A Need for Stewardship

Sissinghurst, in the Kentish part of the Weald, is the estate that prose author and poet Vita Sackville-West bought in 1930 after it became clear she would not inherit the lease on Knole, her family property.  (It went instead to an uncle.)  Though Sackville-West is notorious for her liaisons with Virginia Woolf and Violet Trefusis (among others), Sissinghurst is another source of her fame—or is she the reason why it is well known?  The phrase on the dust jacket of this volume—“The Quest to Restore a Working Farm at Vita Sackville-West’s Legendary Garden”—suggests that both the estate and its former owner partake of an unusual renown.  In earlier centuries, much British history was made on such estates, grand and less grand—places where, Adam Nicolson writes, “nature and culture were more intimately bound together” than now.  Even today, in a much-changed England, they are recognized as an indispensable inheritance; Country Life, founded in 1897, remains a locus classicus of the English mind.

The author is the son of Nigel Nicolson and the nephew of Ben Nicolson—an art historian—and grandson of Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, a Foreign Office secretary and writer, whom she married in 1913, after having declined socially brilliant offers.  Vita was not the only one to indulge in same-sex relationships; Harold and Nigel also had homosexual affairs. ...

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