Book Review

CSC x Vintage: Love Letters

Vita and Virginia - famous names to be uttered in tandem, with an almost too perfect ring to them. Who doesn’t know about these fascinating women, or at least of Virginia Woolf, for her landmark novels? Known as a duo primarily (whether fairly or unfairly) for their passionate love affair, where better to truly understand them than their very own letters to each other, as well as their diary entries?

With an insightful introduction by Alison Bechdel, Love Letters: Vita and Virginia unveils the correspondence between these two writers from the time they first met until their very last letters, days before Virginia’s death. Passionate, charming and sometimes funny, the letters and diary entries reveal the ebbs and flows of their relationship.

If you read our very first CSC x Vintage book review on A House Full of Daughters, written by none other than Vita Sackville-West’s granddaughter, Juliet Nicolson, you’ll know that Vita’s homosexuality formed part of her open marriage with her Harold Nicolson (who also had many homosexual affairs in his lifetime). Accepted by him but still very taboo to society, it is no wonder that her affair with Virginia was largely kept a secret. Their letters, while depicting a longing that could only belong to two lovers, also remain ambiguous in parts, leaving us wondering whether both women felt the same way, or if they were merely hoping to hide their relationship from the public eye.

Fascinating too is the ability to track how each writer critiqued and shaped each other’s work. We see how Vita inspired Virginia’s most illuminating novel, Orlando, and how, although she was the most esteemed writer of the two at the time, she saw genius in Virginia’s work that she herself thought she lacked, ‘I contrast my illiterate writing with your scholarly one, and am ashamed’.

Virginia knew her work was noteworthy, too. She noted in her diary that Vita had ‘no very sharp brain’, but was dumbstruck by her appearance, while Vita was enchanted by Virginia’s intellect and wit over her looks. Their letters weave a true tale of longing that has inspired novels, songs and films, and that has comforted members of the LGBTQ+ community who could find no allies outside of library books (Alison Bechdel included).

How lucky are we to have these words from the letter-writing days. A form of correspondence that is dying out, Love Letters: Vita and Virginia is one of the last compilations of real letters that we will have the chance of reading. I would suggest reading this book slowly; pick it up every once in a while, as though you had just received a letter. Precious as they were at the time, unable to be supplemented with texts and emails, these letters reveal something new to us with every reading. So, take this book off the shelf every now and then, and delve into the lives of Vita and Virginia.

Have you read Love Letters? Are you a fan of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf? What should we review next? We are always eager to hear your thoughts - tag #CSCVintage to join the conversation, and find out more about our collaboration with Vintage here.

You can find out more about Love Letters: Vita and Virginia here.