Wednesday, July 6, 2011
BOOK REVIEW: All Passion Spent
Author: Vita Sackville-West
Release Date: June 2011
A portrait of a fiercely independent woman trying, late in life, to escape the clutches of an over-solicitous family.
When Lady Slane was young, she nurtured a secret, burning ambition: to become an artist. She became, instead, the dutiful wife of a great statesman, and mother to six children. In her widowhood she finally defies her family. Her children, all over sixty, have planned for her to spend her remaining days quietly, as a paying guest of each of them in turn. Much to their dismay, Lady Slane rents a small house in Hampstead and chooses to live independently, free from her past. She revels in her new-found freedom, living the life she forfeited seventy years earlier to the conventions of a Victorian marriage, and attracts an odd assortment of companions. Among them is Mr FitzGeorge, an eccentric millionaire who met her in India, when she was very young and very lovely . . .
First published in 1931, All Passion Spent is the fictional companion to her friend Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.
This is the story of an 88 year old woman who, when her husband dies, decides she can finally live her own life as she wants. Much to the horror of her children, who are 60 or 70 years old !
All Passion Spent reflects Woolf's argument for the "androgynous mind". Deborah is too feminine. Her husband, too masculine. This theme echoes throughout the lives of all the book's characters, regardless of actual gender. The very concept of gender is a difficult one to define. I can't say whether Vita achieved this, but I give her credit for even trying.
Beyond that, it's a book about life, death, aging, beauty, and self expression. This book shimmers with startling insights.
I liked getting a sense of the past life as reminiscences while she's sitting in the garden enjoying the life she wants at the end of her days. I also like the characters that come into her new world; good examples of family by choice and in the movie version, I especially like how two of them stand guard over her body to "defend" it from the oldest daughter who's there to take charge of the situation.
Despite being published first over 70 years ago, this book is fresh and a great read.