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Violet Keppel Trefusis (June 6, 1894 – February 29 1972) was an English writer and socialite. Most of her fame derives however from her lesbian affair with Vita Sackville-West, which was featured under disguise in Virginia Woolf's Orlando.
She was the daughter of courtesan Alice Keppel, a mistress of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. Although she bore this surname until she married, it was all but certain that George Keppel was not her biological father. A banker by the name of William Becket seems the more probable choice, but her mother had taken several lovers during that time, and there are several candidates. Throughout her childhood Trefusis was witness to her mother's numerous lovers, all prominent powerful men of the day.
Violet lived her early youth in London, where the Keppel family had a house in Portman Square. When she was four years old, a new figure appeared in her life: Albert Edward (Bertie), the Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VII on January 22, 1901. Although both Albert and Keppel were married, Alice Keppel had become one of Bertie's favorites, and one of his two final mistresses, the other being humanitarian Agnes Keyser. He paid visits to the Keppel household in the afternoon around tea-time (while her husband, who was aware of the affair, was conveniently absent), on a regular basis till the end of his life in 1910. Discretion was a hallmark of Alice Keppel.
In 1900 Violet's sister, Sonia, was born (this time in all probability a real Keppel).
Her affair with Vita Sackville-West Edit
Violet Trefusis is best remembered today for her love affair with the wealthy Vita Sackville-West, having figured in Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando. A romanticised biography of Vita, Violet appears in it as the Slavic Princess Sasha, under a seductive layer of fantasy and irony.
This was not the only account of this love affair, which appears in reality to have been very much more strenuous than Woolf's enchanting account: both in fiction (Challenge by Vita and Violet, Broderie Anglaise a roman à clef in French by Violet) as in non-fiction (Portrait of a Marriage by Vita with extensive "clarifications" added by her son Nigel Nicolson) further parts of the story appeared in print.
And then there are still the surviving letters and diaries written by the partakers in the plot (apart from those of the two central players also those from Alice Keppel, Victoria Sackville-West, Harold Nicolson, Denys Trefusis, Pat Dansey,...).
- When she was 10, Violet met Vita (who was two years older) for the first time. After that they went to the same school for several years, and soon recognised bond between them. When Violet was 14, she confessed Vita her love, and gave her a ring.
- In 1910, after the death of the King (Edward VII), Mrs Keppel made her family observe a "discretion" leave of about two years, before re-establishing themselves in British society: upon returning the Keppels moved to another address (Grosvenor Street).
- By the time Violet returned to London, Vita was soon to be engaged to Harold Nicolson and frequented Rosalind Grosvenor. Violet made clear that she still loved Vita, and got engaged herself to make Vita jealous. But all Violet wanted was to get rid of hypocrisy, especially the hypocrisy of marriage (and all that went with it in those days). This didn't stop Vita from marrying Harold (October 1913), who, in his turn, didn't stop his homosexual adventures for marriage.
- April 1918 Violet and Vita refreshed and intensified their bond. Vita had two sons by now, but these were left in the care of others when Vita and Violet left for a holiday in Cornwall. Meanwhile Mrs Keppel was busy arranging a marriage for Violet with Denys Trefusis. A few days after the armistice Vita and Violet went away to France for several months. Because of Vita's exclusivity claim, and her own loathing of marriage, Violet made Denys promise never to have sex with her, as a condition for marriage. So, in June 1919 they married. The end of that year Violet and Vita made a new two-month excursion to France: ordered to do so by his mother in law, Denys got Violet back from the south of France when new gossip about Vita's and Violet's loose behaviour began to reach London.
- The next time they left, in February 1920, was to be the final elopement. Vita might still have some doubts, and propably hoped that Harold would interfere. Harold did arrive with Denys in a two-seater airplane, which led to heated scenes in Amiens. The climax arrived when Harold told Vita that Violet had been unfaithful to her (with Denys). Violet tried to explain and assured her innocence (which was true in all likelihood). Vita was much too upset and in rage to listen and fled away saying she couldn't bear too see her at least for two months. It was after six weeks when Vita finally came back to France to meet Violet.
- Mrs Keppel desperately tried to keep scandal away from London, where Violet's sister, Sonia, was about to be married (paving her way to become, together with Roland Cubitt, a grandparent to Camilla Parker Bowles. That meant Violet spent much of her time in 1920 abroad, clinging desperately to Vita via continuous letters.
- In January 1921 Vita and Violet made their final journey together (to France) where they spend next six weeks. At this time Harold threatened to broke the marriage if Vita still continued her escapes. When Vita returned to England in March, it was practically the end of the affair. Violet was sent to Italy, and from there she wrote her last desperate letters to their mutual friend Pat Dansey; she was forbidden to write directly to Vita. At the end of the year Violet had to face the facts, and start to build her life from the scratch.
A few years, and some postludes, later it becomes increasingly clear that Violet's concepts of romantic love lived to the fullest in an accepting social context were not to come true. The more traditional concept of an upfront marriage with hidden extra-marital adventures to complete it - as it had been lived by Mrs Keppel, and would continue to be lived by Vita and Harold - proved immensely stronger for many years to come.
An essential difference between Mrs Keppel and Vita seems to be that Mrs Keppel made a trade of never distressing her lovers (and their marriages), thus advancing her family socially and financially, while Vita caused broken hearts more than once: for her marriage was rather the refuge she could always come back to after periods of abandonment.
As a side-note it might appear not so surprising that, notwithstanding some general changes in social context by that time, the inherent unresolved tensions of all three models (Violet's, Mrs Keppel's and Vita's) - including mothers taking sides in view of a socially acceptable solution - reappeared in the Diana - Camilla - Charles triangle - surely not so exceptional in this respect.
The two former lovers met again in 1940 after the war had forced Violet to come back to England. They continued to keep in touch and send each other affectionate letters.
Further Reading About the Affair Edit
There have been extensive writings on the affair, many reflecting what is believed to have been the mistreatment of Trefusis by Sackville-West. Most reflect that Trefusis was completely engulfed and overwhelmed by the affair, as was Sackville-West, but that it was Sackville-West who was in control, ultimately. Jullian Phillipe wrote Violet Trefusis: A Biography, Including Correspondence with Vita Sackville-West, which was released in paperback in 1985. Other writings on the affair include the Jullian Phillipe and John Phillips book, The Other Woman, A Life of Violet Trefusis, and Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter by Diana Souhami. 
... still half a century to go Edit
From 1923 on Violet became one of the many lovers of the Singer sewing machine heiress Winnaretta Singer, daughter of Isaac Singer and wife of the homosexual Prince Edmond de Polignac, who introduced her to the artistic beau-monde in Paris -Violet conceding more and more to her mother's model of being socially acceptable, but at the same time not wavering on her sexuality.
Singer, as Sackville-West had, dominated the relationship, although not in a bad way it seems. The two were together for many years, and seemed to have had a healthy and happy relationship. Trefusis' mother, Alice Keppel, did not object to this affair, most likely due to the wealth and power of Singer, and the fact that Singer carried on the affair in a much more disciplined way. Trefusis seemed to prefer the role of submissive, and therefore fit with Singer well, as she was typically dominant and in control in her relationships. Neither were completely faithful during their long affair, but unlike her affair with Sackville-West, this seemed to have had no negative effect on their relationship.
In 1924 Mrs Keppel bought L'Ombrellino, a large villa overlooking Florence, where once Galileo Galilei had lived. Eventually, after her parent's death in 1947, Violet would become the chatelaine of L'Ombrellino, till the end of her life.
In 1929, Denys Trefusis died, quite estranged from his seemingly unfeeling wife. After his death, Violet published several novels, some in English, some in French, that she had written in her medieval "Tour" in Saint-Loup-de-Naud, Seine-et-Marne, France - a gift from Winnaretta.
- biographical notes and list of her most important books
- Italiano:Nerina Milletti, Due Violette a Firenze. (In Italian).
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