Thursday, November 12, 2015

Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicolson (1973)

What a brilliant and honest book.  Nigel Nicolson, writing about his gay parents in 1973; that's fucking courage. These Nicolsons are fascinating, absolutely fascinating, like some sort of exotic bird.  Society, class, whatever forced Harold and Vita into a marriage - or did it?  Would they have married today, and then just been in an open, unconventional marriage?  A part of me really hopes so, because the two of them together, at least seen through the lens of their son (who regardless of his honesty still must have some bias), built this enduring and interesting relationship.  They seem pioneers for alternative relationships.  Not everyone fits neatly into a box, do they?

"Harold was loved by everyone who met him - we were, in fact, a nice young couple to ask out to dinner.  Oh God, the horror of it!"  I think that sums Vita up quite nicely - the horror of being just a nice, young couple.   She was more than that.  They both were, really.

Small point of interest:  when Vita married Harold, Vita's mother "who doesn't like being émotionée" spent the day in bed instead of going to their wedding.  Now that would never happen today!

Lord Sackville was the American ambassador to the United States under the Garfield administration, and his illegitimate daughter was his hostess.  This seems to counter the idea that the Victorians were practitioners of strict, sexual mores; the Queen herself "gave her amused  consent to this odd arrangement" - most certainly a play on the old chestnut "the queen is not amused."  

Violet Trefusis "was always a bird of paradise, different, electric, much loved by young and old, a brilliant, exciting woman."  She sounds delightful - they all sound delightful.  And probably terrible too.  Like all brilliant, exciting people.

"It is not nice to know that one of us must die before the other."  Vita writing to Harold in their old age.

(it's not a biography; it's a portrait; there is a big difference)

Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold NicolsonPortrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson by Nigel Nicolson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A courageous, honest book, brilliant and blunt, sort of like being smacked with cotton candy - a sticky and sweet sensation. Nigel NIcolson finds his mother's unpublished memoir, and then fills in the bits and pieces - his mother's memoir about her now famous affair and "elopement" with Violet Trefusis; his father's homosexuality; and how the unusual couple built this enduring, strong, unusual, revolutionary marriage. These Nicolsons all must be rara avis, they are absolutely fascinating people. Nigel describes Violet as "always a bird of paradise, different, electric, much loved by young and old, a brilliant, exciting woman." She sounds delightful - but they all sound delightful. And probably terrible too. Like all brilliant, exciting people. He comes from a biased place, but it's an honest place; I think most would have shied away from their parent's queer (pun intended) relationships. This book made me want to explore Bloomsbury even more; perhaps even (finally?) tackle Virginia Woolf. More please.

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