05 September 2007

Vita Sackville-West  The Heir. 1922

"Vita for three days at Long Barn, from which Leonard and I returned yesterday. These Sapphists love women; friendship is never untinged with amorosity...I like her and being with her and the splendour--she shines in the grocer's shop in Sevenoaks with a candle lit radiance, stalking on legs like beech trees, pink glowing, grape clustered, pearl hung. That is the secret of her glamour, I suppose. Anyhow she found me incredibly dowdy. No woman cared less for personal appearance. No one put on things in the way I did. Yet so beautiful, etc. What is the effect of all this on me? Very mixed. There is her maturity and full breastedness; her being so much in full sail on the high tides, where I am coasting down backwaters; her capacity I mean to take the floor in any company, to represent her country, to visit Chatsworth to control silver, servants, chow dogs; her motherhood (but she is a little cold and off-hand with her boys); her being in short (what I have never been) a real woman. Then there is some voluptuousness about her; the grapes are ripe; and not reflective. No. In brain and insight she is not as highly organised as I am....mingled with all this glamour, grape clusters and pearl necklaces, there is something loose fitting. How much, for example, shall I really miss her when she is motoring across the desert?" Virginia Woolf. A Writer's Diary. 21 December 1925

"She is an absolute angel to me, and the value of her friendship is not to be measured in gold. Oh my dear, what intelligence! it is amazing - what perception, sensitiveness in the best sense, imagination, poetry, culture, everything so utterly un-shoddy and real. How she weaves magic into life! Whenever I see her, she raises life to a higher level."[Vita on VW.]

Vita Sackville-West. THE HEIR. A LOVE STORY. Heinemann / Privately Published ('Printed for private circulation.') London 1922.

Current Selling Prices
$650-$1400 /£320-£700

Books by the Bloomsbury Set are still fervently searched for, often by persons who would not be admitted to any of their parties or soireés. I have seen massive collections of Bloomsburiana in neat suburban semis, high tech Docklands flats, once even on a pig farm in upstate New York. Then there are the married male and female couples (both gay ) trying to live the Harold and Vita lifestyle in unkempt parts of North London. It is generally admitted that Vita could write, but she did not excel at it like her one time lover Virginia Woolf (see above.)

We sold a copy of 'The Heir' on Ebay last year (they love Bloomsbury on Ebay) for about $800+. It was described thus:
"8vo. pp vi,120. Frontis. 9.5 x 6 inches. This is one of an edition of only 100 copies, printed on hand-made paper, each individually numbered and each signed on the photographic portrait frontispiece of VS-W by her. The limitation statement declares that numbers 1 to 50 were for sale, numbers 51 to 100 ‘for private circulation’. This is number 95. It was the first publication of a story which would later be reprinted a number of times alongside other of the author’s shorter works. It is a short novel which begins:"Miss Chase lay on her immense red silk four-poster that reached as high as the ceiling. Her face was covered over by a sheet, but as she had a high, aristocratic nose, it raised the sheet into a ridge, ending in a point… " It is a deathbed scene and sets in motion the story of a man’s inheritance of a house with which, as the story proceeds, he falls ever more profoundly in love. Vita would have drawn heavily for the story on her own relationship with Knole House in Kent where she was born but which, being a woman, she could not – to her everlasting distress – inherit.
Untrimmed pages are bound between patterned paper-cover boards with a spine of ivory-coloured buckram which bears a two-inch beige spine label. Facing the title page, and protected by an intact tissue guard, is a portrait of Vita based on the photograph by Swaine and which the author has signed in the lower right-hand corner." (Condition was OK but a little used.)
Below is a print of Knole House. Do not shed too many tears about her not inheriting this pile, she bought Sissinghurst Castle and made it into one of the most beautiful country houses in the home counties. Now seen as the embodiment of modern British gardening tradition, Sissinghurst is Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson’s enduring legacy, a haven of peace and beauty. Now open to the public and WAD (Worth a detour.)

VALUE? A very slight book, the trade edition has four more stories. For a book limited to 100 it turns up quite a lot. The first 50 copies bear the Heinemann imprint and the portrait of Vita is from the painting by William Strang, the second 50 privately printed with a photo. Both states are signed and there is no discernible difference in price between the although for some reason I prefer the ones with the Swain photo. The bibliography (Cross & Hulme) notes at least 2 states of the binding of the privately printed state, each with different flowaers and one with cream boards, the other mustard. In 2004 an average copy made £200 inscribed by Vita's mother to Alice Warrender. No copies currently for sale at less than £400. It does not seem to be going up in value but in general Bloomsbury prices are holding firm and Virginia Woolf shot up in value about 5 years ago and is showing no signs of collapse.

With Vita the one to find is her first book 'Chatterton' privately published in 1909 by the Sevenoaks High Street newsagent J. Salmon. The 16 year old Vita paid £5 for the 100 copies. Now valuable, Rota had a copy at £1350 in their 2002 catalogue of the Simon Nowell Smith Collection (possibly something of a rick), P. Harrington currently have a copy at £12,500. Her second book 'Constantinople' looks equally rare but a dealer in the 1980s unearthed a box of them and the book is still not worth much more than £300 in fab condition. At one time it was £20. Salmon, the printer of her first book, are still there in Sevenoaks and have a website - they call themselves 'the oldest established post card and calendar publisher in Britain.'

TRIVIA. Some gardening hints from Vita--after much digging and gently bossing gardeners about, she came to form some firm principles.  The first was ruthlessness.  If some thing was displeasing then change it.  Second was not to be too tidy in a garden, let self-seeded plants grow where they naturally fall, wild flowers mixing with cultivated plants in a garden was not a disaster.  Thirdly, have an architectural plan, a colour plan and a seasonal plan.

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