In 1922, Virginia Woolf met Vita Sackville-West. They began an intimate relationship with one another, both emotionally and sexually.
That is the subject of the new movie, Vita & Virginia.
Its first trailer was released recently and sees Elizabeth Debicki and Gemma Arterton taking on the roles of Virginia and Vita, respectively.
Through love letters and stolen moments together, both Woolf and Sackville-West were able to maintain a fulfilling relationship with one another. They faced hardships from a prejudiced and sexist society to Woolf’s mental health struggles.
Virginia and Vita were a real life queer romance for the ages
According to a letter written to her husband, Harold Nicolson, in 1926, Sackville-West said she and Woolf consummated their relationship twice.
Another letter, from Sackville-West to Woolf, showcases the depth of their feelings.
Vita Sackville-West, bereft, writes to Virginia Woolf.
— Letters of Note (@LettersOfNote) January 25, 2018
Six years after first meeting, in 1928, Woolf published Orlando. The story is a highly-regarded romp, telling the life story of Orlando, who’s born male but magically becomes a woman at 30. He lives for more than 300 years without aging and engages in relationships with both genders.
The book was inspired by Sackville-West and her son called the book ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’. At one point in the trailer, Virginia tells Vita that Orlando is ‘all about you’.
Normalizing mental illness
The truth was, however, that Woolf did struggle from depression and other mental health problems. Her legacy as a famed literary figure, and subsequent interest in her personal life, helps normalize and destigmatize mental illness.
Woolf struggled from depression and other mental health problems throughout her life. She suffered her first nervous breakdown in 1895, at the age of 13, after the death of her mother.
In 1910, 1912, and 1913, she spent three brief periods at Burley House in Twickenham. It was described as a nusing home for women with nervous disorders.
Sackville-West was a great supporter of Woolf in general, not only of her writing, but her struggles with mental health as well. In the trailer, Vita scolds her husband for saying Virginia has some ‘madness’ about her.
In reality, Sackville-West was the one to encourage Woolf that writing was not harmful to her health, and in fact quite the opposite.
As World War II began and Britain faced the Blitz, Woolf’s obsessed with death darkened her mood. She died in 1941 at the age of 59 after she took her own life by drowning.
In her suicide letter to her husband Leonard Woolf, she wrote: ‘You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came.’
Vita & Virginia has a chance to help make both queer women and mental illness more visible and accepted.
The movie is out now in the UK and comes out on 23 August in the US.