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Painting of two people fencing, one man is dressed as a woman

A look at diverse forms of love and desire through works in the Royal Collection

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)

A Note of explanation 1922

RCIN 1171551

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Measuring just 3.9 cm tall, this tiny book was written by the poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. On pages no larger than a postage stamp, Vita handwrote the story of a sprite who moves into the dolls’ house and takes advantage of the luxuries the house has to offer.

Though married, Vita Sackville-West had several affairs with women, including the writer Virginia Woolf. Vita inspired the eponymous character in Woolf’s Orlando – a gender-fluid poet who lives for centuries encountering famous historical figures throughout their life. A Note of Explanation is a possible precursor to the book: its story of an ageless, fashionable sprite who has been present for all the major moments of fairytale history may have influenced Woolf’s work.

Their relationship, lasting ten years, is detailed in the hundreds of letters they sent to each other. In one, penned while travelling, Vita writes:

I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way… It is incredible how essential to me you have become.