Sackville-West, a noted English poet and novelist, was married to writer and politician Harold George Nicolson, but both carried on same-sex relationships throughout their marriage.
Sackville-West’s most famous paramour was Virginia Woolf, but she was deeply involved with Violet Trefusis, a friend from childhood, for much of her life.
Though both married to men, the two ran off together several times to France, starting in 1918. While there, Sackville-West dressed as a man when they went out together.
Pressure from their families, society gossip and Sackville-West’s affairs with other women took their toll on the relationship, but it was Vita learning Trefusis was still having relations with her husband that ended things.
Though their romantic relationship was over, they remained devoted friends until Sackville-West’s death in 1962.
Sackville-West’s novel Challenge began as a collaborative effort—in fact, the male character’s name, Julian, was Sackville-West’s alias when passing as a man in Paris with Trefusis.
“She fought for the right to love, men and women, rejecting the conventions that marriage demands exclusive love, and that women should love only men, and men only women,” said Vita’s son, Nigel Nicolson, in 1973.
“For this she was prepared to give up everything… How could she regret that the knowledge of it should now reach the ears of a new generation, one so infinitely more compassionate than her own?”