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Violet Trefusis

John Simkin

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Violet Keppel, the elder daughter of Alice Keppel, was born 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 was 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. She 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 love affair came to an end when Vita married Harold Nicholson in 1913.

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."

Violet came under pressure from her mother, Alice Keppel, to bring an end to her affair with Vita Sackville-West. Reluctantly she married Denys Robert Trefusis, an officer in the Royal Horse Guards, 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. 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.


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