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Review: All Passion Spent, by Vita Sackville-West


Pages: 297
Original date of publication: 1931
My edition: 1983
Why I decided to read: read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: from a LT user, July 2011


Lady Slane has spent seventy years living in the shadow of her husband, a venerated statesman and former Prime Minister. When Henry, the Earl of Slane, dies, Lady Slane retreats to a country house in Hampstead, much to the constrnation of her children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. There, in the company of her aging maid, landlord, handyman, and an eccentric millionaire, she revisits the her past, in which she harbored a secret ambition to become an artist—abandoned in order to embrace the Victorian ideals of wifehood and motherhood.

It’s a wonderfully whimsical novel; one day Lady Slane buries her husband in Westminster Abbey, then two days later she’s taking the Tube out to Hampstead! I loved the characters in this novel; they’re all so whimsical. I mean, what estate agent would leave a house standing empty for thirty years, waiting for the perfect tenant? What fabulously wealthy millionaire would live like a contestant on Hoaders, squirreling works of art away in his dingy flat? I think in the real world, all of these people would be declared insane, but they’re all lovable and, in the world of this novel, completely normal.

I loved Lady Slane above all, for her immediate willingness to buck convention and do her own thing, seventy years after giving up her dreams. And she does it without caring what other people think of her. I enjoyed watching her real life unfold after the death of her husband. It’s also interesting to watch the budding relationship between Lady Slane and her great-granddaughter Deeborah, engaged but not happy, but also blessed by living in a time when she can make decisions that Lady Slane couldn’t when she was young. I didn’t expect to get as much out of this book as I did; only one or two of the characters are under the age of sixty! Still, the themes of this book are universal enough that everyone can appreciate it. All Passion Spent officially makes Vita Sackville-West one of my favorite authors.

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