All Passion Spent (excerpt), Vita Sackville-West

Portrait of VSW by William Strang

After 6 decades of marriage and a long and storied career in English politics and diplomacy, Henry Holland first Earl of Slane has died. Freed at last of the constraints of  being a political wife, Lady Slane allows her mind to wander. Read on …

She remembered how, crossing the Persian desert with Henry, their cart had been escorted by flocks of butterflies, white and yellow, which danced on either side and overhead and all around them, now flying ahead in a concerted movement, now returning to accompany them, amused as it were to restrain their swift frivolity to a flitting round this lumbering conveyance, but still unable to suit their pace to such sobriety, so, to relieve their impatience, soaring up into the air or dipping between the very axles, coming out on the other side before the horses had had time to put down another hoof; making, all the while, little smuts of shadow on the sand, like little black anchors dropped, tethering them by invisible cables to the earth, but dragged about with the same capricious swiftness, obliged to follow; and she remembered thinking, lulled by the monotonous progression that trailled after the sun from dawn to dusk, like a plough that should pursue the sun in one straight slow furrow round and round the world – she remembered thinking that this was something like her own life, following Henry Holland like the sun, but every now and then moving into a cloud of butterflies which were her own irreverent, irrelevant thoughts, darting and dancing, but altering the pace of the progression by not one tittle; never brushing the carriage with their wings; flickering always, and evading; sometimes rushing on ahead, but returning again to tease and to show off, darting between the axles; having an independent and a lovely life; a flock of ragamuffins skimming aove the surface of the desert and around the trundling waggon; but Henry, who was travelling on a tour of investigation, could only say, “Terrible, the opthalmia among these people – I must really do something about it,” and knowing that he was right and  would speak to the missionaries, she had withdrawn her attention from the butterflies and had transferred it to her duty, determining that when they reached Yezd or Shiraz, or wherever it might be, she would also take the missionaries to task about the opthalmia in the villages and would make arrangements for a further supply of boracic to be sent out from England.

One sentence! I’m half-way through and a review will follow shortly.


Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent, first pub. 1931. Virago Modern Classics, London, 1983


12 thoughts on “All Passion Spent (excerpt), Vita Sackville-West

  1. That’s lovely. The way that she captures the rhythm of the transportation in the syntax. I’m not sure if I’ve read this one of hers – I think not – but I remember loving No Signposts in the Sea. More recently I read a preface she contributed to a work of biography (for a German biography of Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf) and she was very enthusiastic and generous about Lagerlöf’s writing. Looking forward to your thoughts when you’ve had a change to finish reading!


    • I’ve finished reading, now I have to finish reviewing. This morning I hope. Virginia Woolf complained that Sackville-West’s writing was “too fluent” (I’ve been doing my research). Even if so, it would be a lovely problem to have.


  2. Wow, what a sentence. What Buried says! It’s beautifully written. I love third person voices like this that get into the characters’ heads. Still reading this would clearly require concentration if all the sentences are like this!


    • Third person used like that feels like first person doesn’t it. I’m not sure about concentration – I don’t think you get to the end of the sentence and wonder how it started. In fact I wasn’t aware that it was one sentence – and it covers two pages of the book – until I typed it out. I’m pretty sure the book flows ok. It’s not like Burroughs or Joyce say where you have to stop and try and work out what’s going on.


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