Portrait of a Marriage, Nigel Nicolson
Nigel Nicolson’s account of his parents’ completely unorthodox but wildly successful union falls into that delicious category of “sure thing” books which can be given with confidence to 70% of houseguests who have forgotten to BYOB(ook about exploring the complexity of sexually-ambiguous Bloomsbury-era marriage). You could say 90%, but it probably depends on the interest level of your particular friend-demographics in early 20th century literature, queer history, gardening, stately homes, and totally over-the-top written correspondence between Women who are Totally Into Chicks and Women who are More Interested In Generically Running Away To The Continent With Someone Who Isn’t Their Husband.
Nicolson’s mother, Vita Sackville-West, who will no doubt find her true literary immortality as Virginia Woolf’s inspiration for Orlando, despite having written some totally decent novels and an extremely long, only periodically lugubrious poem about the English countryside, and her husband Harold (an English diplomat and an author in his own right) were, by all accounts (including their own) very much in both love and intellectual sympatico, despite also sharing a primary bent towards same-sex attraction, and their diaries and letters are absurdly fascinating and revealing. Sackville-West and Nicolson’s private papers make up a large portion of this book, the creation of which was an act of obvious love and careful stewardship by their son, and even though its heat-center is obviously the affair between Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis which brought their marriages to the breaking point, the excerpts from Vita’s unpublished account of her childhood alone are more than worth the 99 cents you can probably pick it up for on Amazon.
Should you, like myself, find gardening almost unbearably tedious, you can easily skip that part, and stick to the dishier bits. The process by which Vita lost her childhood home due to having a vagina is BEYOND Downton Abbey, and not to be missed.
If you do enjoy Portrait of a Marriage, you should check out Katie Roiphe’s Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages, which has nothing to do with how date rape doesn’t really exist, and is instead just super-rad.