Vita Sackville-West All Passion Spent (1931)
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. 'Thank goodness,' Herbert sometimes remarked, 'Mother is not one of those clever women.' That she might have ideas which she kept to herself never entered into their estimate. They anticipated no trouble with their mother. That she might turn round and play a trick on them - several tricks - after years of being merely a fluttering lovable presence amongst them, never entered into their calculations either. She was not a clever woman. She would be grateful to them for arranging her few remaining years.
Indeed, why should anyone suspect that, widowed after 70 years of marriage to the redoubtable politician Lord Slane, that his 88 year old relict should suddenly decide to throw docility, if not respectability, to the winds?
But the Hollands were not people to evade a duty, and the more irksome the duty, the less likely were they to evade it. Joy was a matter they seldom considered, but duty was ever present with them, seriously always and sometimes grimly. Their father's energy had passed on to them, turning a trifle sour on the way.
Rejecting her children's grudging plans ("to combine people's good opinion with getting a little of poor Mother's money"), Lady Slane leases a house in Hampstead she saw once, thirty years previously, and determines to enjoy herself: "If one is not to please oneself in old age, when is one to please oneself? There is so little time left!"
All Passion Spent is wonderful: all slow and lovely and witty and sometimes rib-achingly sorrowful. I wanted Deborah, Lady Slane, to live forever - she is an memorable heroine creating a life for herself "in this reprieve before death", as she rediscovers the pleasures she put aside ("profound invisible bruises of the imagination") to further her husband's stellar career: her art, her "crav[ing] for a life of contemplation", and a flirtation from her past.
It is terrible to be twenty, Lady Slane. It is as bad as being faced with riding over the Grand National course. One knows one will almost certainly fall into the Brook of Competition, and break one's leg over the Hedge of Disappointment, and stumble over the Wire of Intrigue, and quite certainly come to grief over the Obstacle of Love.
All Passion Spent would absolutely have made it onto my Best Books of 2012, if it were not for a fit of praise-parsimoniousness caused by having Sackville-West's two novellas on the list already (and I highly recommend these!).