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Fay Sheco

I'm halfway through and am happy to find that Sackville-West is a terrific writer. That she should be interesting would not be surprising, considering her biography, and up to this point she has been known to me as a figure in literary history--friend of Virginia Woolf--and as a famous gardener. The quality of the novel is a welcome surprise. This is first rate writing.

I liked the set up, where we meet all of the elderly woman's children first, arranging her future. The characters are strong, even the minor ones. The pace is quick, the language smooth, the evocation of time and place masterful. The eccentricities of Mr. Bucktrout are quite charming. The flights of imagination and memory the old woman is beginning to engage in are almost poetically represented. Obviously, I am enjoying this book.

Angela Young

I love novels that show me something that's true about life, and in All Passion Spent Lady Slane's relinquishing of the life she longs to live, as a painter, rings very true.

There are still, even now, quite a few female artists who have never married or had children and I wonder if that is at least partly for fear that the spark of their passion for their art will be extinguished by necessary domesticity; at least partly for fear that they will never find the time to paint, write or compose if surrounded by other people who need their love and attention? At least partly for fear that, "in such a programme [Lord Slane's life] ... there [would be no] room for a studio".

But the gift that Lady Slane gives her great-granddaughter at the end, is wonderfully redemptive and perhaps prescient about an age to come. The gift Lady Slane makes to her namesake, Deborah, is priceless - and the fact that she didn't leave her great-granddaughter her inherited millions underlines that.

I thought All Passion Spent a beautiful delicate flower of a book. It is poignant and understated and far more powerful than its simply written prose and relatively short length suggest. The characters are wonderfully observed and I agree with Fay about Mr Bucktrout's eccentricities - I particularly loved his name and his pointing of his toe to underline what he says.

Wonderful choice.

PS: Should we post here ... as I have, obviously, about book group books? Or on the Cornflower Book Group bit of the site? Perhaps it doesn't matter ... .


I really enjoyed this book, and thought it beautifully written. I found Lady Slane to be a lady in the true sense of the word, but a lady with much spirit. When she faced her family, I found myself cheering her on, hoping she would follow her own path,rather than what her children wanted or expected. Her interaction with Mr. Bucktrout, Mr. FitzGeorge, Deborah and Genoux, was lovely, and most interesting, and in Deborah's case, very touching. A most enjoyable book to start the Cornflower book club.


I was also unsure of where to post this comment - but it seems more right for here.

Starting with: "It was something of an adventure for Lady Slane to go alone to Hampstead, and she felt happier after safely changing trains at Charing Cross."

I particularly liked this bit of the story, the crossing of the city. Her thoughts interspersed with the names of the tube stops passed was very rythmic - and the spacing of the text seemed to correspond to the distance between stops.

I could almost feel the motion of the car and her body on the seat, her gloved hands in her lap: Leicester Square - Tottenham Court Road - Goodge Street - Euston (mid-paragraph) - Camden Town - Chalk Farm - Hampstead.

These are familiar to me from many trips up and down that part of the Northern Line. - Nancy

Peter the flautist

Well let me put a different and less positive point of view. I felt this novel to be "of its time" and not to have travelled well into the 21st Century.

In Part One I thought that Lady Slane's familly were portrayed as realistically as cardboard cut-outs; indeed I felt as if I was reading an Agatha Christie novel but without any benenfit of a problem to solve. I was also puzzled by an aspect of trivia (and the fact that it concerned me suggests that I was not fully engaged with the novel). In the part where she describes a tube journey to Hampstead (pp 82-85 in my VMC edition published 2007) she misses out Mornington Crescent (while listing faithfully all of the other stops)and then when she arrives at Hampstead the text says " ... descend she did, and found herself in the warm summer air with the roofs of London beneth her...". Given that Hamsptead Underground Station is about 100m below street level and you need to get a lift to the surface this really didn't ring true at all.

Part Two was a significant improvement in the quality of the writing, perhaps because the cast of characters was reduced to that of the principal. In Part Three the final act of Lady Slane, admirable as it is, unfortunately is a bit too obvious for my liking. In the context of early 1930's and with the recent publication of "A Room of One's Own" I think this was an important work. The message that it is a woman's right to become an artist and be true to herself is as important today as it ever was. However I think that for me reading this book, from the position of the significant and positive changes in attitude (and I know the battle is not yet won) towards genuine self-determination for both genders over the subsequent 70 years makes the rather stereotypical characterisation less easy to accept.

To sum up, I won't be reading this book again and I doubt very much if I will read any other of Sackville-West's novels in the future. I will of course continue to acknowledge her wonderful legacy of Sissinghurst. I apologise for the poor quality of my review, I am a humble physicist and not well versed in the art of literary criticism so caveat lector!


Like Donna, I'm a fan of Lady Slane's so I shall come to her defence (and that of her story) in the light of Peter's less than flattering words! I'd disagree with the "stereotypical" accusation - I feel there is a very strong point being made by VSW in the way she portrayed the children and it's crucial to the first half of the story, as is the fact to which Fay alludes: we don't actually meet Lady S. until p.63. As to the ending, as Angela points out, the way she handles the bequest is the sign that she is being true to herself, again the point of the book, so completely 'right'.
On the subject of London travel, I cannot comment!


I was initially amused at the antics of her grownup children. They are a bit cardboard, but their natures of acquisitiveness veiled by shallow concern for Lady Slane unfortunately rang true.
I got a bit fed up the with the long, long sentences stuck together with commas: there is one sentence that ran on for two pages! While the image was lovely, it necessitated a bit of backtracking.
As Lady Slane reflected back on her life, and wished she had been allowed to be an artist, depressed me. She had a very interesting life with her husband. As for being an artist, please! There is art in life, the choosing of table linens, flowers, clothes, menus, whatever. Perhaps I am a bit cynical because I read this immediately after E. H. Young's Chatterton Square, where the egregious Mr. Blackett went on holiday without his wife and postured and preened himself as an artist. That he wanted to be, but 'sacrificed himself' to his marriage.
There are many really wonderful visual images and I can see how it would translate well to a movie. I think Vita's greatest talent is apparent at Sissinghurst. Certainly her "passionate plea for the right of every woman to ..'simply be herself'" is a good one, a right one, but a bit unrealistic at the time the book was written. Perhaps she should have defined what it meant to her to be an artist?

Peter the flautist

The point VSW makes about her horrible children is indeed strong, I just felt that I had relentlessly been hit over the head by the way it was done in Part 1 of this book. Its message is unimpeachable, but I think I would have appreciated it more had I been an adult 50/60/70 years ago


I read the book last night and found myself thinking about Edith-- the youngest, unmarried daughter who finally, in her mid 60's, found a literal room of her own. I wish the parallels between her own life and her mother's had been drawn out. Edith seemed to have given up everything for her parents-- she was neither an artist nor a wife and mother travelling the world in the most interesting circles.
Lady Slane, her daughter Edith, and her great-granddaughter Deborah each stuck out for the choices they made, the role of money and reputation in their lives, and the neverending pressure to not disappoint others.

I found Lady Slane's refusal to see anyone young very poignant. At first I felt that she was being selfish (which, of course, she was)-- but it wasn't just that. It hurt her to see the open happiness (I'll never forget that sentence about that odd word, happy) of youth because she knew the disappointments that would follow in life. It's overwhelming to think of and impossible for a 17 year old.

Mr Cornflower

I thought this in places very good and poignant, notwithstanding a tendency - alluded to by Peter - to slip into Bloomsbury autopilot, using characters as glove puppets. The good bits for me were principally the reflections on how we can be simultaneously identical with and very different from the people we were in the past, implying that for each of us there is, apart from the actual choices that we did make, an infinite range of alternative histories that turn on individual decisions, some momentous at the time - should artistic young Deborah Lee marry smooth, ambitious Henry Holland? -
some apparently trivial - should young Mr Cornflower on leaving university go to London, like most of his contemporaries, or should he because of a chance contact come to unknown Edinburgh, where he meets and marries Mrs Cornflower?

Lyn Baines

I read the book yesterday and I loved the middle section of the book where we have Lady S's thoughts and feelings. I was a little disappointed that she really wasn't a thwarted artist at all as she had apparently never picked up a pencil, but thought VSW was making a point about the potential Deborah had that would never be fulfilled because of the expectation that marriage was her only career. I enjoyed her quiet determination to make her own plans and thwart her selfish family. Even the more sympathetic children, Kay & Edith, were essentially selfish in their wishes for their mother's future. I agree with the post that wanted to know more about Edith & her room of her own. I felt there was a whole novel there of Edith's thwarted life and ambitions.


I am a longtime fan of All Passion Spent, and reading it again over the last few weeks has not disappointed. Lady Slane's grace, calm and thoughtful disposition, her many choices throughout her life, all endear her to me. It is difficult to understand how one so sensitive to beauty and grace could have raised Herbert, Carrie, Charles and William but I suppose the point is that they took after their father.

The new relationships Lady Slane found at the end of her life were charming and hopeful. Her relationship with Genoux remarkable. The home in Hampstead captured and took on the personalities of all six end-of-tale players (Lady Slane, Mr. Bucktrout, Mr. FitzGeorge, Genoux, Mr. Gosheron and, at the end, Deborah) and was clearly a contemplative oasis in the midst of empire life in Britain.

I loved the book in the late 1980's and I love it now.

For me, however, the real interest in the story (this time around) was that I read it immediately following Portrait of a Marriage (by Vita's son, Nigel, about Vita and Harold's marriage). There are moments of incredible clarity about Vita's own thoughts; particularly as they relate to marriage, detachment, family life, personal fears and insecurities, gender issues, feminism, hopes and dreams. Some were glaring misfits with Lady Slane's character and it was at these moments that I thought "and now it is no longer Lady Slane thinking, speaking ... Vita is talking."

But I loved that the two books "fit." Though knowing what Vita's life was like as she was writing All Passion Spent, there were moments of confusion. How could one so consumed by drama, tumultuous lifestyle issues and love affairs write such a "reposeful" book. I have yet to work that out.

I will read more of Vita. And I will go back and read Virginia Wolf (who was not so certain of Vita Sackville-West's skills as an author). Final thoughts ... Vita Sackville-West must have been a brilliant woman. She was clearly disturbed and haunted by core issues, deep questions and thoughts ... but she was unquestionably gifted and brilliant.


I just wanted to pop in to say I've finished more than 2/3 of the novel and am enjoying it very much. My copy is very brittle and I am not able to carry it about with me which has slowed down my reading of it. It is fun to read everyone's comments on it! Wonderful idea, Karen. The cake looks wonderful - I love passion fruit.


I just wanted to pop in to say I've finished more than 2/3 of the novel and am enjoying it very much. My copy is very brittle and I am not able to carry it about with me which has slowed down my reading of it. It is fun to read everyone's comments on it! Wonderful idea, Karen. The cake looks wonderful - I love passion fruit.


I have swept by the comments, as I have the DVD on order from my library. It does not carry the book, unfortunately and the book budget has been eaten up with gifts!!
I have read Alias Grace, but I will borrow it and have another go through. I liked it the first time!
Happy Holidays!


Lyn Baines' comment on Edith's "thwarted life" reminded me of Genoux, who, more than any other character truly lived for and through someone else. The relationship between mistress and maid, the brief allusion to her horrible peasant childhood in France. It reminded me of Noel Streatfeild's Gran-Nanny. A wonderful book, btw, that is worth seeking out.


I wasn't sure what to expect as this is the first book by Vita Sackville-West that I've read and I was surprised that she could pack so much in to the story.

I think it's a novel of opposites: male/female, achievement opposed to desires, wealth or poverty in both material and spiritual matters, passive/aggressive, extroverts/introverts, marriage or independence.

I enjoyed it very much and would like to reread it some time. The names interest me: "Lady Slane", suggests she was, well "killed" or maybe stifled in her life by marriage and family life etc.

Someone else has commented on the parallel between Edith and her mother and I wish it had been developed more as well - Edith's character seems to have been partly defined and then abandoned.


Thank you for suggesting this book - one I had never read previously and one that I probably would never have chosen off the shelf. I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly the final sections, and found her thoughts on old age, its discomforts, compensations and preoccupations to be particularly appealing. My favourite examples - 'The small intimacies of her teeth were known to her,so that she ate carefully,biting on one side rather than the other'; and the pleasure gained by Mr Bucktrout in placing posies in the sunlight of a window sill, and Lady Slane's delighted confirmation that he was,as she suspected, repositioning them to best advantage whenever she arrived.
Lady Slane has spent a life devoted to Carrying Out One's Duty, and her obvious delight in being able to flout this convention in her old age was wonderfully portrayed. Thanks again, Cornflower.

I had never read anything by VSW before though I had tried The Edwardians and given up really quickly as I did not warm to it at all. So I was curious to see what I would make of this one. Happily, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. I do have to agree with the comments that suggest it is slightly flawed -- yes, I also was sorry that Lady S may have fantasized about painting but never apparently laid a brush on a canvas or a pencil on a page -- and I guess this links in to my other quibble about the book getting a bit too preachy about women's lives in places. But I was not too troubled by either of these because all in all it is a remarkable achievement, I think, to write so sensitively and perceptively about old age. My aunt died a few years ago aged 95 and in full possession of her faculties, and I was often reminded, reading this, of the way she came to need to conserve her energy in the last few years. And I loved the relationship with Fitz George -- there was so much sweetness there, and a sense that however much she had missed in her earlier life, this was fulfilling something she did not even know she needed to fulfill. Also as others have said, her interactions with Genoux were wonderful -- Genoux a great character and the whole mistress/servant vs love/loyalty handled beautifully. I was impressed overall with the quality of the writing, and I'm very glad you suggested this because without your input I'd never have read it.


I feel like I have re-read the book this morning by reading these posts and thinking about the book in so many different ways. I really enjoyed the book but overall I found it a bit sad. Lady Slane seemed to have led such a lonely and passive life; as if she was never fully engaged with/by her life or her husband and children. The theory, I guess, is that she (or we) blame this on her not being allowed to become an artist. But I, like some others, didn't find that her desire to be an artist rang true; or that she at the age of 17 even understood what that meant. Is she using it as a scapegoat as she looks back, not totally satisfied, on her life? It was the act reflection, her musings on growing and being old, and old mothers/old children relationships that I found really moving. I'm sure this is largely because I am one of six children whose parents are in their 80s at the stage where we are all wondering what the next few years will bring and how we will deal with it. I hope that having read this book I will be much more sensitive to my mothers (and fathers) point of view.


I've been enjoying All Passion Spent very much - haven't quite finished it, as I read Part 2, which I thought beautifully written, very slowly. I kept getting preoccupied, thinking about the nature of love and the demands of marriage, and being impressed by how succinctly VSW put her/Lady S's thoughts. There seemed to me to be a good deal of truth here - perhaps more Vita than Deborah, but she made me want to think carefully about what she was saying.

Like some of the other readers here, I don't think the young Deborah really considered what would be involved in "being an artist" but I can believe in her being bulldozed into marriage by both Henry and her parents. Her subsequent lack of any attempt to draw or paint I do find convincing - we are told that Henry, the most charming of men, could be a "chill" husband. Anticipation of the weight of his disapproval would be enough to prevent Lady S. from neglecting her other duties or running counter to his wishes in any way.

I disagree with Sherry's comment about making an art of her life - I think it is clear that she did exactly that. Despite her passivity she was obviously a graceful Vicereine and good hostess, her artistic leanings finding an outlet in her preference for arranging the flowers herself, which would be quite unusual in an official household. At the start of the book she isn't a cowed creature - while very passive I think much of her creativity has been channelled into maintaining her stillness and poise. Would anyone else agree?

I don't think I mind the cardboard cut-out children too much. If they had been more rounded they might have been so loathsome I'd have stopped reading. I would have liked more of Edith, however, she does sound like a potential heroine of a book lots of us here would have enjoyed.


I found this booking quite delightful - but only when I was in the mood to read such a slow and quiet book. At other times I found it annoying and wanted more to happen and the pace to pick up a bit. Since finishing the book however, I have been musing over how it must feel to be in such a position as Lady Slane - still in relatively good health, with enough money and the desire to make changes at such a late stage in life. I wonder what I would do?
I enjoyed the descriptions of Hampstead and the heath and I particularly enjoyed reading the narrative and thought responses between Lady Slane and her maid.
I guess Lady Slane was a product of her time and class, what with her dutiful detachment to her children and her husband too, to some extent. But I too don't buy the idea that she could not become the artist she so dreamed of becomming. Many women of her class did, as long as the rest of their lives came first. I found it somewhat depressing, the wistfil thinking of what could have been.
But Edith, the dutiful daughter I think has the best outcome of all. Of all of the characters, it is her who really benefits from all this change. At last she was free, with a place of her own and the freedom to persue her dreams.


I had not thought about the name Slane at all, until I read the comment from BooksPlease. What an interesting thought. It certainly does give the impression that she was "killed" by her marriage.

adele geras

Reading everyone's comments has been so interesting. I agree with much of what most people say. The book is of its period, beautifully written and there were several passages I wanted to underline and remember as I went along. Lady Slane and her relationship with Genoux and FitzGeorge were very well done and the monster children also fascinating. The interaction between Lady Slane and her offspring is a good demonstration of what can happen when you hand over all your kids to the charge of nannies, governesses, etc!! There is perhaps a little too much narrative and inner monologue and slightly too little actual conversation between the protagonists...not quite enough 'show' and a bit too much 'tell' but when it's VSW telling, that's just a nitpick. I am very glad I read it and will run to amazon to order a film I did not know existed. It will be very interesting to see how a book which relies so much on the author's 'voice' translates to the screen. Thanks to Cornflower for suggesting this lovely book.


What fascinating comments! I think it is unusual that everyone appears to have read this book subjectively. The book demands reader participation in this sense.
But going back to one of my previous comments: I have gone on, wondering and wondering just what being an artist meant to VSW. I mean her definition of an artist?
Then, of course, one ponders: What is art? Is my answer to that question, if possibly I could come up with a succinct answer, something that would approximate VSW's idea? See what I mean about being subjective?

 Barbara MacLeod

A wonderful book that is even better the second time around. (I first came across this as a Chivers audio book in the 1980s and see that it is still available on Amazon.)
Furthermore, the passage of years validates the part of the story that moved me 25 years ago: it is to do with what I think is called a coup de foudre. When Mr FitzGeorge jogs her memory, Lady Slane suddenly recalls the incident all those years ago: "Mr FitzGeorge...she remembered the look he had given her.... It was more than a look; it was a moment...." "She felt as if someone has exploded a charge of dynamite in her most secret cellar."
Life being what it is, these sort of things happen. It is a shock because it creeps up unexpectedly from nowhere! On the one hand, it is very human and to be celebrated ... but ultimately, as with Lady Slane, it is put away never to be spoken of.
That, to me, is what this book is about: wonderful small, often transient things that happen along the road in life, things that do not necessarily need to be articulated or, indeed, MUST NOT be articulated. Like a painting, it's the spaces that can have a lot to say!


I read All Passion Spent quite quickly – though sometimes the prose seemed laboured and required some concentration on my part, while at others it seemed effortlessly graceful and flawless. I marvelled at the vocabulary – sigh! If only we still had such fluency with words.
Its message may seem trite to us in the next century, but I imagine when VSW write this, it must have seemed like heresy for women — or anyone — to pursue their dreams instead of their duties, and the roles they were born to according to their class and wealth. And, sadly, this was as true for those in the lowest strata of English society as much as for those in the upper reaches.
But the issue here is very much that of Deborah’s fate as a young, beautiful, upper-class woman, and her lifetime spent as a sort of well-behaved, ornamental wife.
But could FitzGeorge have offered her the freedom she’d dreamed of in her youth? Or would she have been just one more beautiful object in his dusty collection? I think the latter: this, too would have been a flawed, or at least one-way, relationship. FitzGeorge fell in love with her after only a fleeting visit, little more than a glance. She may have rocked his socks, but Deborah completely forgot about him!
She is not a very likeable character, is she? She doesn’t seem to have had much respect for her husband, who, let’s face it, for all his faults as a lover/home handyman type, certainly had things nailed on the career front.
And few of the people in her life seem to have had any real engagement with her at all, including her children. Even Kit and Edith, to whom, we are led to believe, she feels closest, sort of waft lackadaisically in and out of focus. And those to whom she meant anything, Genoux and Bucktrout, are left totally adrift by her death — I still worry about Genoux’s fate!
I think the passion of the title is nothing to do with Deborah’s loving a man, but everything to do with having the gumption, guts and grit to have done what she wanted instead of fluffing about.
And, of course, that was all a lot easier said than done, wasn’t it? How would Vita and Virginia have been so gorgeously artistic had it not been for the men they married and the money they had? A bit hard to get a room of one’s own when you’re taking in ironing or doing the mending for a living!


Staying awake through the lazy and sensuous prose was my main challenge - and so often she made her point and then tediously said it again for a dozen pages. This is gloop - pretty well written, though occasionally laboured - but gloop nonetheless. The idea of Lady Shane as an artist is nonsensical, and the whole construct is artificial like a puppet show. If she'd had the perception we are meant to assume (though without any evidence, except for a tendency to regretful nostalgia), or the spirit of a brussels sprout, she'd have done SOMETHING with her life apart from from letting it go. She doesn't achieve anything in her final years - which is fine, she's old and weak, but let's not credit her with any rebellion or artistic achievement. The title is odd, because I'm not sure that there ever was any passion (except perhaps in Kay's collecting, a substitute for family life). Vita S-W should stick to the gardening, for which she had real genius. Sentimental gloop.


And, G.Cat observed: “...she isn't a cowed creature - while very passive I think much of her creativity has been channelled into maintaining her stillness and poise.”

I can see this and think that was probably VSW’s intention - but, the description of it just yanked to the forefront a scolding remark remembered from childhood (probably made by my grandmother), “Contain yourself!!” I think Lady Slane was / had to be very skilled at “containing” herself.

A.Geras observed: “There is perhaps a little too much narrative and inner monologue and slightly too little actual conversation between the protagonists...not quite enough 'show' and a bit too much 'tell'...”

When I first posted about the passage that I “felt” the most, I was actually leery about saying anything just how much I skipped over, but with A.G.’s comment, I will now admit that I flipped through many, many pages of the book - looking for something else (besides the rhythm of the tube stops) to grab my attention.

Also, I was not ready to be finished with the Fitz-George character - thought that a very abrupt ending to him. Was the text getting too long - did things need to be moved along. Bucktrout was unfinished - too many questions left unanswered. I guess he was there only to implement her having this house.

Did I miss something - or was there ever an explanation to her having first viewed this house in Hampstead and why it had made such an impression on her. I probably missed that when flipping pages.

As far as “cardboard characters” are concerned, aren’t they a staple of books of the time period? They are certainly encountered more than once, being used to set up a situation or to explain how a main character comes to be where we find them.

I can't say I "enjoyed" it but am glad to have read along with the group though I doubt I'll follow up with any more VSW novels. I much prefer reading about her.


Thank you so much for choosing this book Karen - I read No Signposts in the Sea earlier in the year and was far from convinced, but loved All Passion Spent. Mostly for the exquisite writing - VSW managed to make every sentence beautiful without being laboured, and conveyed human nature without slipping into cliche or saccharine writing.

This compares quite well with The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence - in fact, a few people told me to read All Passion Spent after I read TSA - but while one could admire Hagar in TSA, she was just a selfish, bitter old woman, really. Lady Slane is dignified, gently humorous (as her first line of dialogue suggest - see also p.60 in Virago eds. "Oh yes... my interests and occupations. Quite. Go on, Herbert.") and - well - very British...

I thought the family were well drawn - not deep potraits, but the novel would be far too cluttered if every character had been given too much background. As it is, VSW offers important views on how women entered marriage, and the sacrifice this entailed, without being too 'shouty' about it. Thought the middle section dragged a tiny bit - I did prefer the sections with more dialogue, and Mr. Bucktrout is a joy.

One more thing - did anyone get the idea that she hadn't 'lifted a pencil', except from Glendinning's intro? I think this does her a disservice...

 Barbara MacLeod

I found the "not quite enough 'show' and a bit too much 'tell' ..." an interesting concept. I can think of much writing where this would apply! However, this book I would (gently) disagree. It is basically reflective, both when it comes to the main character and her recollections and also in the various topics that are raised as the story goes along. E.g. in marriage who pursues the career? One, other, both?
A question: in her reflections, did Lady Slane have any regrets? I know so many people who spend a lot of emotional energy looking over their shoulder thinking "if only I had done this .... or that". I don't think she did and therefore for me, it isn't a sad book.

Curzon Tussaud

This was an easy and pleasant read, but I felt that the plot was an astonishing cop-out. The inheritance from FitzGeorge would have equipped Lady Slane to fulfill anything she desired either for herself or for others, and for her to dip out of that responsibility was irritating. It made me feel that I had wasted time reading about her if she couldn't be bothered to do something worthwhile with this unexpected legacy.
Someone picked up on the names VS-W chose, and I second that: Genoux (knees), Buck + Trout....... and did anyone think that the androgynous gust which blew in for half a page or so was happenstance, or tipping the cap to VW's Orlando?

Angela Young

Sherry writes about subjective readings of this book ... and I agree, I read it subjectively. But if a book is going to touch me then it must be a subjective touching, mustn't it?

I'd also like to suggest that the ability to paint, write or compose is (obviously this is a subjective point of view too) a very fragile thing before it is tried and tried and tried again. And if you live in a society that expects other things from you as a woman, as Lady Slane did, then finding the courage to renounce those things in favour of something that you fear may never work means you are quite likely to renounce the desire to paint rather than the things society expects you to do. I agree with BooksPlease's suggestion that by marrying Henry Slane Lady S's passion to paint was slain. (A subjective interpretation of your comment!) And that was what touched me about All Passion Spent.


I think, after further thought, that the mood VSW was after was something like that achieved in Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, which is a tremendous novel - but elegiac reflection is hard to pull off without sentimentality or longeur.


I acknowledge the faults in this book -- they were numerous -- and yet I find myself returning to it when I'm supposed to be doing something else (like work). The image of a young woman who has just begun to imagine that she might have a calling to do SOMETHING who's caught in a web of social expectation from which she cannot extricate herself is compelling. "All Passion Spent" seems like more of a meditation or rumination than a novel. I'm fine with that.


Looking through the comments I see my first one appeared without my name on it for some reason -- I'm the one who referred to the 95 year old aunt. Fascinating to see the range of responses here. Generally -- apart from Mr Cornflower and Simon -- it is chaps who have not liked it. Is it a "woman's book", then?

Peter the flautist

To respond to Harriet's 'Is it a "woman's book" then?' question; for me (male) then absolutely not. I say that in the personal conviction that there is no such thing as a woman's/man's book, except perhaps in those that exhibit extreme stereotyping, but these are likely to be found unreadable by most members of either sex! My reason for a lukewarm response to the book was simply connected with the quality of the writing. I find the subject matter of considerable interest and there are aspects of my own life which resonate with the theme of this book, but I found only the characterisation of Lady Slane to be strong.


Towards the end of Part One I was looking forward to more of Lady Slane's biting humour, and eager to see how her relationship with her children, especially Edith, would develop.

With a sinking feeling I read the long, ponderous, almost 400 word sentence closing Part One: a foreboding introduction to the sentimental bleakness of Part Two. The unmarried Deborah simply seemed a soiled immature young girl with whimsical fancies but no gumption. I wish Vita had portrayed a vital young vicerine who reached out to people and had grit and a real passion for life in this section.

By the end of the book Lady Slane was firmly lodged in my opinion as a boring woman who was too lazy to take advantage of her unique opportunities living in distant lands to broaden her horizons.

I was also perplexed that all her children would turn out so shallow. Surely at least one child who'd been raised in various lands would have grown up with a broad world view.

"Soft black draperies" aptly describes Lady Slane.

While I did enjoy Vita's writing style and lyrical sentences, the characters simply were not real enough, with the exceptions of Mr Bucktrout, Mr Gosheron and Genoux.


Still not finished but loving it for the most part. The story has the feel of a fairy tale--not wholly believable but entertaining and instructive. I'm certain I'll always remember Bucktrout's entrance, a frivolous piece of a mannered minuet. Toe pointed! And Genoux! Don't we all wish for him in our lives? That Lady Slan could recognize the joy of being in the company of these men--I think she refers to this as the best social moments of her life--was heartwarming and exciting. Heartening, too: What awaits us at the closing scenes can be superlative. Thanks, CF, for prompting me to retrieve this volume from my bookshelf. And to all: happy holidays and good times in 08.


I first came across this book when I worked in a well-known bookshop in the 1980's - I was responsible for the Virago stands and Vita's books were all re-published then under the Virago label. Simply love Lady Slane - my all time favourite phase, "I have considered the eyes of the world for so long that I think it is time I had a little holiday from them." I have the BBC series on video with the wonderful Dame Wendy Hiller but has anyone seen it in DVD format for UK can only find US format

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