Read Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter by Diana Souhami Online


Alice Keppel, the married lover of Queen Victoria's eldest son and great-grandmother to Camilla Parker-Bowles, was a key figure in Edwardian society. Hers was the acceptable face of adultery. Discretion was her hallmark. It was her art to be the king's mistress and yet to laud the Royal Family and the institution of marriage. Formidable and manipulative, her attentions toAlice Keppel, the married lover of Queen Victoria's eldest son and great-grandmother to Camilla Parker-Bowles, was a key figure in Edwardian society. Hers was the acceptable face of adultery. Discretion was her hallmark. It was her art to be the king's mistress and yet to laud the Royal Family and the institution of marriage. Formidable and manipulative, her attentions to the king brought her wealth, power, and status. Her daughter Violet Trefusis had a long tempestuous affair with the author and aristocrat Vita Sackville-West, during which Vita left her husband and two sons to travel abroad with Violet. It was a liaison that threatened the fabric of Violet's social world, and her passion and recalcitrance in pursuit of it pitted her against her mother and society. From memoirs, diaries, and letters, Diana Souhami portrays this fascinating and intense mother/daughter relationship. Her story of these women, their lovers, and their lovers' mothers, highlights Edwardian - and contemporary - duplicity and double standards and goes to the heart of questions about sexual freedoms....

Title : Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter
Author :
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ISBN : 9780312195175
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 368 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter Reviews

  • Kelly
    2019-03-27 14:45

    Although the book is entitled “Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter,” the book really focuses mostly on Violet, and the years of her torrid affair with Vita Sackville-West is the climax that the book builds to and falls flat away from. Souhami’s mission here is very simple: to rescue Violet Trefusis from her perceived rôle as a selfish, designing woman, the inconsiderate homewrecking, husband breaking, unreasonable hussy who leaves ruined lives in her wake. It’s an old stereotype, of course, and one that is especially not new to the British psyche- lest we forget, Mistress Anne Boleyn wasn’t so very long ago. In fact, this whole mission of Souhami’s reminded me of Antonia Fraser’s work in The Wives of Henry VIII, where the whole book is meant to rescue them from them being identified with the horrible singsong about their deaths by making them, you know, humans. Souhami follows a similar path here when trying to vindicate her subject, which is probably why this book really does need to be subtitled, “Or: Or, Just Kidding, Mostly Going to Talk About How Mrs. Keppel Screwed Up Her Daughter,” because it is through this mother-daughter relationship that we are meant to sympathize with and understand who Violet became. Which is totally understandable, because it’s very effective on a modern audience. Step One: Indict “Society”- easy enough to do. As we open, we’re immersed in the Edwardian society of Violet’s youth, where appearances are everything, and truth nothing. Morality is preached everywhere, and yet the Crown Prince (and then King) Edward and his lot get away with plenty of shady things. Her mother is at the apex of this society, the unofficial queen, the longtime mistress of a King whose eye had notoriously wandered for years before he met her- a position that she retained until his death. One was expected to be exactly so, and Violet’s mother always expected for Violet to fulfill those expectations. (Step Two, add some dirty money and a class problem) After all, that was an acceptable way for a woman to make some money in those days in a way that many husbands were okay with (especially if they had their own financial troubles)- find a rich lover who gives expensive presents. Acting the role that men expected of you paid. In Mrs. Keppel’s case it paid extremely well, especially for a relatively lower class- by the standards of the aristocracy- woman who could never have dreamed of moving in such circles otherwise. (Step Three, add some Freud.) We see how Violet is raised with “Kingy,” as the reigning important presence in her house (the whole household revolved around his schedule)- despite the fact that she has no idea who this man is or what his relationship is with her mother (and she gets in trouble the one time she questions her mother about it), and especially despite the fact that she still had a living father, a man who seemed to be completely dominated by Kingy’s presence in their house, making him fade completely into the background or forcing his absence entirely. Her mother becomes the entirely dominant parent- and an unattainable one at that. Violet and her sister both grow up believing that they will always fall short of their mother in everything to do with femininity- a world that her mother has down to such perfection that there is no point in trying for her kind of success. Children were convenient social currency to complete her triumph as a woman and helpful to divert guests at tea-time, no more. So, overall, life as Violet knew it was lies and hypocrisy, where she was lonely, absolutely starved for any kind of affection (she did not get along with her sister Sonia), and the habits of men ruled all. So, all of that wasn't great for her. Enter the young Vita Sackville-West. According to Souhami, life could not have invented a better figure of hero-worship and confused teenage love for Violet if it tried. Vita was a few years older than Violet, a tall, dark, and silent creature whose first meeting with Violet was quite the Darcy moment (“he danced only four dances although more than one lady present was without a partner!). Vita came from a similar background as Violet- the same domineering, heavily present mother with rich lovers who paid her bills, the same lonely, isolated childhood around people who didn’t understand her, the same aristocratic background. Vita also had just enough glamor in that her family was Really Aristocratic, and she was besides something of a celebrity, as her family had been in the news due to a high profile, scandalous lawsuit over the inheritance one of Vita’s mother’s lovers had left her- Violet was not immune. Souhami pretty much makes it sound like the only thing to do at this point was stand back and watch explode.So, at this point, I had a few problems with the book that bothered me enough to mention. One was her Angel Child Corrupted narrative of Violet, playing the Eternal Victim card right from the very start. To be fair, her life did suck in a way that conveniently lends itself to casting this whole thing in fairy-tale terms (absent father, wicked might-as-well-be ‘stepmother’, oppression and not being allowed to bloom into her beauty), nonetheless it definitely made me question her rendering of Violet. Souhami is utterly incapable of blaming Violet. Overdetermined rescuing can be as bad as vicious blackening of character. My other major problem at this point was that it felt like Souhami made Violet into an inevitable lesbian by Freudian and political rules- I didn’t like this because a) it seemed like she felt that she had to make excuses for Violet’s lesbianism- which, why? Souhami does seem to write about a lot of women and lesbians, so maybe this is just part of her method, or maybe this is just the way it works in feminist theory, I don’t know, and b) I hate that Freud has to be the reason for everything that we do sexually.Turns out, I got smug a little too soon. I am definitely not cold-hearted enough not to be affected by what happened in the last two-thirds of the book. It was just heartbreaking what happens to this girl. Violet fixiates on Vita from pretty much the moment she meets her- as it turns out, she’s a person who makes her One True Love her entire life, to the exclusion of absolutely everything else. Violet and Vita met at a young age (ten and twelve respectively), and Violet herself said that if she did any studying, learned languages or literature, it was because she thought Vita had an interest in them and she wanted to impress her. Indeed, Violet became fluent in French, the aristocratic language Vita always had an attachment to, and through that attachment became a dedicated Francophile, considering France her real home country. It was hard not to see in even that her love for Vita. France was the country she and Vita escaped to several times. Vita Sackville-West had a real tendency to take over the stories of anyone’s lives she entered romantically for the duration of her relationship with them. She expected total loyalty, wanted total obsession for love to feel real to her, despite the fact that she never reciprocated that feeling for long. This was a pattern that got started with Violet. It was from Violet that she got her idea of what romantic love should be like. The dominant version of Violet and Vita’s affair and near elopement in the public mind was the one that Vita herself had written in her ‘Confession’, published by her son Nigel in Portrait of a Marriage encased within the overall story of his parents’ love affair. This enrages Souhami- that Vita's love for a woman must be subservient to her relationship to a man. In this version, Vita seems to claim innocence, that she felt as though Violet seduced her at the beginning, and then as the affair goes on, she paints herself as the one being always willing to run away, and Violet as the one hesitating, and it is Violet who commits the ultimate betrayal that sends Vita back into the arms of her husband. Now, Vita does not wholly “blame” Violet- she admits some of her own selfishness in the affair, some of the times she treated Violet, Harold or her children badly, her complicity in the “bad” tricks that she and Violet got up to and how much she loved their alternate life where she got to live as a man. But she does gloss over the other side of her who was afraid of what Violet represented. This was the side of her who wanted (as she later admitted) for Harold to wrest her away from Violet as violently as possible, who was still in love with her husband. Her son’s commentary certainly creates the impression that while both ladies were passionate, it was Violet who turned things destructive in not letting Vita go when Vita wanted out. In Vita’s version, we hear about her split love for Violet and Harold, her love of England and her children, her writing career, her family, everything that she had to lose. In Souhami’s version, we get the other side- what Violet gave up to be with Vita, and she comes out the more affecting story. Violet is pictured as a bright young girl with many suitors. As the daughter of the King’s mistress, she was sought after and flirted with many. But while that was the case, she never gave up her love of Vita, even when Vita flirted and married and had children elsewhere. In her affair with Vita, she is unrepentantly passionate, magnetic, dynamic, a wonderfully seductive writer whose desire to give her love leaps off the page. Here she is in 1918, just after her ‘real’ affair with Vita began:"Heaven preserve me from littleness and pleasantness and smallness. Give me great glaring vices and great glaring virtues, but preserve me from neat little neutral ambiguities. Be wicked, be brave, be drunk, be dissolute, be despotic, be a suffragette, be anything you like, but for pity's sake be it to the top of your bent. Live fully, live passionately, live disastrously. Let's live, you and I, as no one has lived before."and here she is again in 1919: “You are my lover and I am your mistress and kingdoms and empires and governments have tottered and succumbed before now to that mighty combination.”Throughout the affair, we see her mother, particularly, grow more and more disapproving- Violet’s unacceptable affair (far too public!) was threatening her social position, after all. Her sister refuses to associate with her after she gets engaged to a man with a socially conservative family- Violet’s mother actually pays her to stay abroad until the sister is safely married, lest she create another scandal. The man she ends up getting married to is Denys Trefusis and she treats him horribly. He honestly seemed like a pretty nice guy who just wanted to come home from the War and settle down with a nice girl to raise nice babies and instead came home to a woman who said stuff like this about him when he tried to salvage their relationship:“He is abhorrent to me with his tears and his servility. I told him I looked upon him merely as a jailor… I look on men as animals.”Eventually, he turned nasty, and she lost her ability to stand up to him as well. The whole affair is just one disaster after another with only all too brief idylls of calm in between. And Violet wants more- she always wants more. That was the thing with her. The affair between Vita and Violet would have been allowed if they kept it quiet and lied about it. Violet couldn’t live like her mother and accept that. She felt that Vita would slip away from her if they did anything less than everything and she was right. It’s hard to watch someone believe that hard in a fairy tale and have them get slapped down again and again.When the affair was over, it got WAY worse. The Violet that we know from the first two-thirds increasingly disappears in the last third. Exiled from England by scandal, we watch her slowly slide into becoming exactly the sort of person she never wanted to be- a parody of that person, really. An empty shell- someone who does everything her mother wants her to do, in the way she would’ve wanted to do it. Her mother became her best friend, in fact, the two of them writing long love letters to each other in their later years. She comes alive again in brief flashes- always for something to do with Vita. Then she sinks away into oblivion. She just… collapsed. She frittered away her writing talent on cliched social comedies and small articles on fellow writers, and only extremely rarely ever went back to her native England. She did have another house she built- an isolated place with a tower and old, inconvenient walls- much like Vita’s Sissinghurst. That seemed like the only bright spot in her increasingly sad, broken down shadow of a life. Souhami rushes through the last 45 years of her life in less than 100 pages, and I’m sort of glad she did. It was hard to watch.I felt exhausted when I finished this book- all the energy was drained out of me just trying to summon up the courage to finish out what could only be a miserably depressing death for someone who deserved much better. Seriously, I adore Vita, but Violet Trefusis was a hundred times braver than her. Souhami convinced me of that- Violet charged into the fight with everything she had, holding nothing back. How many of us can say that we’ve had the courage to do that for something over and over again for years? Violet herself sadly commented to Vita on the unfairness of it all when she said that Vita had a home, children, a career, a husband who loved her to go back to after all the mess was over- Violet on the other hand was left with nothing. With that sort of passion redirected away from another woman and towards a famous man, we’d have dozens of biographies celebrating her as an inspirational Muse, the woman who bravely sacrificed for her Man when she could have done something better. Instead, since she was a lesbian, she gets ridiculed, put down, called unrealistic and selfish. It is an injustice that Violet's story has been told the way it has for so long. And, in the end, I’m glad that Souhami told me about it.

  • BrokenTune
    2019-03-13 13:04

    I read this book in parallel with Nigel Nicolson's Portrait Of A Marriage and the below review combines my thoughts on both books. (Review first published on BookLikes.)Let the cat fight begin!In the red corner, Diana Souhami, defender of Violet Trefusis. In the blue corner, Nigel Nicolson, son of Vita Sackville-West and representing her point of view.No, I'm not going to try and write this as a ring report, but for the most part of reading both in parallel it has been as if I was watching a boxing match - with few punches held.Both books focus on the lives of the two women at the time of their relationship. Although both books are good general biographies, it is really the relationship between Vita and Violet that gets all the attention. Of course, it is Vita's own manuscript - her detailed confession of the relationship with Violet - locked in a drawer which Nicolson discovered after his mother's death that caused Nicolson to write his book and so the focus on this part of Vita's life is entirely justified.And it is a fascinating story - one which would even find its way into Orlando, Woolf's adoring mock biography of Vita - full of jealousy, confusion, passion, and struggle for control."Behind Violet’s love for Vita was contempt for the hypocrisy of marriage as she had seen it practised by her mother and the King. For herself she knew marriage would be a meretricious show. She wanted proof that Vita was dissembling too."(Diana Souhami - Mrs Keppel and Her DaughterSo, on one hand we have a book trying to vindicate Violet and attributing the misery of her emotional upheaval to Vita, on the other we have Vita crediting Violet's manipulation as the cause of of her emotional dependence on Violet."Then, when I had finished, when I had told her how all the gentleness and all the femininity of me was called out by Harold alone, but how towards everyone else my attitude was completely otherwise – then, still with her infinite skill, she brought me round to my attitude towards herself, as it had always been ever since we were children, and then she told me how she had loved me always, and reminded me of incidents running through years, which I couldn’t pretend to have forgotten. She was far more skilful than I. I might have been a boy of eighteen, and she a woman of thirty-five. She was infinitely clever – she didn’t scare me, she didn’t rush me, she didn’t allow me to see where I was going; it was all conscious on her part, but on mine it was simply the drunkenness of liberation – the liberation of half my personality. She opened up to me a new sphere. And for her, of course, it meant the supreme effort to conquer the love of the person she had always wanted, who had always repulsed her (when things seemed to be going too far), out of a sort of fear, and of whom she was madly jealous – a fact I had not realized, so adept was she at concealment, and so obtuse was I at her psychology."(Nigel Nicolson - Portrait Of A Marriage)As a result, neither comes across as particularly likeable and I found myself feel rather sorry for their husbands, Denys Trefusis and Harold Nicolson, who went to great lengths to both enable Violet and Vita to conduct their relationship and at the same time protect them from the destructive nature of their passions.

  • Elizabeth
    2019-03-09 12:45

    I hadn't heard of Violet Trefusis until I watched the mini-series adaption of "Portrait of a Marriage"; but after that, I wanted to know everything about her. Arguably Vita Sackville-West's affair with Virginia Woolf has become more famous over time than her affair with Violet, but I think that the Violet/Vita relationship is so much more meaningful: it's a truly grand, sweepingly epic, and heartbreakingly tragic tale. It's impossible not to feel sympathetic for both Violet and Vita -- they both make mistakes and have flaws, but there is a true love between them that could never be fully realized due to the constraints of the time. Souhami does a fantastic job of weaving together Violet's world with her mother's, starkly comparing and contrasting their love affairs and they way they chose to live their lives. Truthfully, at first I thought I would skim over most parts not about Violet/Vita, but right away I was sucked into all of the Edwardian high class drama and I truly enjoyed everything this book had to offer.

  • pam
    2019-03-05 14:49

    Having just read Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicolson, I must say I was rather disappointed by Souhami's literary style: essentially a series of short sentences reporting miscellaneous sundry facts with very little in-depth analysis. However, the end of the book gives a more profound view of the life and motives of Violet so I am giving this book a grudging 3 stars. In any case, it is fascinating to read the two books consecutively, first one sees Vita's point of view and then one sees Violet's. Two amazing women in every sense of the word!

  • Caroline
    2019-02-26 15:44

    I had hoped to enjoy this book more than I did. You would think a book about Edward VII's Royal Mistress Alice Keppel and her daughter Violet's passionate and destructive lesbian love affair with Vita Sackville would be a fascinating, revealing, utterly engrossing read. And yet somehow this book never really connected with me. I felt like Diana Souhami never really scratched the surface of her subjects, never really made an effort to delve below that glossy veneer. There was absolutely no attempt to understand Mrs Keppel or Violet, no analysis of their lives and actions. Whereas normally you would say biography brings a personality to life, this book just painted a picture. And not an especially attractive one, at that!Mrs Keppel comes across as an unfeeling mother more concerned with appearance, propriety and material possessions than her daughter's feelings; Vita is a thoroughly selfish individual, using and dropping lovers at whim, unwilling to commit to Violet yet continually keeping her dangling with promises of love and fidelity and freedom; and Violet is naive, emotionally unstable, irresponsible, selfish as a child. Quite an unsympathetic cast of characters all round. World Wars One and Two seems to just waft past them all with no impact or effect. Souhami's tone is so distant and flippant than one finds it impossible to determine whether she finds her subjects appealing or utterly ridiculous. For myself, the latter, most decidedly so.

  • Adrienne
    2019-03-22 15:08

    I'd read Violet and Vita's letters to each other a few years ago, so I knew all the basics, but it was nice to get Mrs. Keppel's story as well. Violet and Vita always strike as so sad, because it's so much misery and heartbreak and emotional cruelness and desperation, all because they couldn't be together - both because society wouldn't recognize a lesbian couple, and because Vita couldn't bring herself to leave the safe haven of her husband and her home, no matter how much she loved Violet. The power of society and overbearing mothers.Finishing it, I just kind of feel sad, because Vita really was Violet's once in a life time love, and she never really found anything to replace her, just kind of ended up becoming a parody of her mother and all of the values Violet had hated.

  • Cindy
    2019-03-10 12:46

    What a relief to finish this book! I need a page turner, please. I was attracted to the pretty cover and intrigued by the story of Alice Keppel who was the last mistress of King Edward VII (son of Queen Victoria),and her daughter Violet, a lesbian whose series of affairs caused a lot of distress for her mother.Alice scorned her mother's life style and longed to live an open life, free of Edwardian hypocracy. Trouble is, she was extremely self-centered, and very cruel to others. The book descends into an unabashed soap opera.The "great love" Violet's life was a volatile 3 year affair with Vita Sackville-West whose husband Harold was a homosexual. Harold and Vita proclaimed how much they loved each other, but also used the marriage to hide their sexual preferences. In retaliation Violet married a Denys Trefusis and this is the mess they had:"Somewhere in Violet's perception of social behavior was the idea that marriage was a socially acceptable cover for socially unacceptable sex. It was the fulcrum of those Edwardian house parties, the cover used by her mother, the King, Harold, Vita. Denys Trefusis was oblivious to the emotional intricacy of his postwar fate. He did not know how he was to be used. He had had an awful war, fought in the battle of the Somme, endured years of slaughter, threat and fear. He was emotionally precarious, not strong or well. Mrs. Keppel wanted him to make her daughter respectable. Violet wanted him not for himself but to appease her mother and provoke Vita into breaking with Harold so her love would be for her alone."In the following note that Lady Sackville was Vita's mother:"Gossip swelled. Ozzie Dickinson told Lady Sackville that Violet wanted to separate Vita and Harold. Violet told her she intended to marry Denys who had not got a penny, that Harold was stifling Vita's writing career, that Vita was not in love with him. Vita told her Harold was too sleepy and quick to be a good lover. Harold told her Violet was trying to destroy his home life by constantly ridiculing it. Lady Sackville told Harold that Violet was pernicious and amoral. Vita made Violet promise not to have any sexual exchange with Denys. And Violet told Vita how she loved her overwhelmingly, devastatingly, possessively, exorbitantly, submissively, incoherently and insatiably." Oy vey.Mrs. Keppel had a second daughter named Sonya who became the mother of Camilla Parker-Bowles who was of course, the big love of Prince Charles's life. The author draws many comparisons between the old time and modern day relationships.

  • Melissa
    2019-02-28 10:40

    Full of gossip, scandal, sex and royalty, I had really high hopes for this book. And though it was a good book, it wasn't a great book. It was just missing something.It's the story of Alice Keppel, "official" mistress to King Edward and her daughter, who had quite the passionate love affair with Vita Sackville-West, among others. With the scandal and the passionate love letters and the sham marriages, you would think this would be quite the page turner. It sorta was. I think what was missing for me was more on the flexible sexual conventions of the day. Oscar Wilde and his trial is mentioned, but only briefly. I wanted to know more about a society that knew exactly what was going on, officially didn't approve, but still accepted these women--and enjoyed their company. The whole book lacked context--and when understanding the attitudes towards homosexuality in the early part of last century, that's something you really need.

  • Caroline
    2019-03-18 09:50

    Didn't finish this one, read about 3/4s.I picked this up because I had so loved Portrait of a Marriage, and Violet Keppel was Vita Sackville-West's first lover. Her mother, Mrs. Keppel, was the mistress of King Albert. The first third of the book reads wonderfully as a history and biography of high society under Victoria and then Albert's reign. But the subsequent focus on Violet can't make her obsessive personality and lack of self awareness interesting. There are few things less interesting to me than Rich People Driven Mad With Love. Oh, to have the luxury and privilege to do nothing but send nutty love letters all the time and have romantic drama. Myself, I have to make a living and have actual interests and therefore have many better things to do.

  • Tiziana
    2019-03-24 11:50

    4/4.5 - Poor Violet! I couldn't help but admire her for her passion, her despair, her convictions and her hatred for social conventions and hypocrisy. My admiration only faltered to be replaced by pity when she ended up becoming the parody of her mother and of what she had loathed of the Edwardian society. It was understandable though; it was all a façade that hid a broken woman.I also wanted to appreciate Vita's character, lifestyle and kind of marriage with Harold but for that I need to read more from her point of view.As for Alice Keppel's affair with King Edward VII - it was predictably boring, at least it didn't last for too many pages.

  • Willa Grant
    2019-03-07 17:41

    An accurate but pretty depressing book. It seems that Vita Sackville-West's "Portrait of a Marriage" was clearly a self-serving look at the situation between Violet & Vita. Violet Keppel was a complete lesbian & very in love with Vita. Unlike Vita she really didn't swing both ways & was not going to be OK in a hetero marriage. She was also very much her mother's creature. Aside from making me feel sorry for Violet this book was a fascinating look into Victorian morality & the major players of that time.

  • Erika Nerdypants
    2019-03-27 11:41

    "My heart was more disgraceful, more alone, and more couragous than the world has known. O passer-by, my heart was like your own" Words of Violet Trefusis, who was tragically in love with Vita Sackville_West. God help us to love wisely or not at all.

  • Jessica
    2019-03-09 12:42

    Honestly, I never thought this sort of stuff would strike my fancy... But I'm diving into the books about this time period and lesbianism with some sort of green gusto. Like I never knew any of this stuff.

  • Elli
    2019-03-24 16:59

    Tough to read: Much like watching a freight train crash in slow motion. Can't help but feel pity for Violet Trefusis for losing her head over Vita Sackville-West. Mrs. Keppel's pragmatist approach was no doubt more rewarding for her family.

  • Dona
    2019-03-13 11:05

    I couldn't make it through this book but it wasn't for lack of trying .... I wanted to get more insight into Mrs. Keppel's life after her lover Bertie died but this book bogged along and put me to sleep.

  • Annie Garvey
    2019-03-22 17:04

    I think often about Queen Alexandria laughing about King Edward and his mistress Mrs. Keppel as they road together in a carriage. Both were well cushioned.

  • Kimberly
    2019-02-27 12:45

    Those Edwardians and their offspring were a randy bunch!!!

  • Wurtsboroboy
    2019-03-05 10:52

    Not really what I was expecting.

  • Duncan
    2019-03-10 11:58

    Interesting and fills in a lot of gaps on these people. Sad life though

  • Ann
    2019-03-12 11:04

    one of my favorites books about Violet Trefusis, a must read for anyone interested in her. Violet deserved better in life, poor thing.

  • Tracey
    2019-02-26 09:40

    Fascinating read . The insertion of sections of letter from vita and violet were so open and instrumental to the plot!

  • Chandler Kuck
    2019-02-26 15:47

    If you have read Orlando or are interested in royals and their mistresses, this book is for you. More for those interested in relationship between Vita Sackville-West and Violet Keppel.

  • Laura
    2019-03-16 15:47

    The Keppels and the Sackville-Wests make for some great reading. The family stories are more the stuff of novels rather than non-fiction, but the intrigues and affairs couldn't be more real. Unfortunately Souhami is far too biased in her view toward Vita Sackville-West for my taste. And her writing style is often choppy and abrupt. On the other hand, it's hard to ruin a story as good as the one she is handed by these two families.