, Sussex, UK

A Room of One’s Own: The Life of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Stephen Woolf

Virginia Stephen Woolf

What I knew about Virginia Woolf was revealed to me in a film titled, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The only thing I knew for certain after the movie was that the couple never stopped yelling. That’s all I remember. Was that yelling person Virginia Woolf?  Who was the real Virginia Woolf? Somewhere, along the way, I realized she was an author, but  I never explored it any further. So I was excited to learn that her home, Monk’s House, was part of the National Trust. I wanted to know about the Virginia Woolf!

What I learned about Virginia Woolf…………as  I attempt to sort her story out.

Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on January 25, 1882 into a well-heeled family. Both her wealthy, influential, mother and father had been married previously, and widowed, with four children between them, before the birth of Virginia and her three siblings. Thus the family contained the children of three marriages.  Her father, Leslie Stephen, was an eminent editor, critic, and biographer; her mother, Julia Princep Duckworth Stephen, was committed to serving the poor. Virginia and Vanessa, (Virginia’s natural older sister), were educated at home, while the boys attended Cambridge.  The family was well connected and the children were raised in an environment of great literary works, with an immense library, but also under the influences of Victorian society. However, between 1897 and 1901 Vanessa and Virginia were allowed to attend the Ladies’ Department of King’s College, London, to study Ancient Greek, Latin, German, and history. Virginia thrived with all this knowledge.

The early years were rough going for the Stephen’s family. Virginia’s oldest half-sister, Laura Makepeace Stephen, from her father’s first marriage, was committed to an insane asylum. Virginia’s mother suddenly died in 1895, when Virginia was thirteen, followed by the death of another half-sister, Stella Duckworth, two years later. These events and possible child abuse by the older Duckworth brothers, led to the first of Virginia’s several nervous breakdowns. When her father died in 1904 Virginia collapsed and was briefly institutionalized and would be in and out of Burley House in Twickenham, described as “a private nursing home for women with nervous disorders”, in 1910, 1912, and 1913. Though her instability affected her private life, her literary productivity increased and was continued throughout her life. Her bouts of mental illness were thought to have been the result of what is now termed a bipolar disorder. She was extremely fragile.

Vanessa Stephen, being the oldest of the Stephen children, decided to sell the fashionable family home at 22 Hyde Park Gate and bought a house at 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, (a bohemian, not so nice area of London), where Virginia and her brothers and sister, (Thoby, Adrian, and Vanessa) could escape the restraints, criticism, and gossip of a strict Victorian society.

A group of twelve intellectual Cambridge men, known as the “Apostles”, were among the friends of Thoby. The men gathered at the  Bloomsbury home on Thursday evenings to have dinner and discuss anything and everything late into the wee hours of the morning. Virginia and Vanessa attended the meetings as well. Vanessa, who was mostly interested in art, later started a Friday night group consisting of artists and critics. Virginia at this time began writing for the Times Literary Supplement, a forum for literary culture; bringing scholars, scientists, and artists together to address questions of value, meaning and purpose.  Hefty stuff!  Together this young, educated, and elite group  wanted to change the world. The Bloomsbury Group became very close and chose to live a lifestyle all their own, while supporting each other’s endeavors. (More on the Bloomsbury Group in a later post).

Thoby died from typhoid, at age 26, after he and Vanessa fell ill following a vacation in Greece. Soon after Vanessa married Clive Bell, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, and moved out of the Bloomsbury home, leaving Adrian and Virginia to fend for themselves.  Virginia was very upset by this move. Could Vanessa no longer cope with Virginia’s fragile mental state, attention and needs? Vanessa was more of a free spirit and she wanted her freedom from being the “mother” to her siblings. Virginia reluctantly accepted this, but would ultimately get her revenge.  Virginia rented a cottage in Firle, in the Sussex countryside, but continued her friendship and meetings with the Bloomsbury Group, of which Vanessa and Clive Bell were still a part of.

During this time, Leonard Woolf, another Cambridge man, briefly met Virginia Stephen at one of the forays in Bloomsbury, before leaving for a diplomatic post in Ceylon. Lytton Strachey, another Bloomsbury member, had proposed to Virginia (although he was a homosexual) and was quite pleased and relieved, when she turned him down. In correspondence to Leonard, during his stay in Ceylon, Lytton convinced Leonard that when he returned to England he should give up his job and propose to Virginia, and he did. They barely knew one another, and although Leonard was poor and Jewish, Virginia accepted. It was 1912 and Virginia was thirty. Did Virginia need someone to take care of her? Was Leonard aware of Virginia’s state of mind? The answer was yes she did and no he didn’t.

Virginia’s writings were very controversial, supporting the thoughts of the Bloomsbury Group of radical thinking, women’s rights and the freedom to love both men and women. She found it increasingly hard to get her work published and  was  at odds with “polite society”.

In 1915 Virginia completed her book, Voyage Out, and she and Leonard set up Hogarth Press to publish Virginia’s work and the work of her liberal friends: the hand printing providing a hobby as well as therapy for Virginia. In 1919 the Woolfs bought Monk’s House, in the countryside of Sussex, where Leonard thought Virginia could write in peace with less mental stress. Although Virginia loved the city and all it’s trappings and busywork, the move was a success for her mental health.  Virginia had no more mental breakdowns for twenty years. That’s not to say their life was uneventful, as you will find when we discuss Vanessa’s life.

One of Virginia’s books that I found very interesting was Mrs Dalloway. She definitely had a flair and gift with words and she experimented with stream of consciousness and the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of her characters. Who was more prepared to write like this than Virginia? Her novels were highly experimental, with a narrative frequently uneventful and commonplace, as we see in Mrs Dalloway. This book centers on the efforts of Clara Dalloway, a middle-aged society woman, to organize a party, as her life is paralleled with that of Septmus Warren Smith, a working- class veteran who has just returned from WWI bearing deep emotional scars. The book has no chapters, does not explain anything, and no conversation is needed. It is just one continuous thought. (Stream of Consciousness) The story is the thoughts of Mrs Dalloway, in one given day! You know how you think things to yourself, your own running commentary as you go about the business of your day? This is Mrs. Dalloway! Her thoughts, just like ours, that jump from one to another. And then the day ends. It’s quite remarkable to be put into words and is extraordinary in thought! I’ve never read anything like it! Virginia went on to publish novels and essays as a public individual to both critical and popular success. In her book-length essay, A Room of Own’s Own, (1929) she wrote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” She achieved this at Monk’s House.  Now with our background somewhat complete, we’ll visit her home at Monk’s House, to learn more about her and the intertwining lives of others.  I can’t wait to see where this incredibly complex woman lived!  See you there!

Virginia Woolf

Listen to Virginia Woolf Speak

Portrait of a Marriage: The Life of Vita Sackville-West


Vita Sackville-West

Vita Sackville-West

Vita Sackville-West was her own woman and a very complicated one. When I first read about her, and many of her friends, my first reaction was these women had too much money and fame, and not enough to do. But the more I read and studied them, and the time period, their lives made more sense to me and I wondered what I would have done in similar circumstances and if I would have been so brave as to be myself or buck the system, come what may.  It’s easy to think so, in a day when women have so many freedoms. But, it would have been a very different story in Vita Sackville-West’s day!

To lay the groundwork about Vita………

Born March 9, 1892, into a wealthy and prominent family, swirling in turmoil and strife, it would be hard to grow up not being confused, and unsure of one self.  One has to make up their mind to succumb to it or rise above it as best you can. The family ancestry was one that would have been tolerated, due to who they were, but there would always be the gossip and scandals to torment the family.

Vita’s grandfather, Lionel Sackville-West died in 1908, leaving five illegitimate children. Although he was considered a bachelor, when the children’s mother, Pepita, died in 1871, the two boys were sent to South Africa, to learn farming, and the three girls to a private school in Paris, all provided for by Lionel. His oldest daughter, Victoria, came to live with him in 1880, and it was at this time that she learned about her illegitimacy; the Sackville-West family, her Uncle Mortimer who lived in the huge house called Knole, and the other aunts. Lionel thought it best to admit, what had been the subject of rumor for years, that he was her father and that he soon would be a diplomat to the U.S. With Queen Victoria’s permission he took the 19 year old, Victoria, to Washington, to serve as his hostess. When Mortimer, the oldest brother died in 1888, Lionel returned to England to assume the responsibilities at Knole, one of the largest estates in England, (If you don’t know what a challenge that would have been please read my previous post on Knole)  and Victoria became the mistress/hostess of Knole.

In 1890, with the encouragement of her father and her own need to think about herself, Victoria married her first cousin, another Lionel, the son of her uncle, William Sackville-West, who would inherit Knole, upon the death of his Uncle Lionel, Victoria’s father. What a mess that was, since the other family members, on both sides of the family, were not happy about this decision. It was all about keeping the money and the Estate, Knole, in the family.

A child was born to Victoria and Lional, who was named, Victoria Mary Sackville-West, after her mother, and was called Vita. Victoria’s remark of Vita at birth, was she sooner would have drowned than have another child, and she didn’t. In the years to follow, both her mother and father had lovers and sometimes they all lived at Knole together! With 365 rooms it would be easy to live separate lives at Knole and not run into each other. When Grandfather Lionel died in 1908 , another scandal commenced when Victoria’s brothers filed a claim of inheritance and the right to claim Knole. The trial was vicious,  Victoria having to admit in court that she indeed was illegitimate, proving her mother, Pepita, was  married to someone else at the time all the children were born to Lionel. Victoria was caught in the middle, if the judge declared her brothers and sisters legitimate she and her husband would lose the money and Knole.  It was a messy family affair and fodder for the press. Can you imagine the tongue wagging and headlines in the paper? Vita, who was sixteen at the time went everyday to the court with her mother to listen to the proceedings, while her mother gave her testimony. Victoria and Lionel won the decision and everyone was safe, for the time being at Knole.

There had not been enough income to support the finances of Knole. Victoria was in charge of the bills, as her husband the young Lionel, was not concerned with the everyday responsibilities of running the estate. There was not enough money to pay the staff of sixty indoor and outdoor servants, make improvements to the house, maintain upkeep of other properties, fund Lionel’s sporting expeditions, throw constant parties, and pay the enormous court expenses from the legitimacy trial. John Murray Scott,  one of Victoria’s lovers, died in 1912, and had promised Victoria, in his will, to free her from all financial worry. And he did. His family was aghast and had called the Sackville’s, “The Locusts”, and that was before they sued them in court to retrieve the substantial amount of money and property he had left to Victoria. This trial ended in 1913 with affirmation to Victoria, leaving her a wealthy woman. This was Vita’s childhood background and forewarning of crisis as she grew up.

Was it any wonder that Vita should be confused about love and stability? Her life had been plagued by trials, gossip, and her mother’s survival.  Many times she had been left alone at Knole while her mother and father travelled the world. She was lonely, and considered herself unsociable and unnatural. She preferred solitude and discovered her joy of writing. She fancied her fortunes from writing would save Knole. Everything was centered around Knole and the lifestyle.

Vita’s first real friend, was Rosamund Grosvenor, who had been invited to share a  governess with her. Rosamund was also Vita’s first love and was besotted with Vita, four years her junior. Vita later stated she felt no real conflict, only that, “I had no business sleeping with Rosamund and I should never have allowed anyone to find out.  I really was very innocent.”

Vita later was more deeply involved with Violet Keppel, later Trefusis. Their relationship began in her teens and strongly influenced them both for years.  This affair was scandalous for both families and nearly collapsed both their lives. During her early years, Vita had also met Harold Nicolson, a diplomat, who she thought of as very charming, but nothing more. He had stood by her during all the upheavals of the trials and also during the stormy relationship with Violet Keppel. Perhaps to escape her confusion and the rage of both families, concerning her love affairs with women, she married Harold in 1913, at the age of 21, in the family chapel at Knole. Her mother claimed to be too ill to come downstairs to the wedding. Was Vita longing for a life like everyone else? Love ever after?

In reality, Harold was a homosexual, and Vita continued on with her affair with Violet. Harold and Vita had decided on an open marriage with both going their own ways, but committed to each other.  Their marriage had stormy times.  On several occasions the two women had decided to elope with each other. On and off they would run off together to Italy and other places and live as man and wife, Vita dressing as a man in public.  Both women were married by this time, and Vita had two children with Harold. During a messy episode when Harold was convinced that Vita and Violet would go through with their liaison, Harold took Violet’s husband, who was shocked that his wife was in love with Vita, and together flew to Italy to confront the two women. Vita was convinced to return to Harold, and Violet was crushed. Vita at this time had written the novel  Challenge which bears witness to the affair, in collaboration with Violet. Vita’s mother found the portrayal obvious enough and refused to allow the publication of the novel in England. Soon Vita would suffer another disaster. Due to aristocratic inheritance customs, when Vita’s father died, Knole, the only place Vita had ever lived,  was bequeathed to Vita’s cousin, Charles, along with the title, 5th Lord Sackville. He promptly removed  Vita, Harold and Victoria from Knole.  He was tired of the shenanigans and scandal. Vita was crushed once more.

Was it the stifling Victorian society that Vita rebelled against? Was it because women had so few choices? Was it because women’s lives always depended on men, their fathers or their husbands? Was the unstable and lonely childhood the root of Vita’s choices?

Things were changing for the children of the Victorians. Another group of writers and artists, of whom Vita had connections, formed a very liberal thinking group called the Bloomsbury Group, who also challenged current day principles and lifestyles. Life would never be the same for any of them, and to add to the frenzy they were on the brink of WWI.  We’ll pick up the story here when we travel to Charleston, the home of Vanessa Bell, a Bloomsbury member and to Monk’s House, home of Virginia Woolf, who was also Vita’s lover at one time, and the sister of Vanessa Bell. Virginia also was a member of the Bloomsbury Group! They were all so intertwined!

For a very good read, Portrait of a Marriage,  by Nigel Nicholson, can take you through the fifty year marriage of Vita and Harold Nicholson. Based on a diary Vita left, at her death in 1962, her son Nigel added his thoughts about what he knew and thought while he was growing up. Vita wanted to tell the truth of her life and how she felt during all those years, and for that time period most of what was known was speculation, because it simply was’t discussed in polite circles!  She refers to “possible readers” and believed “the psychology of people like myself will be a matter of interest”. She also hoped her life would spread progress in the world. Nigel thought his mother had, ”fought for the right to love, men and women, rejecting the conventions  that marriage demands exclusive love, and that women should love only men and men only women. For this she was willing to give up everything” ……I will be continuing the story of Vita’s life at Sissinghurst Castle,  the effect her garden made on everyone, and her friends Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. We’ll meet up in the gardens!


Vita-Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson at Sissinghurst

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