Brain Pickings

Vita Sackville-West’s Love Letter to Virginia Woolf

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“I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia.”

“Throw over your man….and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads,” wrote Virginia Woolf to her lover, the English poet Vita Sackville-West, in her exquisite 1927 love letter. But that missive was preceded by one from Vita herself, sent from Milan on January 21 the same year. Disarmingly honest, heartfelt, and unguarded, it stands in beautiful contrast with Virginia’s passionate prose:

…I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it should lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defenses. And I don’t really resent it.

Both letters come from the altogether excellent The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time, which features missives from icons like Hemingway, Kerouac, Kafka, and Mozart.

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