Contested Wills

Reclaiming the Daughter's Inheritance in Vita Sackville-West's The Edwardians

in Volume 19 (2007): Issue 1 (Mar 2007): A History of Her Own: History and the Modernist Woman Writer. Guest Editors: Mark Llewellyn and Ann Heilmann
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Vita Sackville-West received her copy of Orlando from Virginia Woolf on the day of its publication in October 1928. The significance of this act came to represent far more than a literary gesture from one writer to another. An exuberant and unorthodox biography of Vita and her ancestral heritage, Orlando finally enabled Woolf to capture an enduring impression of the woman who had been both her muse and her lover. For Vita Sackville-West, however, Woolf ’s literary offering represented more, even, than this most inspired declaration of affection. For a daughter denied all rights to property inheritance under the laws of male primogeniture, Woolf had provided all that the courts had removed; possession of an ancestral past and access to a familial present. The literary sorcery of a novel that could subvert the sexual identity of its protagonist could, in the same moment, undermine all such legal process and restore Vita/Orlando to her beloved ancestral home. Writing in reply to Woolf, Vita’s expression of gratitude for reuniting her with the memory of Knole, the Sackville-Wests’Kentish estate, is complicated by a remaining sense of grief for her lost inheritance