He stared at her very intently. She is young, he thought; not more than 25 or 26; but beyond her obvious youthfulness of years there is a curious mix of ages: caught at certain angles she looks almost childish,… but caught at other angles she looks fashionable and sophisticated, able to cope with life that may have treated her well or harshly.
Scantily dressed in brown satin, from which her arms and shoulders emerged rounded and gleaming, without a single jewel beyond their own transparent lightness, she enjoyed some quality which made her appear even more naked than she actually was. She had, he noticed, a trick of sitting with her hands clasping either shoulder, as though by her crossed arms she defended her breast from assault, and leant her cheek against her own shoulder, as though no flesh but her own had the right to caress her flesh.
observations: So isn’t Vita Sackville-West full of surprises. When I read The Devil at Westease I was surprised by how conventional it was. The Dark Island is quite different: it starts out like Enid Blyton (whom I did mention in relation to the other book, and who also writes about a Secret Island) and turns into Anais Nin, with a very strange sexual feeling to it: there is strongly implied Lesbianism and some sadism. According to James Lees-Milne the book is ‘an astonishing revelation of the sadistic practices of love-making’ and the theme ‘much disturbed’ her husband Harold Nicolson.
The heroine, Shirin, seems a lot more attractive to VS-W than to the reader. All men fall in love with her, but she has an untouched and manly soul, and is apparently close to illiterate. Eventually she marries a man who is hereditary ruler of a small island (something on the lines of Sark one assumes). The marriage is not very happy, though improved when a woman called Cristina comes to live with them in a form of ménage a trois (Cristina very definitely there for Shirin rather than the cruel husband). But then everything goes wrong again. It’s very overblown, and although in general sex in books doesn’t bother me at all, there was something horrible about this one (not, in case you are busy rushing off to order it, detailed descriptions of perversions – just a slimy atmosphere). I still can’t decide what this bit means: ‘He moved closer towards her, following the line of his physical desire. She, experienced as she was, recognised the movement and shrank from it.’
Everyone has deep and important feelings which they start to express then fade away, no-one is ever honest or tells each other anything properly. There is just one moment where VS-W seems to see this and almost makes a joke. In a moment of deep emotion Shirin says to her suitor “if you really want to marry me you must….”
“Yes, must what?”
“Throw away that tie.”
James Lees-Milne, who was plainly very fond of Vita Sackville-West, is one of those friends who writes as her champion, and seems to have no idea how eminently dislikeable he makes her sound. Or perhaps that’s just me. I find her snobbery and ruthlessness very unattractive, and could do without the endless discussions of who is common, who hates democracy, and who is really worthwhile. But then, I have managed to read quite a few books by her.
The picture is from the Dovima is Devine photostream.