Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask

The Life of Vita Sackville-West

Matthew Dennison

St. Martin's Press



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's Behind the Mask 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.


Praise for Behind the Mask

“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.” —Independent

“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.” —Spectator, Susan Hill

“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.” —Literary Review

“Dennison emphasises the desire for solitude that existed in tension with her joyous sensuality and need for love.” —Guardian

“Detailed and fascinating … Dennison shows true admiration for his latest subject … freshly chronicled here for the first time in more than 30 years.” —Daily Express

“Intimate … A splendid biography of a splendid character.” —The Lady

“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.” —New Statesman

“This carefully researched book is intelligently and elegantly written … balanced, oratical and confident.” —Spectator

“A judicious but lively biography of the highly un-Victorian Queen Victoria . . . an insightful, short look at the life of an immortal if only sometimes-admirable queen.” —Kirkus Reviews on Queen Victoria

“Only a very talented biographer could get to the key of Queen Victoria's complicated and psychologically fascinating personality. . . . In Matthew Dennison she has found one.” —Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War on Queen Victoria

“Fascinating.” —Vogue on The Last Princess

“An erudite, nuanced, and engrossing portrait of a turbulent era and an empress demonized for refusing to be invisible.” —Publishers Weekly on Livia, Empress of Rome

“Dennison has pulled off a tremendous coup in writing a short and concise book . . . [with] the confidence of considerable research, well digested and well delivered. . . . The Cast of characters is a rich one, and Dennison knows them well. . . . Perfect.” —The Times (UK) on Queen Victoria

“Only a very talented biographer could get to the key of Queen Victoria's complicated and psychologically fascinating personality and character. Fortunately, in Matthew Dennison she has found one.” —Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War on Queen Victoria

“Dennison has constructed a nattarive that his classical forbears would instantly recognize and appreciate.” —Library Journal on Twelve Caesars

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

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.

Matthew Dennison

Matthew Dennison

Read the author at The Spectator

From the Publisher

St. Martin's Press

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