Review of the book A Note of Explanation by Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)
This book had no choice but to be extraordinary. It was written by an extraordinary 20th century woman with a personality, life, background and beginnings which exceeded the ordinary in every way. She had the distinction of being born at Knole House- a Kent courtyard castle in reality- which is not only the largest private house in England but also is considered among the most treasured houses of England with the added distinction of being a calendar house. It is reputed to have 365 rooms- one for every day of the year- and there are other indicators as well which will be expounded upon if you tour this mammoth marvel. Also the nuptial home where Lady Anne Clifford came to live with Richard Sackville, her years there became another obstacle to her eventual obtainment of her inheritance of many north England castles. Centuries later, Vita brought Lady Anne Clifford to the reading public by having her diary published among her own various writings which included a book about the Sackville family history- a daunting task.
A Note of Explanation is a very understated title for a remarkable and very delightful little book. It’s latest incarnation is brought to us by Chronicle Books, just this year, with beautiful illustrations by London artist Kate Baylay and a very well written afterword which explains how this book came to be not only a wonderful children’s book but a treasure for anyone (of any age) fortunate enough to own this beautifully bound book. It is a much larger replica of the original inception, which is part of the acclaimed authors mini-library housed in Queen Mary’s Dollhouse at Windsor Castle! (Located among the state apartments, near the George IV Tower, along the North Terrace of the Upper Ward.)
This non-fiction fantasy (or should I say fantastic story?) was originally commissioned by Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein who was a cousin of George V- Queen Mary’s husband. All the books in this doll house library are teensy little books- to scale!- which cannot be read by the human eye without a strong magnifying glass! All the books are authentic for their purpose and include such authors as Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad and the poet laureate, Robert Bridges among many. Interestingly, Vita’s subject became the doll’s house itself with a very special visitor and eventual inhabitant. Many people have written and said that the book is actually autobiographical in a very whimsical way. It is definitely a thinly fictionalized self-portrait with a magical story line meant to entrance children and perhaps, surprise adults.