The acclaimed biographer Sir Michael Holroyd has written a fascinating tale, A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux ) about the lives of the famous Bloomsbury women: Vita and Virginia, the hidden life of Eve Fairfax and the life-in-novels of Violet Trefusis. A master craftsman of the biography, Holroyd offers his reader the intensity of a various and diverse love stories and intrigues; and the the literary achievements and mystery of lost letters and unread manuscripts.
Eve Fairfax, whose patience apparently enabled her to sit for eight years for Rodin’s wonderful bronze bust, was Lord Grimthorpe’s fiancée. Always a fiancée, never married, she would spend her long life assembling “Her Book.”
Violet Trefusis is introduced as Grimthorpe's illegitimate daughter, the result of his liaison with Alice Keppel, mistress to the Prince of Wales and thus another "secret." What is not so secret is Violet's life-long love and longing for Vita Sackville-West. Suffering from their own pedigrees and those imposed by British Edwardian Society, the volatile liaison between these two brilliant, rich free spirited young women whose relationship ultimately succumbed from to the intrusions of their formidable mothers.
Violet, Holyrod tells us, was “a chronicler of the human heart;” her novels “were the negotiations she made between this love and the rest of her life.” Virginia Woolf steps onto the Villa Cimbrone stage through her alliance with Vita, and in doing so introduces the Bloomsbury crowd “who played with time, fantasy and the transfer of identities.”
Holroyd is always in charge of the measured chaos he details in these real life stories. However, in a rather bold stroke, he quietly announces his own "secret" at the end of this exemplary work: A Book of Secrets will be his last book.
His final paragraph thus becomes exceedingly important, not only to understanding his current cast of characters but as an overview of his own role as a biographer. “Finally they will all meet one another, explain what had been inexplicable and learn with much amazement and the shaking of heads what they never knew before: and then, after a silence, the sound of laughter. So everything will be understood and what had been grief, and the avenging of grief, will at last be transmuted into the comedy of life.”
Bravo, Sir Michael Holroyd, on this elegant exit.
— Linda James
(Thank you, Linda!)