"And still she asked, where in this system, was there room for a studio?": Reading Gender and Lesbian Space in Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent

Shane McCoy


In my essay “`And still she asked, where, in this system, was there room for a studio?’: Reading Gender and Lesbian Space in Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent,” I investigate the construction of lesbian space in the context of both the historical reality of a patriarchal society, and, within it, a patriarchal literary tradition. I place this text in the context of recent theoretical work by Adrienne Rich, Terry Castle, Judith Butler, Sharon Marcus, and Luce Irigaray, among others. My argument, influenced by Adrienne Rich’s idea of the lesbian continuum, investigates the ways in which widowhood opens up a lesbian/ woman-centered space for Lady Slane in Sackville-West’s novel. Lady Slane’s newfound independence creates a subject position that allows her to make a space for herself away from patriarchal control. I focus on female autonomy in All Passion Spent, in particular, the creation of a female identity and female space that develops within a feminist discourse. This novel challenges traditional representations of the lesbian; consequently, it has been praised for creating alternative lesbian images as well as criticized for producing stereotypes. I break new ground by positing that the novel is a lesbian one. Sackville-West’s novel might not be labeled as such by some because it does not appear to present a lesbian identity. However, within an inclusive lesbian theoretical perspective, the novel fits easily, if rather differently from other novels (such as Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) and Virginia Woolf ’s Orlando (1928), into the lesbian continuum.

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