Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Lady Lesbian

She was born into a world of scandal.

Her mother was the gorgeous mistress to King Edward VII and her father was a shadowy figure who was barely around.

By the time Violet Trefusis realized what was going on around her, she had already decided her life was going to be MUCH different than that of her promiscuous mother.

Unfortunately, the pretty little child had absolutely no idea that her future would not only eclipse her mother's famous affair, but shock the entire country.

When Violet was a teenager, she fell in love with a girl a couple years older, named Vita. Their flirtations came to a close when the king died and Violet's mother decided to take her family abroad for a couple years as a courtesy to her royal lover's grieving family.

When Violet came back to London, she was outraged to learn that Vita was engaged. To a man! To make Vita jealous, Violet flirted mercilessly with men at society parties and even got engaged a couple times to get her crush's attention.

But, it didn't work.


Vita remained happily married, giving birth to two sons. But then one day Vita's husband had a confession. He was cheating on her...with men. Stunned by her husband's homosexual liaisons, Vita made an agreement with him: he could have sex with as many men as he wanted, but she got to do the same...with women.

Thrilled by the turn of events, Violet once again declared her love for Vita and much to her astonishment, her wish came true! The two women spent every waking moment together, holding hands in the lush green countryside to frolicking on the beaches of South France.

Gossip of their affair traveled back to London, much to the dismay of Violet's mom. Even though the middle-aged woman had once been the mistress to the very married King of England, at least she had done it with a little dignity and discretion! Not prancing around Europe without a care in the world! With a woman, nonetheless!What was her daughter thinking?!

She threatened to cut off her daughter's finances until she married. Violet was torn. It was 1919. She had no skills to get a job. There was no way she could support herself alone. She begged Vita to leave her husband, so the two of them could run off together and live as a couple freely, without the hypocrisy of fake marriages disguising their true love. They would worry about money later, but at least they would have each other, honestly.

But Vita refused. Violet was asking something of her that wouldn't be socially acceptable until nearly 100 years later.

Frustrated and bitter, Violet agreed to marry the man of her mother's choice, only as long he agreed to never consummate the marriage. Here she was entering the hypocritical life of her mother, something she promised herself she would never do, but it seemed she wasn't being offered a better choice.

Her handsome new 20-something husband agreed to the platonic marriage, simply thinking that Violet was merely a pure and innocent girl who was terrified of sex. After the marriage was finalized, Violet finally confessed to her husband his worst nightmare: she was a lesbian.

When she tried to leave her husband to go back to Vita, however, she had her entire family as a roadblock.

Her younger sister, Sonia, was engaged to a very wealthy and respectable aristocrat (together, they would eventually become the grandparents to Camilla Parker Bowles). Violet's parents were adamant that their openly gay daughter not destroy the union by flaunting her homosexuality in public. Violet fought so hard to be able to see Vita, that it destroyed her family. Both her father and sister stopped speaking to her.

By the time her sister was married, it was too late for Violet and Vita to rekindle their romance. Someone had spread a rumor to Vita that Violet and her husband were sleeping together. Even though Violet insisted to Vita that it simply wasn't true, Vita was already too hurt. She ended their relationship, leaving Violet in anguished, broken-hearted despair.

In the late 1920s, Vita would go on to have one of the most famous lesbian affairs in world-wide history with writer Virginia Woolf.

Vita & Virginia

Violet, however, turned into a ghost of herself after the break-up.

In the 1920s, she began a long-term affair with the sewing machine heiress, Winnaretta Singer, who was married to a prince. But instead of wild passion and dreams of running away, the romance was much more discreet and controlled.

Violet's mother actually approved of this affair, because not only was it being conducted in good taste, but Winnaretta was one of the wealthiest and socially acceptable women in Europe. If her daughter was going to insist on being a lesbian, at least she was now sleeping with the right woman!

Winnaretta Singer

But Violet was miserable. She was living the lesbian version of her mother's life. She was nothing more than a mistress to married royalty.

Whatever happened to living free? Defying hypocrisy? Being PROUD of who you were?

Sadly, those were feelings way before her time. The world wasn't ready for it yet.

After World War II, Violet and Vita reconnected and rekindled their romance. They remained close friends for life.

Vita eventually passed away in 1962 and Violet passed away ten years later.

But their forbidden and tortured love remains the source of legend.

Books, movies, and history have preserved a bond forever.

A bond that couldn't even last for the people who created it nearly 100 years ago.


Anonymous said...

Oh my God! I never knew this story! Thanks so much for your LGBT icon posts, Jenny!

ravenlocks said...

That's weird...when you left me a comment I'm pretty sure I was reading this post! But then I got hungry and went to go stuff my belly with dinner :)

I missed commenting on your blog! I needed to take a break from blogging. I simply didn't have time to do it.

I'm really excited to see your future posts for this month. I love the Castro and the fabulous gay men there! Sometimes I forget how much easier I have it because I'm straight.

Do you think prejudices against homosexuality are equally worse in every culture? Sometimes I think it's worse in the latino culture...but that's because I AM of latin descent. So I don't know any better. But I'm just curious to know....because from what I've seen and experienced, latinos aren't very accepting of it.

Thanks for sharing this story! I knew of Virginia Woolf but not of Violet and Vita.


Couture Carrie said...

What an amazing bio!
I didn't know she was Woolf's lover!


Aditi So-Saree said...

Gosh..this is such an intense post. I hadn't even heard abt it..thanks for sharing it.

New Post Up

The Dainty Dolls House said...

Loved it, what an awesome story, I was hooked :)

The Grande Dame said...

I always love reading about these women and their scandalous lives! I should really buy the book... this is a fantastic condensed summary of their lives you've written here.

Cafe Fashionista said...

I love a good tale of scandal! How gorgeous is that photograph of Violet as a teenager?! :)

starla said...

How strange that in the 1910s women appear so ugly in pictures. They didn't get pretty again until the 20s, in my opinion, with the short hair, the striking make up and the comfortable dresses. Violet Trefusis' pictures are a good example. She looks so sad in the 8th one.

Eruiel said...

Very interesting!

Lauren said...

what a heartbreaking story of forbidden love! Violet was trotted by her mother's demands and her having to hide her lesbian way of life! My tears are welling up inside! I must read this...thank you for describing this amazing love story and hideous history fo treating lesbians.

Lauren at adorn la femme

Johanna V said...

Great story, thanks for sharing! I had never heard of this one before. So sad that the women could not be together even though they obviously loved each other. Luckily the times have changed since. You're an amazing writer! :) xoxo

Life's a shoe said...

interesting post!


Wow, that's some confession. Amazing story to read. Thanks for posting./Madison

Anonymous said...

I can only imagine what it must have been like for her, and the many others like her during that time or any other time leading up to the last half of the 20th century.

Even now, with the nation wide publication of gay and lesbian issues, you can still feel the sting of judgment from others if you get too close, or have a slip of the tongue with a 'hun' that you should've kept quiet. . . but that's a far cry from what people like Violet endured.

God bless her lesbian heart.

Dawn Gibson-Thigpen said...

Wow! This was an awesome read! Loved it!


Mouthwash said...

Wow! I never knew! And...I'm having a total WTF moment here...I wrote and ENTIRE paper on V. Wolfe in college, and I never effing knew she had a lesbian affair?! So embarrassing.

Did you know that her uncle (grandfather?) died as an alcoholic, and when they were shipping him home, his body combusted? Fun fact.

Blond Duck said...

That's SOO sad!


I love coming here, because I'm always greeted to great writing, and most importantly, really cool stories. I think I have an arsenal of random biographies thanks to your blog, but I loved reading this one. I was envisioning their story all along. I really want to read the book now, do you know if there's been any movies on their love affair?

I also had no idea Virginia Woolfe was a lesbian :/


Wow, that's a tumultuous chain of events. I'm guessing it's not much better nowadays for some in the LGBT community.

PS Hi, Jenn. I hope you're well!


Meri said...

What a great post Jen! I really enjoyed reading about these two women and have never heard of either of them. I hope they had some happiness together over the years!