All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West begins with the death of Lord Slane, former viceroy of India and prime minister of Great Britain. He leaves behind his six grown children and his eighty-eight-year-old widow.
"...and the problem of her future lay heavy upon her sons and daughters. 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....That she might have ideas which she kept to herself never entered into their estimate. They anticipated no trouble with their mother."But Lady Slane surprises her children. Instead of dutifully accepting their plans for her, Lady Slane sells her house, moves to Hampstead, forbids her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to come visit her, and makes friends with a few eccentrics. Lady Slane's small rebellions, and her children's indignant reactions to them, made me smile. Only her youngest daughter, Edith, cheers her on. I found myself cheering her on, too. This is how Lady Slane defends her newfound freedom to her children:
"If one is not to please oneself in old age, when is one to please oneself? There is so little time left."Written in 1931, All Passion Spent is one of those quiet, character-driven novels that is contemplative and melancholy at times, and unexpectedly humorous at others. Some of Lady Slane's reminiscences about her younger self, and the dreams she had of being an artist that she gave up when she married, made me a little sad. But I was glad she managed to steal a little happiness for herself at the end of her life.
"How oddly it had come about, that the whole of her life should have fallen away from her--her activities, her children, and Henry--and should have been so completely replaced in this little interlude before the end by a new existence so satisfyingly populated! 'Perhaps,' she said aloud, 'one always gets what one wants in the end.'"Only 167 pages long, this is a charming little read. I admired Sackville-West's writing except for one thing: her overly long paragraphs. Many were a page and a half long! And that did slow down the narrative for me. Overall, though, I liked this one. It's a little bittersweet and sad, but not depressing. And I liked the characters. Best of all? It fills my Classic By a Woman Author category in Karen's Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.