A Madder Caress, Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis


Lost Poem

This poem by Vita Sackville-West about her love for Violet Trefusis, was recently discovered by a scholar during conservation work at Vita’s home at Sissinghurst:

When sometimes I stroll in silence, with you
Through great floral meadows of open country
I listen to your chatter, and give thanks to the gods
For the honest friendship, which made you my companion
But in the heavy fragrance of intoxicating night
I search on your lip for a madder caress
I tear secrets from your yielding flesh
Giving thanks to the fate which made you my mistress

When Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicolson had been married for four and a half years her husband was obliged to have a difficult conversation. He had been put under doctor’s orders to abstain from sex for six months due to a venereal infection, following a fleeting encounter with a man. He was also forced to confess to Vita that there had been other such indiscretions. He called them boffes de gaité, ‘a jolly vice’ that would not interfere with their marriage or their love for one another.

Vita was unnerved. They had two sons and up to that point she had regarded Harold as a ‘sunny harbour’ and her marriage as ‘open, frank, certain’. Since marrying Harold in 1913, her earlier attraction to women had waned and she had happily focused on her writing, her family, house and garden. In 1918 the ruin of Oscar Wilde was still fresh in people’s memories and Harold’s liaisons risked his career as a diplomat, his social position and their marriage. Although they observed the curfew of marital sex, only two days before it was due to expire, Vita entered into a tumultuous affair.

The Significant Other

The object of her passion was her friend Violet Keppel (later Trefusis). They had originally met in 1905 when Vita was thirteen and Violet was eleven, while visiting a mutual friend with a broken leg. Their first topic of conversation was their ancestry, which would have given them plenty to talk about. Vita had grown up at historic Knole, built in 1455 on a thousand acres and said to contain fifty-two staircases. The Sackville family went back to William the Conqueror and in the sixteenth century they were made Earls of Dorset. Vita was proud of her gypsy blood too: her grandfather Lionel, the third Baron Sackville, had fallen in love with Pepita, a ballerina from Andalusia.

Violet had aristocratic connections on her father’s side. When she turned four, her mother, Alice Keppel, famously became the mistress of Albert (Bertie), the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII. Violet called him ‘Kingy’ and he would come to their home for afternoon tea for the rest of his life. Sophisticated way beyond her years, Violet grew up in a succession of grand homes and had travelled widely.

Years after their affair, Vita described Violet in The Death of Noble Godavary (1932):

Her face was not beautiful – a red, sulky mouth, rather wide; a short straight nose; dark eyes, and a pale complexion – but with her smooth, rounded grace…and her composure, she would surely draw the eyes of men away from the untidy prettiness of English women.

Violet was instantly smitten with Vita and later wrote, ‘All this, and a gipsy too! My romantic heart overflowed.’ A lanky, somewhat unpopular young Vita felt excited that ‘this extraordinary, this almost unearthly creature’ had become her friend. A torrent of lengthy letters ensued, on Violet’s part imaginative, illustrated and written in different languages, sparkling with intellectual curiosity. Vita’s were mainly about her rabbits and dogs. They visited each other’s homes and took dancing and Italian lessons together. Three years later Violet confessed her love for Vita and gave her a Venetian doge’s ring carved from red lava, which Vita kept all her life.

Violet had Vita in mind when describing a young peer, John Shorne, in her novel Broderie Anglaise. He had a ‘languid grace’ and ‘latent fire’ and bore a close resemblance to his family portraits. His,

… face recalled so many others seen in frames and surrounded by a ruff, a jabot or a stock, a face that had been a type since 1500…a hereditary face which had come, eternally bored through five centuries.

There was never anything girlish about her love for Vita. It was acute and bore the stamp of obsession. She decided on Vita immediately and never changed her mind. She once wrote that for Vita, ‘I would commit any crime…sacrifice any other love’.

Vita was well aware of Violet’s deeper feelings, but was slow to respond to her sexual advances. Her head had been turned by the curvaceous Rosamund Grosvenor, and although she was four years older, Rosamund in turn found Vita irresistible. Their relationship went further than girlish friendship but Vita was always clear that on her part it was purely about physical attraction.

Violet was fiercely jealous of Rosamund. But when in 1912 Vita wrote about her new flame, Harold Nicolson: ‘so fresh, so intellectual, so unphysical, with his fine brain and delicious disposition’, she was seized by feelings that were raw and wounded:

For the first time your two extra years seem to me so real, arrogant, sinister. Don’t think I haven’t anticipated it. I’ve often thought of it. Oh God, tell me I’m wrong – carried away by my fiendish imagination…I ought to have known that at your age you’d have a liaison with a man. I’d be wise to accept this. I feel I’m about to say inappropriate things. Don’t laugh. Promise you won’t laugh. For so long I’ve asked nothing of you, so grant me that. It would hurt so.

Just over a year later Vita, in a golden dress and veil of Irish lace, married Harold Nicolson in the chapel of Knole. Rosamund scraped herself off the floor from bouts of weeping and put on a brave face as bridesmaid. But Violet stayed away, ‘stunned by a piece of perfidy I did not deserve.’ Reluctantly she complied with her mother’s insistence on her ‘coming out’, although she detested the ‘gentle hypocrisy’ and claustrophobic conventions of English high society. Her mother also took her on a tour of the East. All the while, Violet pined for Vita.

What followed for Vita was several years of calm, companionable and relatively unphysical love with Harold. With their two sons they settled happily in Long Barn, a fourteenth century house in the village of Sevenoaks Weald, Kent.

In April 1918 Violet came to stay at Long Barn. There had been a gulf between them and Vita, impatient to be writing instead, was at first irritated by Violet’s company. Violet was bored, finding the newly married couple’s interests narrow, as she had anticipated in a letter to Vita in advance of her visit: ‘At dinner, you will have the eternal furniture-decoration conversation, interlarded with scraps of Roman reminiscences, and conjugal badinage’.

Duality Exposed

Everything changed when Vita took delivery of some mannish clothes she had ordered to wear in the garden. They were ‘clothes like the women-on-the-land were wearing’ and a far cry from the apparel that was de rigueur for her class. Vita threw off her long skirt and billowing blouse and donned the new outfit.

In the unaccustomed freedom of breeches and gaiters I went into wild spirits; I ran, I shouted, I jumped, I climbed, I vaulted over gates, I felt like a schoolboy let out on a holiday and Violet followed me across woods and fields.

This was a defining moment for Vita. She had always been aware of a duality in her nature, which she put down to a quirk of her heredity. She believed these irreconcilable sides to her stemmed from from her mixed English and Spanish blood: obedience versus protest; prisoner versus free spirit, kindness versus cruelty, female versus male, purity and seriousness versus dominance and sensuality. It was at this key juncture that she unleashed her free-spirited, domineering, masculine nature.

Running through the fields that day, Violet never took her eyes off Vita, who later wrote, ‘in the midst of my exuberance I knew that all the old under-current had come back stronger than ever, and that my old domination over her had never been diminished’. Violet, in a red dress, with her white skin and tawny hair was ‘the most seductive being’. They talked into the early hours of the morning. Vita revealed her ‘duality’: her feelings for Harold that were ‘feminine’, and her more passionate attraction to women. ‘I talked out the whole of myself with absolute sincerity and pain, and Violet only listened – which was skillful of her.’ Once more Violet declared her love for Vita. ‘I hadn’t dreamt of such an art of love’ wrote Vita. ‘I was infinitely troubled by the softness of her touch and the murmur of her lovely voice.’ Vita felt ‘reborn’.


Ten days later they went away together to Cornwall. They spent the first night in a hotel in Plymouth when a luggage mix up had left them with nothing but an assortment of French poetry. Not giving a damn, they felt liberated that their whereabouts was unknown. The hotel had just one room available. ‘It seemed like fate’ wrote Vita. Over a supper of ham and cider, they spoke ‘fast and tremulously’.

The following day they crossed into Cornwall where they spent ‘five blissful days’ in Polperro. Harold had secured a cottage called Cobbles for them that belonged to his writer friend Hugh Walpole. Realising he was in no position to argue against the affair, he told Vita that she would miss him if it rained, would want him if the sun shone, and that Violet would fall into the sea.

Cobbles was a romantic hideaway perched on a cliff above the picturesque harbour. They read books, walked the coastal path, visited nearby Fowey and drank cider in a little restaurant. Violet filled the cottage with white lilac gathered from an abandoned garden. Vita was free to exercise her dominance and Violet called her ‘a Gypsy potentate, a sovereign’. They adopted the names Mitya and Lushka and Violet later wrote,

that little room…the sea almost dashing against its walls, the tireless cry of the seagulls, the friendly books…the complete liberty of it all.

All the while, Harold was sending Vita five letters a day from London about his loneliness, angry that she had elected to go away ‘just for a whim’. In one he suggested he might drown himself in the Thames. With the brittle humour that masked his real emotions he wrote: ‘I suppose that you will now want to go to California with Violet and grow peach-fed hams.’

To her mother, Vita wrote chirpy, misleading letters: ‘we live on boiled eggs…but we are very happy, and the sophisticated Violet is getting quite refreshingly simple.’ Violet later wrote, ‘we loved each other so much we became quite inarticulate, content only to probe each other’s eyes for the secret that was secret no longer’.

Later, when they met in London, Vita began to experiment with her male side. Dressed in men’s clothing she would make her way to see Violet under cover of darkness. ‘I never felt so free as when I stepped off the kerb, down Piccadilly, alone, and knowing that if I met my own mother face to face she would take no notice of me.’ She felt ‘natural’ and discovered she could sink her voice low enough to pass as a man. She asked Violet to call her Julian and they took a train to Orpington in Kent where they stayed the night in a boarding house as husband and wife.

Polperrro Revisited

They later returned to Cobbles in Polperro for a fortnight and began a joyous collaboration on a novel that became Challenge. Vita was a natural storyteller with an unquenchable thirst for writing; she had been writing tales of adventure, historical fiction and poetry since her teens. In this novel, as with much of her fiction, she cast herself as the male hero, associating maleness with self-possession, control, fulfilment and love.

Challenge tells the story of Julian, ‘a tall, loose-limbed boy, untidy, graceful’, ‘flushed with the spirit of adventure’ who lives on the Greek coast. He is torn between his love for the Greek island of Aphros (Harold) and his love for his cousin Eve (Violet) ‘all seductive and insinuating’.

Her humour, her audacity, the width of her range, the picturesqueness of her phraseology, her endless inventiveness, her subtle undercurrent of the personal…He knew that his life had been enriched and coloured by her presence in it; that it would, at any moment, have become a poorer, a grayer, a less magical thing through the loss of her.

Vita wrote by day and in the evenings read aloud to Violet, who would offer corrections and embellishments. The novel contains themes common to all Vita’s stories: honour, heroism and conquest.

Leaving Cornwall was a wrench. But they were frequently together in the months that followed. Violet was happy, ‘radiant’, but Vita wrote: ‘I never thought it would last; I thought of it as an adventure, an escapade. I kept telling myself she was fickle, that I was the latest toy; she used to assure me of the contrary.’

They travelled together several times to France and Monte Carlo, Vita, dressed as Julian. Occasionally they pawned their jewels to support themselves. But Vita’s words were prescient; after a ‘mad and irresponsible summer of moonlight nights and infinite escapades, and passionate letters, and music, and poetry’ they moved into darker territory.


Their affair, on-again and off-again, descended into a web of lies, quarrels and sham. Harold entered into a homosexual affair as a form of revenge. For the sake of appearances, Violet’s mother arranged her daughter’s marriage to a well-bred Englishman, Denys Trefusis shortly after her twenty-fifth birthday. Denys was given financial incentives and agreed to Violet’s stipulation that it would be a chaste union. Having attended a ball just prior to this most reluctant marriage, she wrote a heart-rending letter to Vita:

I was congratulated by everyone I knew there. I could have screamed aloud. Mitya, I can’t face this existence… It is really wicked and horrible. I am losing every atom of self-respect I ever possessed. I hate myself. O Mitya, what have you done to me? O my darling, precious love, what is going to become of us?

I want you every second and every hour of the day, yet I am being slowly and inexorably tied to somebody else

Shortly after the marriage, they absconded together to Europe. This led to both husbands flying to France in a two-seater plane to reclaim their wives. Letters incandescent with rage flew between them all and the gossips in their circle had a field day.

Harold wrote to Vita that Violet was an irresponsible, evil woman, a ‘fierce orchid glimmering and stinking in the recesses of life.’ He believed she had ‘poisoned one of the most sunny things that ever happened’. He wrote, ‘Whenever you have been long with that clammy fiend you get crooked.’ Violet was an illness, he said. ‘She flatters you – that is it – every silly ass woman is bowled over by flattery.’

With a growing recognition that a life together might be impossible for them, Violet put pressure on Vita, urging her against leading a life of mediocrity:

Heaven preserve me from littleness and pleasantness and smoothness. Give me great glaring vices, and great glaring virtues, but preserve me from the neat little neutral ambiguities. Be wicked, be brave, be drunk, be reckless, be dissolute, be despotic, be a suffragette, be anything you like, but for pity’s sake be it to the top of your bent. Live fully, live passionately, live disastrously. Let’s live, you and I, as none have ever lived before.

But Vita could not resolve the conflicts between her passion and her marriage. She loved her husband too and, longing for peace, she returned to Harold and her children. Violet wrote her a final letter: ‘You have chosen my darling; you had to choose between me and your family and you have chosen them.’

After the Affair

Initially, Violet came off much the worst; her marriage to Denys dissolved, her reputation shattered and she fell into a pit of despair. Scarcely skipping a beat, Vita took a sailing trip with Harold, had a new book published and went back to her garden. She was always susceptible to passionate relationships, and soon began another with Dorothy Wellesly. Four years later she would enter into an intense relationship with Virginia Woolf, inspiring Woolf’s novel Orlando.

After Violet, Vita and Harold agreed to a companionship that would accommodate their homosexual affairs. Despite evasions and periods of separation it worked well and they enjoyed an enduring and affectionate partnership. Vita believed this success was due to their homosexuality, writing to Harold:

If you were in love with another woman, or I with another man, we should both or either of us be finding a natural sexual fulfilment which would inevitably rob our own relationship of something. As it is, the liaisons which you and I contract are something perfectly apart from the more natural and normal attitude we have towards each other, and therefore don’t interfere. But it would be dangerous for ordinary people.

Violet did eventually recover. She abandoned the ‘smooth-haired Decorum Country’ for a cosmopolitan and avant-garde existence in France and later Italy, mingling with the likes of Dior, Colette, Cocteau, Picasso, Dali and Mondrian. Boasting at one point of her full schedule she announced; ‘I have so many dates that, if I died, I wouldn’t have a day free to be buried for weeks.’


Challenge was judged too risqué to be published in Britain during Vita or Violet’s lifetimes. But in 1923 it appeared in the U.S. with an epigraph featuring three love lines to Violet in Romany-Turkish: ‘This book is yours my witch, read it and find your tormented soul, changed and free.’ Violet’s Broderie Anglais is also about their love affair. As with Challenge, their love was disguised as a heterosexual relationship, in a roman á clef to protect her family. Although both women wrote prolifically throughout their lives, they are best remembered for their love affairs.

Portrait of a Lesbian Relationship

In 1920, Vita wrote a ‘confession’ of their affair which she then locked away. Their form of love was considered by the government of the day to be a ‘gross indecency’. In 1921 the Tories had decided against the criminalisation of lesbianism but only because such a law would, they believed, draw such practices to the attention of innocent women, and potentially bring about further mischief. But there was enormous social stigma attached, not to mention double standards. When Violet’s mother openly conducted her affair with the King she was feted by peers of the realm, yet when Violet and Vita partnered each other at a tea dance they were asked to leave the hotel.

Vita’s written account of their affair remained a secret to Harold and Violet. It was discovered and published by Nigel Nicolson, Vita’s son and executor, in 1973 after the deaths of all three. In it Vita wrote:

The psychology of people like myself will be a matter of interest and I believe it will be recognised that many more people of my type do exist than under the present-day system of hypocrisy is commonly admitted. I am not saying that such personalities, and the connections which result from them, will not be deplored as they are now; but I do believe that their greater prevalence, and the spirit of candour which one hopes will spread with the progress of the world, will lead to their recognition.

Nicolson added 50,000 words of his own to Vita’s 20,000 word account, changing her title from Portrait of a Lesbian Relationship to Portrait of a Marriage. In so doing, he set their affair within the context of Vita’s long marriage with Harold, recasting her love story as heterosexual, one that triumphed over infatuation. ‘It is a love story,’ he wrote, ‘not the love between Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis, as many people assumed, but between Vita and my father Harold’. Nicolson portrayed his father as a rock, whose understanding had saved the marriage.

Naturally in the telling of this story Nicolson favoured his mother’s character over that of Violet. Diana Souhami, Violet’s biographer, said that when she met Nicolson to discuss her book, he said, ‘Remember Violet was evil’. But he did accept that Souhami, in her book Mrs Keppel and her Daughter, wished to restore Violet on a more even footing with Vita. Souhami describes their tryst as a story of adultery; aristocratic families rife with hypocrisy, and a lesson in how not to conduct a lesbian relationship.


Prince Igor – Polovstian Dances  by Alexander Borodin, Conductor: Valery Gergiev, Kirov Theater Orchestra

Violet’s special name for Vita was ‘Mitya’, shortened from ‘my Dmitri’, a character in Alexander Borodin’s great Russian opera Prince Igor. Just before the First World War, Russian operas and ballets were all the rage in London and Paris. In these pre-cinematic times, audiences were captivated by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes productions with flamboyant sets and costumes designed by the likes of Léon Bakst.

The Ballet Russes performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, based on a story from The Arabian Nights, was a sensation (members of the Bloomsbury Group were especially struck by it). It began a craze for Eastern influenced fancy dress and interior design. As Osbert Sitwell noted, ‘Every chair cover, every lamp-shade, every cushion reflected the Russian Ballet, the Grecian or Oriental visions of Bakst and Benois.’ The style appealed to Violet, who had her bedroom decked out harem style, a la Scheherazade.

Prince Igor was Borodin’s only opera, based on a 12th-century Russian epic poem, which tells the story of the heroic acts of the  Russian prince Igor, and his campaigns against invading nomadic tribes. The Polovtsian Dances provide the climax to the opera’s second act. Prince Igor and his son Vladimir are taken prisoner by the Polovstian leader Khan Konchak who provides them with lavish entertainment calling on his slaves to perform a series of fantastic dances. Borodin, a chemist by day, worked on the opera for nearly 18 years but died before it was complete. His friends Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov sorted through his manuscripts and finished it between them. Diaghilev presented Polovtsian Scenes and Dances, as part of his first Russian Season at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.


If Nancy Mitford is anyone to go by, Violet did not age too well. Mitford used the elderly Violet as a model for the outrageous society hostess Lady Montdore in her novel Love in a Cold Climate.

In a letter to Heywood Hill in 1953 she writes:

I’ve got a luncheon party today. Violet arrived for it yesterday – I was eating a little bit of fish. I said you must go away, but she tottered to the table, scooped up all the fish & all the potatoes, left half & threw cigarette ash over it. I could have killed her. Lady Montdore exactly.

Mitford portrays Lady Montdore as a shameless snob and arch manipulator, intent on marrying her beautiful daughter Polly into the highest echelons of society. When Polly shows no interest in any of the likely candidates, and refuses even to make an effort, Lady Montdore snaps: ‘Nobody wants their girl to be hanging about for ever, a sour old maid, and you’ll be the worst kind, that’s too obvious already, my dear, wizened-up and sour.’

Lady Montdore thrives on the misery of others. While being driven in style to her stately home in a rain storm she comments, ‘I love being so dry in here and seeing all those poor people so wet’.

Yet for all that, Fanny, the novel’s narrator and Mitford’s alter ego, says: ‘it only required an occasional hint of mutual understanding, a smile, a movement of sympathy to make me think I really loved her’.


Polperro is a thirteenth century fishing village with a picture-book harbour some fifteen miles from Plymouth. Its streets are so narrow that for the most part, cars are left in the car park on the outskirts of the village, requiring a ten-minute traffic free walk to the harbour. This is no hardship. The laneway winds down the valley beside a stream, lined by a succession of quaint cottages and set off by the dark foliage that surrounds the upper reaches of the valley. If you need a drink along the way, simply call in at one of the many pubs or tea rooms that dot the route, starting with the 14th century Crumplehorn Inn and Mill, opposite the entrance to the car park.

This is the lane where barrowloads of fish were carted out by day, and illegal contraband, including brandy, tobacco and silk, was whisked out at night. The village had a reputation for smuggling as its remote location, deep harbour and secluded caves and beaches were ideally suited for hiding contraband. Piracy reached its peak here from the mid 18th century, aided by Zephaniah Job, a school teacher who acted as the smugglers’ banker, organiser and advisor. He owned the Crumplehorn Inn and accrued a fortune. Polperro boat-owning families such as the Quillers and Rowetts became famous for their smuggling exploits and many of the poverty-stricken locals were said to be involved to some extent. There is a beautiful church of Celtic origins tucked in a remote location in Talland, off the coastal path between Polperro and Looe. In its top churchyard lie the graves of old Polperro sea captains: the Rowetts, Couches and Couths.

Polperro is a town full of characters and you can still meet people whose families go back generations. One woman I met on one of my many visits told me she is related to the apothecary and surgeon Jonathan Couch,who produced the great work The History of the Fishes of the British Isles. She is also related to the writer and academic Arthur Quiller-Couch (Daphne du Maurier’s friend and mentor) as well as some of the better-known smuggling families. ‘Doctors, writers, murderers, smugglers, I’ve got the lot,’ she told me. Recently she discovered that her life-long friend, who lives in nearby Looe, is also a relation. ‘Everyone’s related to everyone else around here’, she said. ‘It’s amazing we don’t have webbed feet!’

Locals like to congregate at the pubs beside the harbour: the Three Pilchards or Blue Peter Inn, known as the last pub before France. The latter is a particularly welcoming place in winter, with its log fire by the bar, live music and dog-friendly policy (in the photograph).

Cobbles is situated in The Warren, a cluster of ancient cottages lining a steep street that rises from the harbour and straggles towards the coastal path in the direction of Looe. It’s an 18th century three-story fisherman’s cottage built smack against therock of the craggy cliff and was the writer Hugh Walpole’s ‘dream place’. He wrote an astonishing six novels here between 1914 and 1921. Although his literary reputation has not lasted the distance, in his day Henry James believed Walpole to be one of the finest upcoming British authors. A friend of his fondly described him as a man about London, seeming to be at everywhere at once, then disappearing for months on end. Cobbles is where he would come to write, incorporating descriptions of this place he held dear, its ‘fishing-boats stealing out in the saffron-colour light from the little Polperro harbour’.

Walpole was one of a number of people distinguished in the world of the arts who came to reside in or visit the Polperro community from the nineteenth century. In the thirties until well into the 1970s, the village became something of an alternative secret hangout, favoured by jazz musicians, actors and singers. Dave, my informant and friend, grew up in Polperro and remembered seeing film stars Robert Donat (The 39 Steps, Goodbye Mr Chips), Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes), Rita Tushingham (Doctor Zhivago), Stuart Granger (Gainsborough melodramas) and James Kenny (Captain Horatio Hornblower, Sherlock Holmes) about the place. Most used to drink at the Three Pilchards. They liked Polperro because they were well accepted by the locals who let them have their privacy. As a boy in the 1950s Dave recalled seeing a male couple caressing on the rocks at the entrance to the harbour. ‘I thought they were wrestling at the time’, he said with a grin.


An article about Vita’s ‘Lost Poem’ recently discovered by a scholar during conservation work at her Sissinghurst home.

Listen to Vita Sackville-West read from her poem ‘The Land’. Portrait of a Marriage was made into a BBC drama series in 1990 and focuses on the love affair between Vita and Violet. Directed by Stephen Whittaker it stars Janet McTeer as Vita Sackville-West and Cathryn Harrison as Violet Trefusis.

A Paris Review article: ‘The Fabulous Forgotten Life of Vita Sackville-West’.

In spite of her talents as a writer, Violet Trefusis seems fated to be remembered as a character in other people’s novels, as this article by Emma Garman in the Paris Review explains.

The fisherman’s cottage Cobbles, formerly owned by Hugh Walpole, and where Vita and Violet stayed on two occasions, is available as a holiday rental with Toad Hall Cottages.

The Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing is housed in the old pilchards factory by the water, and features an extensive photographic record of the village.

My friend Meg Pier who writes the excellent blog Best Cultural Destinations has written an excellent guide to Cornwall which also covers Polperro.

Escaping the rise of fascism, Austrian painter Oscar Kokoschka fled to the UK and by July 1939 was living in Cornwall in a house overlooking the sea. The Tate Gallery own this picture he painted of the view from his house.

A Ghost story set in the Three Pilchards. See the Manic Minors play at Polperro’s Blue Peter.

Details about accommodation in Polperro can be found on the Love Polperro website.

Visit Cornwall.  


Cooper, Robert M. The Literary Guide and companion to Southern England Blackwells, 1985 Dennison, Matthew, Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West, William Collins, 2014 Leaska, Mitchell A, Phillips John, Eds, Violet to Vita: The Letters of Violet Trefusis to Vita Sackville-West, Penguin, 1991 Lee, Hermione. Virginia Woolf, Vintage, 1997 Nicolson, Nigel, Portrait of a Marriage, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1973 Souhami, Diana, Mrs Keppel and her Daughter, Harper Collins, 1996

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  1. Paula Ashworth (nee Tebbs!) on

    This blog is absolutely fascinating. Every entry enlightens and educates me, plus gives great pleasure. Thank you and, again, congratulations…..

    • Jo Wing on

      I’m delighted you enjoy it Paula. This was a fun story to write – they were such spirited women, weren’t they? Thank you for your lovely feedback!

  2. Barbara Cail on

    Fabulous writing style. I loved every word that created a fascinating story of Vita and Violet. It’s a great teaser to want more.

  3. Jo Wing on

    Well there is the story to tell about Vita and Virginia Woolf. And Violet does have a habit of popping up all over the place so if you bear with me, I’m sure we’ll meet these two again. So glad you enjoyed it Barbara!

  4. Doug Endersbee on

    Having been briefly introduced to a variety of locations in Cornwall in 2016, I was able to identify with the coastal scenery, the lovely little Cornish pubs, the narrow roads that you hope a car isn’t coming the other way…….
    The huge diversity of literature and the characters who populated Cornwall, or at least visited there, was not so apparent to me so I have enjoyed this sexual sojourn with all the intricacies of human relationships revealed in such sumptuous detail with the wild abandon of the free-spirited women of a time which to all intents and purposes restricted their lives to the kitchen and child-rearing! Huh! Huh! Huh!

  5. Jo Wing on

    There was definitely no standing at the sink doing the dishes for these two. In some of their letters they actually complained about their servants and fantasised about how wonderful life would be if they didn’t have any! I was so surprised when I discovered they’d had this rip roaring affair just up the road from me and it was such fun to discover a bit about it. So glad you liked this one, Doug!