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Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)

A Note of explanation 1922

3.9 cm (Height) x 1.0 cm (Depth) (book measurement (conservation)) | RCIN 1171551

Queen Mary's Dolls' House Passage, Windsor Castle

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  • Between 1921 and 1924, many of Britain and Ireland's most significant writers contributed handwritten books to the miniature library of Queen Mary's Dolls' House, a model miniature royal home designed to show off the best of art, craft and manufacturing. The collection of tiny manuscripts for the doll library was organised by Princess Marie Louise, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who worked alongside the writer E.V. Lucas.

    Vita Sackville-West’s involvement in the miniature library of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House was likely thanks to her friendship with the Dolls’ House’s architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, who was close to Vita’s mother, Lady Sackville.

    While Lady Sackville sent in miniature printed books for the Dolls’ House Library, her daughter, an established author and poet, handwrote an original story into a tiny booklet. It is about a ghost living in the Dolls’ House, trying out its moving lifts, its running water and its electric lights – details Sackville-West was probably aware of before most others, given her ties to Lutyens. The title of her little book, A Note of Explanation, is because in the story the guardians of the Dolls’ House (including the architect she describes as having big spectacles, just like Lutyens did) are perplexed at the lights turning on, the baths filling with water, and the books moving off the shelves. The story explains that the ghost is behind it all.

    Vita Sackville-West’s ghost, or spirit, is an androgenous being who has witnessed all the major events in fairy-tale history, such as seeing Cinderella off to the ball. The character compares to that of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, from the novel of the same name published in 1928, and may well have served as an inspiration.

    In 1922, when Sackville-West wrote this story, she had not yet met and formed a relationship with Virginia Woolf. The latter was also invited to write for the Dolls’ House Library, but declined on her husband Leonard’s advice.

    In contrast, Vita Sackville-West’s husband, Harold Nicolson, seems to have been as enthusiastic about contributing a book as Vita was. Letters from Lutyens to Princess Marie Louise imply that he begged to be involved, and his manuscript was only accepted following the architect’s intervention. Nicolson was to become an important biographer, but at the time of the Dolls’ House’s creation his literary career had barely begun.

    Vita Sackville-West’s miniature book was handwritten by her in black and red inks. It was bound in vellum in the renowned Sangorski & Sutcliffe bindery and stands at just under 4 cm high.
    Provenance

    Sent to Princess Marie Louise by Vita Sackville-West for inclusion in Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House Library, 1922

  • Measurements

    3.9 cm (Height) x 1.0 cm (Depth) (book measurement (conservation))

    3.9 x 1.0 cm (book measurement (inventory))

  • Alternative title(s)

    A Note of explanation / by V. Sackville-West.


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