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The Love Letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West by Alison Bechdel (BOOK REVIEW) 5/5


If I could describe this collection of heartfelt love letters, it would be described as music- a beautiful, rising tempo and swelling chorus of emotional tones. The type of song that had the power to bring tears to your eyes. Instead, it is the type of book that makes you ache for the woman you love, that gives you the desire to run to them and tell them every concept of how much you love them. True love is hard to find, and in my opinion, in all the love stories I’ve ever read, there are few that are truer or more sincere than that of Virginia and Vita. If you need a sign of love, buy this book: it will make you believe in it by the end.

The story of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is an all too common one: one of deep longing for someone. When they began, Virginia liked Vita for her physical attributes, but was rather withdrawn, and showed no true interest in her. Yet, Vita was head over heels, in absolute adoration of Virginia, falling deeply in love with her mind and her writing. It was an intellectual affair, at first. It isn’t until a long period of travel, in which Vita is far from home, that Virginia begins to show signs of falling. Vita is much more emotional and heartfelt, open with how she feels from the very beginning- but it takes Virginia longer to admit to her heart that she loves Vita. It continues, through the novel, that she struggles with saying “love” instead of “like”, and her writing is often more subtle. In fact, she often writes in code; my girlfriend and I caught the code of “eating radishes on the floor” as a way of asking to make love.

When Vita comes home from her travels, their love truly takes off- there is more and more reference to them having a physical relationship, surpassing that of friendship. There are even letters from Vita to her husband, trying to tell him that while she has slept with Virginia, it is not an affair- a muddle, she calls it. I disagree, and am inclined to call Vita a big fat liar. Her letters are dripping with love and longing for Virginia, and it only grows as she and Virginia both undertake travels again- Virginia to New York, and Vita back to Asia. The letters, even Virginia’s, break in composure and read full of begging to be together, with desperation and lovesick remarks of how much they require each other. Their love grows to pet names and imaginative descriptions, and their letters grow more and more fond. Virginia melts, and you can tell when she starts to fall just as deeply in love as Vita herself.

However, both women had other affairs- and a period of jealousy caused them to drift apart. But at the time of Virginia’s tragic death by suicide, they were as close as ever, still clearly in love. It could be argued that Vita Sackville-West was the love of Virginia’s life. This book is enough to make anyone swoon, to lose yourself in an age old romance between two real life women. It astounds me how open their letters were, in a time where homosexuality was unacceptable. For anyone who loves romance, I can’t recommend this enough.


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