Literature │Too Old Does Not Mean Too Late

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville -West

(published in Avrupa newspaper)

“Of course she would not question the wisdom of any arrangements they might choose to make. Mother had no will of her own; all her life long, gracious and gentle, she had been wholly submissive- an appendage. It was assumed that she had not enough brain to be self-assertive.” This is the fate of 88year old widowed Lady Slane as her life lies in the hands of her six children, or as Sackville puts it “old, black ravens.”

All Passion Spent (1931) is split into three very distinctive parts, but phases would be a far more effective and appropriate terminology. The novel starts with a death, the death of old Lord Slane. Lady Slane sits by her husband’s body, not stricken with grief but with a sense of release. Their mother’s ambivalence is to the dismay of her children who are trying to be terribly politically correct and dutiful as they discuss what should be done with their mother. Lady Slane has other ideas of course, as she declares that she has plans of her own. Plans of her own!? Yes indeed, she has.

Unfortunately, it was and still is in many countries, customary for a woman to be passed from one man to another; from the father to the husband, and from the husband to the children (sons), should she outlive her husband. Lady Slane had dreams of becoming an artist; instead, like so many women of her time, her number one job was to be a devoted wife and guiding mother, which she fulfils, and now at the age of 88, it is her turn. She declares to her vulture-like children (who are in their forties and fifties) that she is taking her French maid to live in her own house in Hampstead Heath, and wishes not to be visited by her grand children or far worst, great-grand children as she wishes to be surrounded by those of her age who have only the past to reflect back on. Here at once we cut straight through many suppositions; the wife shall no longer be a mere afterthought, she shall lead her own life.

Sackville and Virginia Woolf were very close friends; All Passion Spent was in fact first published by The Hogarth Press. This novel takes on many of the thoughts and challenges expressed by Woolf in her famous polemic A Room of One’s Own which has been picked apart by feminists from this way and that. With All Passion Spent it can be easily seen and dismissed as the emancipation of an older woman, and later on, the emancipation of her great-granddaughter, but there are other issues which protrude just as much, and that is age. As soon as Lord Slane dies (his body is still present), Lady Slane is not seen as a person, a mother, or a widow, but as an old person who may become an impediment in the lives of her children. She has done all that was expected of her, her life belonged to her husband and her children, and now it is time to cast her aside; she suddenly loses any vestige of her identity and becomes faceless.

Sackville uses the concept of age as an advantage over the young as Lady Slane surprises them.
The saying about old dog’s and new tricks is immediately thrown out of that boxed window people believe in. In this case, it’s a case of the more experienced person triumphing over the overly confident young, well, youngish.

©Zehra Mustafa

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