Monday, October 19, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge: Broderie Anglais by Violet Trefusis


Several years ago, I visited the UK and got a chance to spend some time at Vita Sackville-West's family home, Knole Castle, in Kent, as well as Sissinghurst, where Vita lived with her husband, Harold Nicholson. Ever since this time, I've had an interest in the life of Vita-Sackville West.

Vita had lots of affairs, mainly with women, most notably with Virginia Woolf and Violet Trefusis. Vita's notorious affair with Violet has been chronicled in Portrait of a Marriage which is really Vita and Harold's story framed by their son, Nigel Nicholson, who published his mother's letters after Vita's death. Vita also wrote a novel, Challenge, based on her account, which I have not read. Virginia Woolf made Violet a character in her book about Vita, Orlando. And then there is Violet's own account in Broderie Anglaise.

In Broderie Anglaise, an introduction by Victoria Glendinning helps set up the story by presenting who the characters represent. The novel is the story of Alexa Harrowby Quince, a plain writer who represents Virginia Woolf, and her lover Lord John Shorne (Vita Sackville-West), heir to the family home, Otterways, based on Knole Castle. Lord Shorne was once in love with a beautiful French writer, Anne (Violet Trefusis). 

Much of the story concerns Alexa's insecurities about meeting Anne, thanks to Lord Shorne's many wistful stories of the past about his lost love. The memory of Anne casts a shadow over Alexa's relationship with Lord Shorne not to mention that Lord Shorne is rather indecisive and ruled by an overbearing mother. When the meeting between Alexa and Anne finally happens, it becomes somewhat of a revelation to Alexa about Lord Shorne's true character.  

Violet Trefusis (1894-1972) by Jacques-Emile Blanche, 1926
National Portrait Gallery, London

I've been curious about this novel for awhile, so I was glad to finally read it. (Violet's been on my mind as she is based on a character in one of Nancy Mitford's books and also mentioned in some of Nancy Mitford's letters that I read earlier this year.) The tone of the writing in Broderie Anglaise is light. The novel would be a good choice for someone with an interest in Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, or Violet Trefusis.

This is a slight novel that was first published in French in 1935. The English translation for this edition is by Barbara Bray. 

I read Broderie Anglaise for the Classic in Translation category of the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.


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