All Passion Spent
“She found herself suddenly surrounded by a host of assumptions. It was assumed that she trembled for joy in his presence, languished in his absence, existed solely (but humbly) for the furtherance of his ambitions, and thought him the most remarkable man alive, as she herself was the most favoured of women, a belief in which everybody was fondly prepared to indulge her. Such was the unanimity of these assumptions that she was almost persuaded into believing them true.” ― Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West is an inspiring novel of the life of a woman who chooses to create herself anew. Both character and values are important to Lady Slane, the heroine of this thoughtful and uplifting book.
The novel is written in three parts, primarily from the view of an intimate observer. The first part introduces Lady Slane at the time of her husband’s death. Recently widowed, she, as a wife to a great statesman and mother of six, had always put everyone else’s needs before her own. Her children plan to share her care between them much as they divide up the family property but, completely unexpectedly, Lady Slane makes her own choice, proposing to leave fashionable Kensington for a cottage in suburban Hampstead that caught her eye decades earlier, where she will live alone except for her maidservant and please herself — for example allowing her descendants to visit only by appointment. Part 1 concludes with Lady Slane’s developing friendships with her aged landlord Mr Bucktrout and his equally aged handyman Mr Gosheron.
As a young woman she harbored a secret desire to become a painter, but gave up her own personal desires in favor of duty and tradition. In Part 2 we are entertained by Lady Slane’s thoughts as she muses in the summer sun. She relives youthful events, reviews her life, and considers life’s influences and controls, happiness and relationships.
Summer is over. Part 3 takes place after Lady Slane has settled into her cottage, her contemplative life, and approaching end. To her initial annoyance, her past life still connects her to people and events. In particular Mr FitzGeorge, a forgotten acquaintance from India who has ever since been in love with her, introduces himself and they form a quiet but playful and understanding friendship. Mr FitzGeorge bequeaths his fortune and outstanding art collection to Lady Slane, causing great consternation amongst her children. Lady Slane, avoiding the responsibility of vast wealth, gives FitzGeorge’s collection and fortune to the state, much to her children’s disgust and her maid’s amusement. Lady Slane discovers that relinquishing the fortune has permitted Deborah, her great-granddaughter, to break-off her engagement and pursue music, Deborah taking the path that Lady Slane herself could not.
Her defiance of her family's expectations, the depth of her memories, and the richness of her independent life make this a fascinating book. In her seeking fulfillment in a different if not better way than she had heretofore in her life she provides a model for all individuals who wish to follow their own creative souls.
I first read this book a decade ago. I found the author's prose and style of presentation are dazzling. And the story remains both compelling and inspiring. This is a unique novel in my reading experience and one I will likely return to again.