All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West

Sentimentality, choices not taken and hope merged in this little classic.

After the death of her husband, Lady Slane, in her late eighties, moved out of the London family home, to the surprise of her children, and decided to spend her remaining days away from the bustle and clamor of her old life.

As she settled in an old house in Hampstead, she reveled in her freedom, met acquaintances who understood her plight and spent her days looking back on the past; marrying at seventeen and becoming a wife to a viceroy. Under the shadows of her garden, she contemplated wistfully about her old dreams of becoming a serious painter, the promise of youth and the freedom to take what one wants.

Vita Sackville-West, like her friend V. Woolf, echoed the inevitable ends of women in this thoughtful novel. By way of nostalgia, she expressed the ruminations of a life found wanting. She spoke further of how easily women's lives (or selves) could be swallowed up in the wake of marriage, children and social responsibilities, their true desires forgotten and set aside as they get caught up in a current much stronger than them.

I was a bit surprised for it wasn't what I expected all along. Noting the tone of wryness in the beginning, I thought it'll be a satire. Then there was a hint of romance so I waited for it. But as I read further on, I discovered it was more than that.

The book felt like it drew out thoughts I had philosophized in my head from time to time, thoughts I could not articulate very well and Vita wrote them in a plain easy manner with such delicate metaphors. She seemed to peek inside our souls and laid open our regrets and yearnings.

I liked immensely the more eccentric characters like Edith the youngest daughter (whose view of the world is rather on point but she struggles in making people around her understand), Mr. Gosheron and perhaps even Mr. Bucktrout, last name and all.

In the end I was left with a dull melancholy mixed with a flicker of hope but it was negated somewhat with subtle bristling affectation as the last dialogues were uttered. Filled with wisdom and musings, it allows us to see the world with its sometimes inaccurate perception, with its facades that hid broken spirits.

As a novel that engages a lot of discussion on women, All Passion Spent is a good companion to Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes.


In 1860, as a young girl of 17, Lady Slane nurtures a secret, burning ambition—to become an artist. She becomes, instead, the wife of a great statesman and the mother of 6 children. Seventy years later, released by widowhood, and to the dismay of her pompous children, she abandons the family home for a tiny house in Hampstead. Here she recollects the dreams of youth, and revels in her newfound freedom with her odd assortment of companions: Genoux, her French maid; Mr. Bucktrout, her house agent; and a coffin maker who pictures people dead in order to reveal their true characters. And then there's Mr. FitzGeorge, an eccentric millionaire who met and loved her in India when she was young and very lovely. It is here in this world of her own that she finds a passion that comes only with the freedom to choose, and it is this, her greatest gift, that she passes on to the only one who can understand its value.

Title: All Passion Spent
Author: Vita Sackville-West
Genre: Classic, British Literature
Published: May 1983 (first published 1931)
Publisher: Virago
Rating: ♨♨♨♨ (4 cups - Contemplative and wry, resonating well the plights of women.)