Love Letters: Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West

Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West; illustration by Joana Avillez


‘I Have Quite Lost My Heart’
Phyllis Rose
Some of Virginia Woolf’s best, deepest letters are those written to Vita Sackville-West in the period of their greatest intimacy. 

Phyllis Rose’s books include Woman of Letters: The Life of Virginia Woolf, Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time, and Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages. She is a Professor of ­English Emerita at Wesleyan. (March 2022)




Film review: "Carol"
A slow burn of a beautiful love story

Todd Haynes's first film in 13 years is a love story both lesbian and beautifully universal

TODD HAYNES's last film, "Far from Heaven" (2002), was a meditation on a certain kind of Hollywood melodrama of the 1950s. A too-perfect suburban couple is sundered when he turns out to be gay, and she seeks solace in the friendship of the black gardener. The contrast between the surface and what lies beneath is made all the clearer by just how shiny the surface looked to begin with.

"Carol" works on a similar premise, but has a very different feel. Here the tale of two New York women falling in love against the constraints of Eisenhower conservatism (based on Patricia Highsmith's cult novel "The Price of Salt") is displayed with a more grounded sumptuousness than Mr Haynes's previous work. Like "Far From Heaven", it benefits from the work of Ed Lachman as director of photography. But while "Heaven" featured a Technicolor palette of bronzed autumn leaves and surreally rosy cheeks, "Carol" is both visually and narratively subdued, though this doesn't diminish its beauty. Unlike the characters in "Heaven", Carol is not shocked by her own sexuality. Though the story is still fully grounded in 1950s mores, the characters are very well aware of what is going on from the outset.

Like so many love stories it begins with a coup de foudre. Therese (Rooney Mara), a young, wide-eyed shop assistant with vague dreams of becoming a photographer, clocks the older Carol (Cate Blanchett), an unthinkably glamorous WASP in fur coat and fashionably rouged lips, from across the room in the department store where Therese is selling Christmas gifts. The attraction is instant—and evidently reciprocated when Carol's eyes meet hers. The two flirt, and Carol forgets her gloves on the counter, giving Therese a reason to contact her again.

There is no suggestion that Therese has been attracted to women before. Indeed later she asks her hapless and shocked boyfriend Richard whether he thinks a person can just fall in love unexpectedly with another person of either sex. However, the connection, once begun, is unstoppable. The pair meet for lunch in smoky bars with leather banquettes and cool martinis—"I'll just have the same," says the unschooled Therese after Carol, clearly a regular, orders without glancing at the menu.

Carol is in the midst of a divorce and custody battle with her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler). He is unmistakably a man's man, but Mr Haynes thankfully resists the temptation to make him a brutish stereotype. He knows about a previous lesbian affair with her best friend Abby (Sarah Paulson), but still wants to give their marriage another go. "You're always the most beautiful woman in the room," he says, holding her close like a prized possession as they dance at a party, as she looks with loneliness and longing across his shoulder into the distance.

Harge is played as kind, but he is still a man of his era. Returning early to their castle-like mansion (turrets and all) to pick up their daughter Rindy for Christmas, he meets Carol's nubile companion for the first time. "How do you know my wife?" he sneers, before the exchange becomes more violent. When the two paramours embark on a road trip across nameless motels and diners of midwestern America, Harge turns angrily from being a man in unrequited love to a man scorned and vengeful.

What makes "Carol" unique is not just its examination of the love that dare not speak its name in an era so opposed to it, but also its carefully-paced story of desire in general. As instant as Carol and Therese's attraction is, its progress is a slow burn, as they flirt and dance around one another. It often feels that their desire will never be consummated, perhaps merely becoming something Therese looks back on years later from a comfortable but bored marriage, with wistful regret or surprise.

"Carol" is an extraordinarily beautiful film. From the flawless cut of Carol's expensive suits (Sandy Powell, the costume designer, is to be much admired) to Therese's amateur photographs to the camera's lingering close-ups of a hand caressing a shoulder or a finger unhappily hanging up the phone, it is heavily invested in how things look. Chief among those lovely things is Carol herself, who in part draws young Therese for the same reason Harge does not want to let her go. But underneath matters too: the anxious Carol needs Therese's youthful validation.

As with the best love stories the two lovers are their best selves in each other's company. This is a thrilling romance, with career-best performances from both Ms Blanchett and Ms Mara. "Far From Heaven" was nominated for four Oscars, winning none. Mr Haynes's fans can hope for a better result this time.




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