The Easter Party by Vita Sackville-West

The Easter Party cover

The Easter Party by Vita Sackville-West was first published in 1953 but for me it somehow has more of a 1930s atmosphere. My copy is a first edition but sadly doesn’t have the dust cover. The setting is a large old house called Anstey, owned by Sir Walter Mortibois who inherited Anstey and is a wealthy lawyer. He’s a very flawed human being though and when he suggested marriage to a very much younger Rose who is the local vicar’s daughter he explained to her that it would be a marriage in name only as he really only wanted someone to be a perfect hostess. He has no interest in the physical side of marriage so there would never be any children, he believes that the human race should just peter out! or words to that effect.

It doesn’t take Rose long to decide that she’ll marry him as she had always hated being poor, but she falls in love with Walter and has to endure an existence with no human contact despite the fact that she really longs for it. Walter and Rose’s relationship is contrasted with that of her sister Lucy who has married for love and although her husband is an impecunious stockbroker (is there such a thing?) they’re a very happy family. Lucy is sorry that her sister has had no children, but she has no idea that Rose is still a virgin.

I really like Vita’s writing style but the story just doesn’t hang together as the love of Walter’s life is an Alsatian dog called Svend, throughout most of the book the reader gets the impression that Svend has always been there, but towards the end of the book it transpires that he’s only three years old. I didn’t like the ending as I wanted to know what happened next, but there was no sequel.

As it happens decades ago I knew a woman who had been put in a similar position. She was a PA to a wealthy businessman, he even had his own aeroplane, however he was a homosexual at a time when it wasn’t so socially acceptable. He explained to my friend that there could be no children but she would have everything else that she wanted in life, she turned him down. I don’t blame her as what a lonely arid life it would have been for her. It took her no time to turn his offer down but I know that that sort of thing would have appealed to some women.

2 thoughts on “The Easter Party by Vita Sackville-West

  1. Interesting book and an intriguing story, which was even back then not all that uncommon, though people didn’t talk about it. The musician-composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein’s wife, who was Chilean, married him back in the late 1940s, knowing that he was homosexual. (Her oldest daughter Jamie found their letters.) He loved her, however, though his sexual passions were reserved for men. They had three children, and while the children were young, they seemed to have wonderfully close family life, though Leonard always had his affairs. It was only later, when his children were in their later teen and college years, that he fell deeply in love with a man, and fully embraced a life with this man. At that point, his wife, though she knew who she married, became terribly depressed and lonely, because he was so seldom a part of her life. She contracted cancer and died when her oldest daughter, Jamie, was in her early 20s.
    I can understand women who might do this, thinking perhaps that they could find fulfillment elsewhere as well. But still, not what I would ever want from a marriage for myself, that’s for sure.

    • Judith,
      Although there’s absolutely no hint that the husband is gay the reader can’t help thinking that that is probable. I think that the ideal solution would have been for gay couples to marry and then the woman wouldn’t have felt so left out of things and lonely. It seems outrageous to me that a man could expect his wife to lead a completely chaste life while he went about his own affairs as my friend’s boss obviously expected her to. Interesting about Bernstein, and very sad for all concerned.

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