JUNE 6: Violet Trefusis (1894-1972)

The English
author and socialite Violet Trefusis was born on this day in 1894. She is most
well-known for having been the lover of fellow writer Vita Sackville-West.

Photographer unknown, Violet Trefusis climbing through a window c. early 1900s (x).

Violet was born as
Violet Keppel on June 6, 1894 in London, England. Her father George was a notable
Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army and her mother Alice was a famous socialite and the mistress of King Edward VII. There were many
rumors that Violet’s biological father was the Conservative politician William
Beckett, but nothing substantial ever came of the gossip. Violet’s early years
were spent at the family home in London’s Portman Square. She was only four
when her mother began a relationship with King Edward VII and “Bertie,” as he
was called, visited the house around tea-time almost every day until his death
in 1910.

Throughout her
life, Violet published two memoirs and nine novels between 1920 to 1940; twelve of
her writings remain unpublished. Her active social life and friendships with a
multitude of writers and artists guaranteed Violet a place in the fictions of
writers such as Nancy Mitford, Cyril Connolly, and Harold Acton. Most famously, the character
of Princess Sasha in Virginia Woolf’s
Orlando: A Biography
was based on Violet. 

Artistic renditions of Violet Trefusis by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1926) and Sir John Lavery (1919) (x)(x). 

Despite her
prolific writing, she is most well-known today for her relationship with Vita
Sackville-West. Violet married her husband Denys Trefusis in 1919, but theirs was a sexless relationship and the real love of
her life was Vita. The two first met at a party when Violet was only ten-years-old and Vita was twelve. After bonding over their love of books, Violet began pursuing Vita and the two wrote letters back and forth
throughout their adolescence. The relationship began in earnest when they crossed paths once more in Italy and fourteen-year-old Violet confessed her love
to Vita, even going so far as to give her a ring. Unfortunately, familial duties and geographic distance frequently interrupted the courtship and their eventual marriages put strain on the
relationship.

In 1920, rumors
of Violet and Vita’s affair had reached a fever pitch and their two husbands,
Harold and Denys, interrupted the lovers’ vacation in France to bring their wives
home and restore their reputations. The final crack in the relationship
occurred when Harold lied to his wife Vita, telling her that Violet had not
been faithful. Vita then left for England, with Violet being sent off to Italy
and being forbidden to write to her estranged partner. The affair ended in
flames, although the two women were ultimately able to become friends when they
met again in 1940.

You can read the “breathtaking” love letters between Vita and Violet here

Although Violet
also had an affair with the sewing machine heiress Winnaretta Singer, it was
always Vita who she considered to be the love of her life. The grand affair was
chronicled by both women in their writings. The love story in Violet’s novel Broderie Anglaise is based on her
experiences with Vita. Following the death of her parents, Violet retired from her
artists’ circle and became the overseer of L’Ombrellino, the large estate in
Florence once owned by her mother. It was there where she died on February 29,
1972 from complications of malabsorption disease. Her ashes were placed
alongside the remains of her parents. Violet’s turbulent life and love affairs
were presented in the 1990 BBC mini-series Portrait
of a Marriage
.

-LC