Their love shocked and scandalised the English upper classes — two married women conducting an affair in front of their husbands.
What is more, the novel that came out of their tempestuous relationship changed literature forever.
Now a movie tells the story of novelist Virginia Woolf’s all-consuming passion for her fellow writer and adventurer, Vita Sackville-West, who she immortalised as the gender shifting, time travelling hero of her masterpiece, “Orlando”.
Which is why theirs is a romance for our gender fluid times, argues Chanya Button, the director of “Vita & Virginia”.
The aristocratic and bohemian poet Sackville-West was already famous when Woolf met her in 1925, a bestselling writer and free spirit notorious for her bisexual relationships with a string of other blue-blooded socialites.
Despite her brilliance, Woolf was by contrast dogged by fragile mental health, tightly shepherded by her husband Leonard Woolf, with whom she had founded the Hogarth Press, which published the poet T. S. Eliot and the first English translations of Freud.
Yet when they came together there was a spark that pushed both on to create some of their very best work, Button told AFP.
– Free living and loving –
Virginia introduced Vita to the free-living and -loving Bloomsbury set, the hugely influential group of artists and intellectuals that also included E.M Forster, the economist John Maynard Keynes and the trail-blazing biographer Lytton Strachey.
British filmmaker Button said she wanted to make “an adult love story” about two women “in the chaos and intoxication of falling in love and negotiating that through their marriages.
“So many of the films about love I grew up with feel adolescent,” she added. “They are all about the getting together.
“I wanted to make a mature love story, to explore how they lived the relationship in regard to their marriages. They were both women who broke all the rules — in Virginia’s case the whole form of the novel — so I had to break the rules of period drama in my own small way.
“Period dramas are usually about a lovely chat in a lovely room. I tried to make it be about how it felt.”
Button also paints a sympathetic portrait of the pair’s husbands, the rather uptight political theorist Woolf and the debonair bisexual writer and diplomat Harold Nicolson.
“There are some historians who say that Leonard Woolf was very controlling. But I think he had an incredibly progressive approach to supporting her mental health.
“In order to remain healthy Virginia needed a particular routine and her husband was a huge part of that.
– ‘Captivating and earthy’ –
“As for Vita and Harold Nicolson, they loved each other so much. There was a long and great marriage,” Button said.
“They both had needs and desires outside the confines of a heterosexual marriage and they let each other have the freedom to have those relationships. They had their open, unconventional marriages, but they had feelings about it. They weren’t robots.
“Harold had struggles with the relationship with Virginia,” and Leonard Woolf suffered too, as Button discovered when she read one of his letters.
“He talks about jealousy and says that he doesn’t recognise it as an emotion. ‘Wow!’ I thought as I read it.
“If you need to know only one thing about a person, that is him,” she added.
Woolf clearly realised that Vita was essential for his wife’s creative life, Button believed.
“You can understand how Vita was muse-like to Virginia because she was incredibly captivating and earthy, and her body was there for her in a way that Virginia’s wasn’t.”
But their passion helped free her.
Vita’s son, the writer Nigel Nicolson, later described Woolf’s “Orlando” as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature”.
Button used CGI in the film to reproduce “the moments when Virginia broke from reality”, often prompted by Vita, when her mind walked the thin “boundary between vulnerability and creativity. She wobbles but she also has a brilliant idea,” the director said, adding that she tried “to capture the full Technicolor” of the instances Woolf described, those “vulnerable moments sometimes we are most alive”.
It’s not the first time Virginia Woolf has been depicted on film. Nicole Kidman won a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of the groundbreaking novelist in the 2002 psychodrama “The Hours”.
Campaigning from the Oval Office: Trump brags about ‘What I’ve done for the African-American’
"We have fantastic relationships with the African-American community, certainly you're going to see that in 2020," Trump, in permanent campaign mode, says.
President Donald Trump on Monday was actively campaigning while sitting in the Oval Office during a visit with a foreign head of government. While not illegal, campaigning from within the White House is considered inappropriate, and previous presidents, like George W. Bush, have been pilloried for doing so.
Illinois GOP embarrasses itself with meme calling four Democratic congresswomen ‘The Jihad Squad’
Top leaders of the Illinois Republican Party sought to reverse damage on Sunday after posting a movie-style poster on Facebook that depicted four progressive congresswomen who have been repeatedly attacked by President Donald Trump in recent days as "The Jihad Squad."
The poster, whose image was reportedly uploaded to the Facebook account of the Republican County Chairmen's Association of Illinois on Friday night, displayed images of the four newly elected congresswomen of color — Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — who are often nicknamed "The Squad." It showed the lawmakers in film-style action poses with a smiling Pressley aiming a gun and Ocasio-Cortez donning a red evening dress that was on fire. Omar is seen pursing her lips and Tlaib is screaming.
Democrats, White House near deal to raise debt ceiling
US Democrats have nearly reached a deal with the Trump administration to raise the debt ceiling, allowing the government to borrow more money and avoid a disastrous default, sources close to the negotiations said Monday.
The "near-final agreement" would suspend the debt limit until the end of July 2021, and increase government spending by raising budget caps on defense and domestic outlays, one source said.
Republicans and Democrats have been hammering out the broad constructs of a deal for weeks as they faced calls to approve the agreement in the House by Friday, when the chamber begins a six-week recess.