Behind the Mask: Book summary and reviews of Behind the Mask by Matthew Dennison

Behind the Mask

The Life of Vita Sackville-West

by Matthew Dennison

Behind the Mask by Matthew Dennison X
Behind the Mask by Matthew Dennison
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Book Summary

A dazzling new biography of Vita Sackville-West, the 20th century aristocrat, literary celebrity, devoted wife, famous lover of Virginia Woolf, recluse, and iconoclast who defied categorization.

In this stunning new biography of Vita Sackville-West, Matthew Dennison traces the triumph and contradictions of Vita's extraordinary life. His narrative charts a fascinating course from Vita's lonely childhood at Knole, through her affectionate but 'open' marriage to Harold Nicolson (during which both husband and wife energetically pursued homosexual affairs, Vita most famously with Virginia Woolf), and through Vita's literary successes and disappointments, to the famous gardens the couple created at Sissinghurst. The book tells how, from her privileged world of the aristocracy, Sackville-West brought her penchant for costume, play-acting and rebellion to the artistic vanguard of modern Britain. Dennison is the acclaimed author of many books including a biography of Queen Victoria.

Here, in the first biography to be written of Vita for thirty years, he reveals the whole story and gets behind 'the beautiful mask' of Vita's public achievements to reveal an often troubled persona which heroically resisted compromise on every level. Drawing on wideranging sources and the extensive letters that sustained her marriage, this is a compelling story of love, loss and jealousy, of high-life and low points, of binding affection and illicit passion - a portrait of an extraordinary, 20th-century life.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Libraries that serve patrons with both literary interests and Anglophile tendencies (including fans of Downton Abbey) will find that this repast satisfies both appetites." - Library Journal

"Fans of Sackville-West's, or of Woolf's novel Orlando... will be interested nonetheless, but they'll have to wade through a great deal of undigested information to get to the story." - Publishers Weekly

"A lively, vigorously written biography of a singular character that beckons readers urgently back to Sackville-West's writing." - Kirkus

"Dennison captures both Vita's irresistible charm and her selfishness. Like his subject, he is a natural storyteller, and his impeccable scholarship never weighs down his lively narrative." - The Independent (UK)

"Brave man to take on the biography of Vita, and he has brought it off superbly … It studies and reveals this extraordinary woman as well as could possibly be. A fine achievement." - The Spectator (UK)

"Astute and engaging, Dennison looks again at Vita's extraordinary life and makes a new sort of sense of it … fascinating … an insightful book. The connections between Vita's childhood, her dispossessions, her sexuality and her writing are compellingly explored. Vita emerges as a complex and interesting character, and far more than a gay icon." - The Literary Review (UK)

"Dennison emphasises the desire for solitude that existed in tension with her joyous sensuality and need for love." - The Guardian (UK)

"Detailed and fascinating … Dennison shows true admiration for his latest subject … freshly chronicled here for the first time in more than 30 years." - The Daily Express (UK)

"Intimate … A splendid biography of a splendid character." - The Lady (UK)

"Comprehensively documents her literary … with evocative portraits of her husband [and lovers] … Dennison's Vita is convincingly ambivalent and inflammatory, a product of her age." - The New Statesman (UK)

"This carefully researched book is intelligently and elegantly written … balanced, oratical and confident." - The Spectator (UK)

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Author Information

Matthew Dennison

Matthew Dennison is the author of the critically acclaimed The Last Princess and Livia, Empress of Rome. As a journalist, he contributes to The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Country Life, and The Spectator. He is married and lives in North Wales and Shropshire.

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