The Woman Who Was ‘Orlando’
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Published in: January-February 2016 issue.


Behind the MaskBehind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West
by Matthew Dennison
St. Martin’s Press. 384 pages, $29.99


VITA SACKVILLE-WEST rode the dragons of her life, as Matthew Dennison remarks in his new biography, with the aplomb of a “disposessed aristocrat in the twentieth century.” Several biographers have attempted to tell the story of Vita Sackville-West’s remarkable life, but only one book ever came close to embodying her incredible allure. That book was Orlando, a work of fiction by her lover Virginia Woolf, published in 1928.

Dennison’s biography, Behind the Mask: Vita Sackville-West, is chock full of archival materials, though much of it has been brought to light by previous biographers, including Suzanne Raitt in Vita and Virginia (1993). The best of these biographies is Victoria Glen-dinning’s superb 1983 Vita: The Life of Vita Sackville-West, which continues to set the standard for Sack-ville-West biographies.

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Cassandra Langer, a frequent contributor to these pages, is a freelance writer based in New York City.