Vita Sackville-West

The Eagle and the Dove
  • The Eagle and the Dove

  • Vita Sackville-West

    The two saints whose lives Vita Sackville-West contrasts in this double biography were recorded by very different epithets: 'the great' and 'the little'. Both women were Carmelites, both canonised and both shared the same name. But whilst Teresa of Avila was aristocratic, intellectual, vigorous and humorous, a Spanish woman of the sixteenth century, Thérèse of Lisieux was a guileless and sentimental figure of the French bourgeoisie. Teresa, the great mystic, is the patron saint of Spain; Thérèse, the humble nun, is probably the most beloved saint in the entire Calendar. The extraordinary rise of the cult of both women is scrutinised.

Victoria Mary Sackville-West, known as Vita, was born in 1892 at Knole in Kent, the only child of aristocratic parents. In 1913 she married diplomat Harold Nicolson, with whom she had two sons and travelled extensively before settling at Kent’s Sissinghurst Castle in 1930, where she devoted much of her time to creating its now world-famous garden. Throughout her life Sackville-West had a number of other relationships with both men and women, and her unconventional marriage would later become the subject of a biography written by her son Nigel Nicolson. Though she produced a substantial body of work, amongst which are writings on travel and gardening, Sackville-West is best known for her novels The Edwardians (1930) and All Passion Spent (1931), and for the pastoral poem The Land (1926), which was awarded the prestigious Hawthornden Prize. Sackville-West died on 2 June 1962 at her Sissinghurst home, aged seventy.