Violet Trefusis

Violet Trefusis

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Violet Keppel, the elder daughter of Alice Keppel, was born at 2 Wilton Crescent, London, on 6th June 1894. Keppell was the mistress of Edward VII but it was later established that her real father was Ernest William Beckett (1856–1917), the Conservative MP for Whitby.

Violet Keppel educated by a French governess and at Helen Wolff's school for girls, in Park Lane. Other pupils at the school were Vita Sackville-West and Rosamund Grosvenor. Violet described Vita as "tall for her age, gawky, dressed in what appeared to be her mother's old clothes."

While at school Vita began an affair with Rosamund, who was 4 years her junior. Rosamund wrote to Vita: "Promise not to sit next to me tomorrow. It is not that I don't love you being near me, but that I cannot give my attention to the questions, I am - otherwise engrossed." Vita recorded in her diary "What a funny thing it is to love a person as I love Roddie (Rosamund)". Later she wrote: "Oh, I dare say I realized vaguely that I had no business to sleep with Rosamund, and I should certainly never have allowed anyone to find it out".

Vita Sackville-West then turned her attention to Violet. They spent a great deal of time at Vita's house, Knole House, near Sevenoaks. They also went on holiday to Pisa, Milan, and Florence together in 1908. The girls lost contact for a while but when they were reunited a few years later, the relationship became even more intense. Violet wrote in her autobiography, Don't Look Round: "No one had told me that Vita had turned into a beauty. The knobs and knuckles had all disappeared. She was tall and graceful. The profund, hereditary Sackville eyes were as pools from which the morning mists had lifted. A peach might have envied her complexion. Round her revolved several enamoured young men."

The love affair came to an end when Vita Sackville-West married Harold Nicholson in October 1913. Violet told her: "The upper half of your face is so pure and grave - almost childlike. And the lower half is so domineering, sensual, almost brutal - it is the most absurd contrast, and extraordinarily symbolical of your Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality."

Vita was briefly engaged to Lord Gerald Wellesley before he married Dorothy Ashton. She had a more serious attachment to Julian Grenfell, who was killed during the First World War. In April 1918 she resumed her affair with Vita Sackville-West. Vita later wrote: "She lay on the sofa, I sat plunged in the armchair; she took my hands, and parted my fingers to count the points as she told me why she loved me... She pulled me down until I kissed her - I had not done so for many years."

The lovers travelled around Europe and collaborated on a novel, Challenge (1923), that was published in America but banned in Britain. During this period her marriage came under great pressure but as T. J. Hochstrasser points out: "However, this crisis in fact proved eventually to be the catalyst for Nicolson and Sackville-West to restructure their marriage satisfactorily so that they could both pursue a series of relationships through which they could fulfil their essentially homosexual identity while retaining a secure basis of companionship and affection."

In March 1919 Violet wrote to Vita Sackville-West to explain that she was being forced to marry Denys Robert Trefusis, an officer in the Royal Horse Guards: "It is really wicked and horrible. I am losing every atom of self-respect I ever possessed. I hate myself.... I want you every second and every hour of the day, yet I am being slowly and inexorably tied to somebody else... Sometimes I am flooded by an agony of physical longing for you... a craving for your nearness and your touch. At other times I feel I should be quite content if I could only hear the sound of your voice. I try so hard to imagine your lips on mine. Never was there such a pitiful imagining.... Darling, whatever it may cost us, my mother won't be cross with you any more. I suppose this ridiculous engagement will set her mind at rest."

Violet gave in to pressure from her mother, Alice Keppel and agreed to marry Trefusis on 16th June 1919. She did so on the understanding that the marriage would remain unconsummated, and she was still resolved to live with Vita Sackville-West. They resumed their affair just a few days after the wedding. The women moved to France in February 1920. However, Harold Nicholson followed them and eventually persuaded his wife to return to the family home.

Violet Trefusis moved to Paris where she become the lover of Princesse Edmond de Polignac (formerly Winnaretta Singer), daughter of the inventor of the sewing machine and heir to a massive fortune. Cyril Connolly said she had "magnificent’ eyes working in close support of her smile to produce an ironical, rather mocking expression" with a voice that was "low and quite bewitching, equally at home in French and English and seldom rising above a husky murmur". She rarely saw her husband, Denys Robert Trefusis, who died of tuberculosis in 1929.

Like her lover, Vita Sackville-West, Violet began writing novels. Sortie de Secours (1929), the first of her novels in French, was about a woman who sought to make her lover jealous by seducing an older man with whom she falls in love. In the end she learns the value of independence. This was followed by Écho (1931) and Tandem (1933). Broderie Anglaise (1935) is Trefusis's response, in French, to Orlando, a novel about Vita that had been written by her new lover, Virginia Woolf.

Hunt the Slipper (1937) is considered to be Violet's best book in English. Lorna Sage described it as a "splendidly malicious commentary on England, and on the aristocratic culture that she'd escaped". This was followed by Les Causes Perdues (1941), her final novel in French and Pirates at Play (1950), her last in English. In 1952 she published her memoirs, Don't Look Round.

Violet Trefusis died on 1st March 1972.

No one had told me that Vita (Sackville-West) had turned into a beauty. Round her revolved several enamoured young men.

I hate writing this, but I must, I must. When I began this I swore I would shirk nothing, and no more I will. So here is the truth: I was never so much in love with Rosamund as during those weeks in Italy and the months that followed. It may seem that I should have missed Harold more. I admit everything, to my shame, but I have never pretended to have anything other than a base and despicable character. I seem to be incapable of fidelity, as much then as now. But, as a sole justification, I separate my loves into two halves: Harold, who is unalterable, perennial, and best; there has never been anything but absolute purity in my love for Harold, just as there has never been anything but absolute purity in his nature. And on the other hand stands my perverted nature, which loved and tyrannized over Rosamund and ended by deserting her without one heart-pang, and which now is linked irremediably with Violet. I have here a scrap of paper on which Violet, intuitive psychologist, has scribbled, "The upper half of your face is so pure and grave - almost childlike. And the lower half is so domineering, sensual, almost brutal - it is the most absurd contrast, and extraordinarily symbolical of your Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality." That is the whole crux of the matter, and I see now that my whole curse has been a duality with which I was too weak and too self-indulgent to struggle.

My own sweet love, I am writing this at 2 o'clock in the morning at the conclusion of the most cruelly ironical clay I have spent in my life.

This evening I was taken to a ball of some good people. Chinday had previously told all her friends I was engaged so I was congratulated by everyone I knew there. I could have screamed aloud. Mitya, I can't face this existence. I shall see you once again on Monday and it depends on you whether we shall ever see each other again.

It is really wicked and horrible. I hate myself. 0 Mitya, what have you done to me? 0 my darling, precious love, what is going to become of use

I want you every second and every hour of the day, yet I am being slowly and inexorably tied to somebody else... I suppose this ridiculous engagement will set her mind at rest....

Nothing and no one in the world could kill the love I have for you. I have surrendered my whole individuality, the very essence of my being to you. I have given you my body time after time to treat as you pleased, to tear to pieces if such had been your will. All the hoardings of my imagination I have laid bare to you. There isn't a recess in my brain into which you haven't penetrated. I have clung to you and caressed you and slept with you and I would like to tell the whole world I clamour for you.... You are my lover and I am your mistress, and kingdoms and empires and governments have tottered and succumbed before now to that mighty combination - the most powerful in the world.

She (Vita) didn't know how strong and dangerous such passion could be, until Violet replaced Rosamund. Of course she knew that "such a thing existed", but she did not give it a name, and felt no guilt about it. At the time of her marriage she may have been ignorant that men could feel for other men as she had felt for Rosamund, but when she had made this discovery in Harold himself, it did not come as a great shock to her, for she had the romantic notion that it was natural and salutary for "people" to love each other, and the desire to kiss and touch was simply the physical expression of affection, and it made no difference whether it was affection between people of the same sex or the opposite.

It was fortunate that both were made that way. If only one of them had been, their marriage would probably have collapsed. Violet did not destroy their physical union; she simply provided the alternative for which Vita was unconsciously seeking at the moment when her physical passion for Harold, and his for her, had begun to cool. In Harold's life at that time there was no male Violet, luckily for him, since his love for Vita might not have survived two rivals simultaneously. Before he met Vita he had been half-engaged to another girl, Eileen Wellesley. He was not driven to homosexuality by Vita's temporary desertion of him, because it had always been latent, but his loneliness may have encouraged this tendency to develop, since with his strong sense of duty (much stronger than Vita's) he felt it to be less treacherous to sleep with men in her absence than with other women. When he was left stranded in Paris, he once confessed to Vita that he was "spending his time with rather low people, the demi-monde", and this could have meant young men. When she returned to him, it certainly did. Lady Sackville noted in her diary, "Vita intends to be very platonic with Harold, who accepts it like a lamb.' They never shared a bedroom after that.

File:Violet Trefusis, 1926.jpg

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Her affair with Vita Sackville-West

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. ).

Probably the most conclusive overview of the whole story can be found in Diana Souhami's Mrs Keppel and her Daughter (1996), ISBN 0-312-15594-8. In headlines:

  • 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.


Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis (née Keppel) met at a party in the winter of 1905, when Violet was ten and Vita twelve. From the beginning, their relationship was intense, and the constant travels of both families created the necessity of an ongoing and voluminous correspondence (Vita's early letters to Violet were burned by Violet's husband, Denys Trefusis, on their honeymoon).

The friendship became a love affair in 1918, well after Vita's marriage to Harold Nicolson in 1913. Violet herself married Major Denys Trefusis in 1919. Throughout the years 1918 to 1921, the correspondence continued. Violet, who was unhappy in her marriage, often begged Vita to run away with her. They did "elope" briefly to Paris in 1920, but Vita, whose marriage was a happy one, allowed herself to be "rescued" by her husband.

After another trip abroad with Violet in January 1921, Vita chose life with her husband and two sons over life with Violet. Denys Trefusis agreed not to divorce Violet, and she eventually went to live with him in Paris. Violet was forbidden to have any contact with Vita, although letters were exchanged through their mutual confidant, Pat Dansey (who herself became one of Vita's lovers). Slowly, the correspondence came to an end, and aside from a brief meeting at a party in 1924, the two women did not see each other again until 1940, when Violet fled France for England during World War II.

For more detailed biographical information about Violet Trefusis, see the register for the Violet Trefusis Papers (GEN MSS 427).

Vita was her life

Violet Trefusis (1894‐1972) was not one of the major talents of her time. She cannot be said even to belong to the famous Bloomsbury Group. Yet her life intermingled fatefully with the life of Vita Sackville‐West and the work of Virginia Woolf. Inevitably, then, this biography contains ample pieces of the mosaic of those times. But in its own

A Life of Violet Trefusis. Including previously unpublished correspondence with Vita Sachville‐West. By Philippe Jullian and John Phillips. Illustrated. 256 pp. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. $10. right, this compassionate biography of the woman who eloped to Paris with Vita and who later personified the Russian Princess in Virginia Woolf's “Orlando” (who in turn was based on Vita Sackville‐West) provides a fascinating, if sad, case study of a person who was too much a child of her time.

Violet was the daughter of Mrs. Keppel, the beloved (and openly acknowledged) mistress of King Edward. When Mrs. Keppel and the King, both portly figures, came to Sandringham, Queen Alexandra contented herself with mimicking her rival's ample waistline. The King adored the child Violet, signing himself “Kingy” in his letters to her and allowing her to slide hot buttered toast down his trouser leg while he dozed by Mrs. Keppel's fire, Perhaps one of the reasons Violet and Vita fedi in love, at 10 and 12

Gail Godwin is the author of “Dream Children,” “The Odd Woman” and other works of fiction. respectively, was because both were brought up by mothers with relaxed morals. As the girls pretended to be heroes, chasing each other down the passageways of Violet's family castle in Scotland or acting out “Cyrano de Bergerac” at Vita's ancestral,. Knole, they were most likely daughters in a steely‐pure rebellion against the mannered, lascivious house parties, later described in Vita's novel “The Edwardians,” where lovers were assigned rooms next door to their mistresses.

In 1910, the King died, and Mrs. Keppel with entourage sailed for Ceylon. Violet wrote flirtatious letters to Vita, full of exotic images, but when she returned to London in 1912, Vita's confidence in herself had blossomed

and she had made two decisions: to become a great poet and to marry the historian‐biographer, Harold Nicolson. This marriage seems to have crushed Violet definitively, and made her decide to retreat increasingly Into a world of make‐believe, of former glories (she began hinting that she was Edward VII's illegitimate child) and cultivating her passion for Vita. While Vita was busy with childbearing and writing poetry, Violet was busy writing letters to Vita, chiding her for deserting her, for becoming respectable ('I want you for myself, but I want you also for History. I want you for Immortality … cast aside the drab garments of respectability … otherwise, Mitya, you'll be a failure … you'll be ‘Mrs. Nicolson who has written some charming verse … and often appears in charity matinees.’ “

Whether this barrage of mingled flattery and scorn helped to precipitate the result of Violet's April 1918 visit to the Nicolsons is a matter of conjecture. Perhaps Vita's passion was reawakened by the memory of their idealistic, innocent young love. At any rate, the two women fled to Paris, and Violet seems to have existed on these memories for the rest of her life while Vita returned to Harold. and later turned the whole thing into art in the novel which she wrote with Violet, “Challenge.” Vita becomes “Julian,” a young Englishman whose family is the richest in a vaguely Hellenistic republic and Violet is “Eve,” his cousin, who joins him in his adventures there but finally “betrays” him. Eve's arts of seduction are described as “so vain, so cruel, so unproductive . . .” A prophetic pronouncement on the rest of Violet's life?

Violet's scandalized mother (the Edwardians tolerated adultery, nymphomania, even but not homosexuality) forced her into marriage with the well‐bred Denys Trefusis, just back from World War I. Violet elicited his promise that the marriage would remain unconsummated, but later there is some evidence that at was. From here on, Violet's life dissipates into a shallow expatriate existence with the vulnerable Denys (he almost fainted when she told him she loved Vita). She can't bear solitude and her novels and memoirs are squeezed in between dinner parties and letters to Vita. John Phillips, whom she later appointed her literary executor, discovered the unpublished second volume of her memoirs, “Triple Violette,” and some correspondence with Vita which was not included in Nigel Nicolson's recent “Portrait of a Marriage' and the biography draws extensively on these findings. It also includes many of her reminiscences as related to Philippe Jullian (author of “Edward and the Edwardians'), who knew her during her late years.

The excerpts from the memoirs evoke, with wit and detail, the fairytale childhood which she apparently never outgrew. Violet's biographers believe that her all consuming passion for Vita destroyed her chances for growth and maturity. Her youthful idealism, thwarted, was replaced by “aesthetic greed.” She ended up embracing the conventional society she had urged Vita to reject.

The last chapters of Violet's life at the luxurious l'Ombrellino read like an overrich, undernourishing concoction of Dolce Vita, Bacchanalian menus and fashionable guest lists. Violet spends more and more time trying to re‐create her famous mother's Edwardian sorties. Near the end of her life she gave dinner parties when she was “so weak her guests wondered whether she would survive until dessert.” She died—cruel irony—of starvation in the midst of plenty, at age 78, of a stomach ailment that prevented digestion.

They have taken my love, They have taken my fire, The high dreams that I wove From a fabulous spire

she wrote in a poem‐letter to Vita, at the end of their affair, in 1920. “You are the unexploded bomb to me,” Vita was to write back in 1940. Both women entertained hopes for literary immortality. How strange if it *should be their passion, embodied in their love letters, that proves more lasting than all their novels and meinoirs put together. ■

Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs

The German legal advisor Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895) is often described as the world’s first gay rights activist. Ulrichs published widely on the topic of male-male sexual desire, coined the term “Urning” to denote people who felt such desire, and helped lead a campaign to overturn Prussia’s sodomy law. The Beinecke holds many of his publications (all in German editions published by Max Spohr in 1898) including Araxes: Call to Free the Urning’s Nature from Penal Law (18701898 edition) and several essays from his Researches on the Riddle of Male-Male Love (1898).

Violet Trefusis British Writer

Violet Trefusis was in relationships with Vita Sackville-West (1908 - 1921) , Olga de Meyer (1900) , Winnaretta Singer and Alvilde Chaplin.


British Writer Violet Trefusis was born Violet Keppel on 6th June, 1894 in London, England and passed away on 29th Feb 1972 Near Florence, Italy aged 77. She is most remembered for She is chiefly remembered for her lengthy affair with the poet Vita Sackville-West, which the two women continued after their respective marriages to men.. Her zodiac sign is Gemini.


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Relationship Statistics

Dating4 121 years, 2 months 33 years, 7 months 13 years, 2 months
Total4 121 years, 2 months 33 years, 7 months 13 years, 2 months


First Name Violet
Last Name Trefusis
Maiden Name Keppel
Full Name at Birth Violet Keppel
Alternative Name Violet Keppel, Violet Trefusis
Age 77 (age at death) years
Birthday 6th June, 1894
Birthplace London, England
Died 29th February, 1972
Place of Death Near Florence, Italy
Cause of Death Starvation, the effect of a malabsorption disease
Build Slim
Eye Color Blue
Hair Color Blonde
Zodiac Sign Gemini
Sexuality Lesbian
Ethnicity White
Nationality British
Occupation Text Novelist, Radio Broadcaster, Socialite
Occupation Writer
Claim to Fame She is chiefly remembered for her lengthy affair with the poet Vita Sackville-West, which the two women continued after their respective marriages to men.
Father George Keppel (soldier)
Mother Alice Keppel (society hostess and a long-time mistress of King Edward VII)
Sister Sonia Rosemary Keppel
Family Member William Edmonstone (maternal grandfather), William Keppel 7th Earl of Albemarle (paternal grandfather), Camilla Duchess of Cornwall (great niece)

Violet Trefusis (née Keppel 6 June 1894 – 29 February 1972) was an English socialite and author. She is chiefly remembered for her lengthy affair with the poet Vita Sackville-West, which the two women continued after their respective marriages. This was featured in novels by both parties in Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando: A Biography, and in many letters and memoirs of the period, roughly 1912–1922. She was also the inspiration for Lady Montdore in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate and Muriel in Harold Acton's The Soul's Gymnasium.


Born Violet Keppel, she was the daughter of Alice Keppel, later a mistress of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, and her husband, George Keppel, a son of the 7th Earl of Albemarle. But members of the Keppel family thought her biological father was William Beckett, subsequently 2nd Baron Grimthorpe, a banker and MP for Whitby. [1]

Violet lived her early youth in London, where the Keppel family had a house in Portman Square. When she was four years old, her mother became the favourite mistress of Albert Edward ("Bertie"), the Prince of Wales, who succeeded to the throne as King Edward VII on 22 January 1901. [2] He paid visits to the Keppel household in the afternoon around tea-time on a regular basis until the end of his life in 1910 (George Keppel, who was aware of the affair, was conveniently absent at these times). [3]

In 1900, Violet's only sibling, Sonia Rosemary, was born (Sonia is the maternal grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Violet was her great-aunt).


  • with Lucy LEE †1891
    • Lucy Catherine BECKETT 1884-1979
    • Ralph, 3ème lord Grimthorpe, BECKETT, baron Grimthorpe 1891-1963
    • with George KEPPEL 1865-1947
      • Sonia KEPPEL 1900-1986

      Violet Trefusis

      Violet Trefusis (née Keppel 6 June 1894 – 29 February 1972) was an English socialite and author. She is chiefly remembered for her lengthy affair with the writer Vita Sackville-West, which the two women continued after their respective marriages. This was featured in novels by both parties in Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando: A Biography, and in many letters and memoirs of the period, roughly 1912–1922. She may have been the inspiration for aspects of the character Lady Montdore in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, and of Muriel in Harold Acton's The Soul's Gymnasium.

      Trefusis herself wrote many novels, as well as non-fiction works, both in English and in French. Although some of her books sold well, others went unpublished, and her overall critical heritage remains lukewarm.

      Watch the video: Violet Trefusis


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