Rachel Holmes at The New Statesman:
In 1936, Vita Sackville-West published a biography of Joan of Arc. Clad in armour and boys’ breeches, brave, zealous, uncompromising, St Joan was a figure in whom she invested much of herself. “One wonders what her feelings were, when for the first time she surveyed her cropped head and moved her legs unencumbered by her red skirt,” Vita mused. But she knew very well, having experienced these same sensations. And her friend and sometime lover Virginia Woolf had already depicted them in Orlando (1928), a fictionalised biography of Vita’s life.
Energetic and confident, the heir to the Sackville dynasty always felt comfortable in her own skin. Being Vita wasn’t the problem – patriarchy was. Her assessment of Joan of Arc’s first dilemma mirrored her own: “The practical inconvenience of belonging to the wrong sex must be faced and overcome.” Vita was young when she discovered that what she loved most could never belong to her. The law of male entail excluded her from inheriting her home, the great Kentish house of Knole, where she was born in 1892. “Knole is denied to me for ever, through a ‘technical fault over which we have no control’,” she wrote.