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Sackville-West, Vita) Evelyn Irons.



 From the Sackville-West / Evelyn Irons Archive
In 1931, Evelyn Irons, as the Women's Page Editor of the Daily Mail, was sent to cover a poetry reading by Vita Sackville-West of her poem The Land. Afterwards, the two women met and there was an immediate and mutual attraction.  They arranged to meet again for lunch.  Two weeks later, Evelyn journeyed to Vita's estate, Sissinghurst to spend the night. It was to be the beginning of a year-long love affair, and a life-long friendship. The following items document that important relationship.
  1. Irons's Admittance Letter to Sissinghurst. 1931.
ALS from Vita to her Uncle Charlie asking for all hospitalities to be extended to Evelyn during her visit. Docketed in pencil by Charlie: Please admit to gardens etc. free / Sackville. Charlie conveyed this back to Vita, who forwarded it to Irons in the franked envelope also present. Irons filled all free space with her spidery scrawled pencil notes, which continue onto a few additional present leaves.
2. Coppard, A.E. Nixey's Harlequin. London: Jonathan Cape, (1931).
8vo.; colorful paper-covered boards, black cloth spine, printed spine label; light wear; spine label chipped.
First edition. A gift from Sackville-West to Irons, inscribed on the first blank: E. from V. Dec. 1. 1931.
3. Sackville-West, Vita. "The Planetarium." Proofs pulled from The Nation. N.d. but ca. 1929.
Single leaf, long galley; corrections in ink.
Sackville-West's corrected galleys to this article about the Berlin Planetarium, mostly likely composed during her husband Harold's diplomatic posting there in 1929. With seven corrections by her ink, correcting facts and rethinking word choice. She poetically incorporated quite a few facts about astronomy while offering constructive criticism of the star show she had witnessed. The last paragraph conveys some personal philosophical thoughts of the moment as well as a fleeting glimpse of what it must have felt like on that particular evening:
Then we come out into the lit streets of Berlin; the snow has ceased to fall, and instead the night sky twinkles like an inferior and sobered reproduction of the sky we have been watching. Why, we reflect with a heightened impatience, should human beings who have hoisted themselves out of their limitations even to a conception of the infinite, be contented with reality when falsehood can be so much richer and more entertaining?
4. Sackville-West, Eddy. Autograph letter signed, "Eddy," to "My dear Evelyn," November 6, no year but likely 1930 (Eddy was in this particular nursing home in November of 1930), 1 leaf, 2 pages, Preston Deanery Hall, Northampton.
Vita's cousin "Eddy" (1901-1965), as he was known to his friends, the inevitable heir to her beloved Knole,  the Sackville ancestral seat, was a music critic, poet and novelist.  Evelyn first became acquainted with him in the 1920s when he frequented the London bookshop in which she worked, well before she met Vita. This letter was written from a nursing home where Eddy had gone for a rest cure, likely in 1930 but possibly during another year.  He appears to be counseling her on possible nom de plumes for her fiction-writing career, which would eventually fail. He  also discusses his health regime in a humorous tone:
 My dear Evelyn,
 I don't think "David Graham" at all good. You must be taking any number of people's
 names in vain with that.  "Roger Stoneleigh" (pronounced Stonely) or "Wilfrid  Stutterton"
would be much better.  Do change!
 Behold me in the bed once graced by Lady Muriel Paget, drinking 24 glasses of milk a
 day, accompanied by 24 prunes, having steam baths & stomach massage.  I am already
 heaps better; Cameron is really a wonderful man.  
 I read & write all day & attempt to listen to the wireless through earphones which buzz &
 are far too loud.  But I am quite happy. Only I don't like the thought of London leaving
 me behind.  
 Don't leave me behind, Evelyn dear, & do write to me again.
 Yr loving,
5. Sackville-West, Vita. Telegram to Irons. August 3, 1931.
During the time of her affair with Vita, Evelyn worked as the Woman's page editor of the Daily Mail. In that capacity she was periodically sent to cover Paris fashion shows.  Apparently while she was gone on one of these missions, Vita had been ill. This telegram was sent as an assurance to Evelyn that she was "very much better".  
6. Sackville-West, Vita. Telegram to Irons, signed in type, "Orlando." December 17, year illegible, likely 1931.
VSW concisely transmits logistical information to Irons in this telegram, similar to many such telegrams sent to plan their weekend trysts together. Characteristic of their rather clandestine affair, she did not sign her own name to this telegram, instead signing off with her code name of "Orlando"-not a particularly difficult code to crack.
7. Sackville-West, Vita. Les Baux Memorabilia. N.d. but acquired 1931. Including the following:
 Photographically illustrated guidebook, in printed wrappers, published in Lyon by
 Editions G.L. Arlaud in ca. late 1920s.  
 4 photographic postcards, with Les Baux locations printed on the verso.
 small green printed folder containing eight commemorative photographic cards of Les
In 1931, Vita and Evelyn secretly journeyed to Provence together, stopping to admire the caves and ruins at Les Baux.  These souvenirs must have been kept by Evelyn as a reminder of the romantic holiday spent there.
8. Sackville-West, Vita. Manuscript poem, "Down to the lake in the winter moonlight…" N.d., but c.1932. Unpublished.
On one leaf of lined paper, in pencil, 4 stanzas, 16 lines.
This poem was influenced by the passion between Irons and VSW, the pervading atmosphere of Sissinghurst, and the ultimate demise of their intimate relationship. It was Irons, in love with another woman, who eventually broke off the affair. This was the only time VSW was left by a lover, rather than leaving a partner herself. While a number of poems Vita had written about her affair with Evelyn were published in her Collected Poems, Volume I, (Hogarth Press, London, 1933) this untitled poem was not.
Down to the lake in the winter moonlight
We ran on frozen turf;
Friends, with the wild duck crying
Above the shallow surf.
Strange, to b friends in the moonlight,
Blown by the same north gale;
Did the wild duck in the shallows and willows
-No summer nightingale,-
Part us again into strangers,
Frozen within our hearts,
And trick our course like the albatross
Through seas with different charts?
The north wind blew us together,
The cry of the wild duck came
And blew us apart into strangers
With a different aim.
9. Sackville-West, Vita. Printed Photographic Greeting Card, "Sissinghurst Castle, Kent," inscribed. Ca. 1933.
3 x 5 inch black and white printed photo with printed caption; mounted on 4 x 6 inch unprinted card; ink stain to upper left tip, not affecting photograph.
A greeting card inscribed on the recto by Sackville-West: With best wishes from both Vita & Gwen. This inscription is unusual, because, in coming from both women, it acknowledges what was, at the time, a secret affair between Vita and her sister-in-law, Gwen St. Aubyn (who had been sent to convalesce at Sissinghurst after an auto accident). The irony of the photograph's subject-Vita's tower-would not have been lost on Evelyn. Not only was it the focal point of Sissinghurst (and still is), but it was the private place where Vita brought all of her lovers.
10. Sackville-West, Vita. Autograph postcard with a portrait of Sackville-West, signed, "Love V.," to Irons, postmarked Cranbrook, no year legible but c. late 1930s.
In this postcard whose recto reproduces William Strang's portrait of Sackville-West, entitled simply "Lady with a Red Hat," Sackville-West offers Irons gardening tips and closes with these lines: "Sorry I didn't think of telling you about Keats & the Queen. She is the most adorable woman-the Queen, I mean!" Sackville-West  addressed the card to Evelyn at her cottage in Buckinghamshire, where she lived from 1936-1945.
11. Sackville-West, Vita. Photographic Christmas Card, "Primroses at Sissinghurst," inscribed. N.d. but likely ca. late 1930s.  
3 x 5 inch black and white photo; mounted on 4 x 6 inch printed card.
Sackville-West's Christmas card, depicts, according to the caption, "Primroses at Sissinghurst," and bears the header, "A Happy Christmas." Inscribed by Sackville-West on the verso, With best wishes from V.
12. Irons, Evelyn. Feminine Profiles: Vita Sackville-West, C.H. c.1947.
8 typescript leaves, rectos only; occasional annotations in ink.
Corrected typescript of this newspaper article Iron's wrote for her "Feminine Profiles" column in the Evening Standard, ten years after her love affair with Sackville-West had ended. At that time she returned to Sissinghurst to visit Vita, bringing her partner Joy-the woman for whom she had left Sackville-West. Irons made several changes to this article in two rounds of revisions, deleting a handful of words and phrases, moving a clause, and writing in a new sentence. Typical of celebrity profiles that appear in today's leading periodicals, this one opens with a description of the setting, moving from there to Sackville-West's physical appearance and clothing, through her interests (such as gardening) and accomplishments (primarily her writing), to her ancestry and contemporary manner. It is full of admiration, but is devoid of the warmth and intimacy one might expect given their relationship.
13.  Sackville-West, Vita. Autograph postcard signed, "Much love, V.," to Evelyn Irons, Thursday, (postmarked December 22, 1953); forwarding address added in another hand; the verso reproduces a photograph of Sissinghurst garden and statue of Dionysus.
VSW acknowledges correspondence she had received from Irons about her experiences as Royal Reporter for the Evening Standard on the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's and Prince Philip's World tour.
14. Sackville-West, Vita. Autograph letter signed, "Your loving V.," to Evelyn Irons, April 18, 1959; in pencil on one leaf of VSW Sissinghurst letterhead, recto only.
While their affair was long over, the friendship between Vita and Evelyn had continued.  By this time, Evelyn was living in New York and working as the New York Editor of the Sunday London Times. She would make occasional trips back to England to visit friends.  This letter was written at a time when VSW had been quite ill:
I ought to have answered your letter before now, but I have been (and still am) ill in bed with a beastly thing called Virus pneumonia.  It doesn't seem to have any connection with pneumonia as one usually thinks of it, but just gives you a raging temperature and makes you feel awful.  With any luck I ought to be better by middle of May and hope you may still be here by then because I should love to see you.  Perhaps you could come for a night?
 It is maddening missing all the spring. People come and tell me the garden is looking
 lovely-and I can't get out to see it!
 Forgive pencil, but I can't find my pen-and forgive stupid letter but I really am ill!
 Your loving
15. Irons, Evelyn. Manuscript Notes on Vita's relationship with her husband. Composed on the verso of a printed invitation to a gallery preview in Southhampton, New York, n.d., ca. early 1960s.
This note was found in Evelyn's copy of Harold's published diaries The Later Years 1945-1962, inserted between page 414 and 415, May-June 1962, the point at which Harold records Vita's death. In this note, Irons expresses her opinions on Vita's and Harold's relationship:
I see it now-the devotion of a strong woman to a basically weak-even a silly-man.  They both have it. They would rather both have a feminine man than a masculine woman (in a way)
16. Maxwell, William. Typed note signed, "William Maxwell," to Miss Irons, n.d. but docketed by Irons, "received 29 May / 62, one leaf of 16mo. New Yorker note paper.
Evelyn's account of meeting Virginia Woolf in 1932 and giving her a tour of the Daily Mail printing offices was published by the New Yorker in 1963. In this note, Maxwell acknowledges the article; in full:
Dear Miss Irons: we like the Virginia Woolf piece very much and want to publish it. Your, William Maxwell." Irons further noted, in purple ink, "So now who's afraid of?" riffing off the title of Edward Albee's sensation Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
17. Irons, Evelyn. Notes for Victoria [Glendinning]. N.d. but ca. 1981.
15 leaves, typescript carbon, with Irons's autograph header, "Notes for Victoria."
Typescript carbon of Irons's chronicle of her affair with Vita Sackville-West, composed in response to questions submitted to her by Victoria Glendinning in researching her biography Vita.
Although many of the key points in this account were used by VG in her book, there are details which were not. In the published biography Glendinning focuses, naturally, on Sackville-West, and the events of the relationship. Irons offers the reader a firsthand account of the other side of the story; what it had felt like to be Sackville-West's lover and to have been swept up into her  charismatic, eccentric, aristocratic and unusual life.  For example:
 "Sometimes Mrs. Staples was there to "do" for us and sometimes we did for ourselves.  
 Vita was like Rose Macaulay-could hardly accomplish the cooking of an egg in its
 shell-but I arrived one summer evening to find that she had cut the first Sissinghurst
 asparagus and was steaming it in a syrup tin of boiling water over a Primus stove in the
 I needn't tell you how romantic it all was that summer, with the nightingales singing in
 the thickets all round and the lake shining in the dusk and the rose-red tower springing
 straight up into the sky.
It also documents, in detail, the events which ended the affair. Discussed in Ms. Glendinning's biography, further information appears here. It was a seminal event in Vita's life: Evelyn was the only woman to ever leave Sackville-West. In all of her other affairs, Sackville-West had been the one to do the leaving. Also included are details regarding the sad and complicated story of Olga Rinder (also known as Olive Rinder), a little known artist who had been at one time, Irons's lover and briefly the third part of a ménage a trois with Irons and Sackville-West.

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