Violet Trefusis died in Florence in February 1972. In Britain her English novels were out of print; her French ones had never been translated. The Vita scandal of 1920 had never been forgotten (there had been many more scandalous affairs since then) and the obituary that appeared in The Times was short. It commemorated her mainly as a Florentine Grande Dame who for long had held glamorous court from her villa on the Bellosguardo, competing successfully (and feuding) with both Acton and Berenson. But in 1972 her name was not widely known in Britain. The publication of Nigel Nicholson’s Portrait of a Marriage in 1973 changed that overnight: the revelations it contained about Vita and Violet brought the latter back from the dead and resurrected her as the First Literary Lesbian. Virago led the way: Hunt the Slipper appeared in bookshops by the end of the year. Collins discovered Challenge, which had been co-written with Vita, and published it the following year. There was then a pause, but in 1983 the success of Glendinning’s Vita again revived Violet’s posthumous fortunes. Methuen hit upon the idea of translating her French novels (what Violet liked to refer to as her ‘French letters’) and Broderie Anglaise appeared in 1985. It contained an introduction by Glendinning, and was billed as ‘a remarkable literary find’. The book sold, and now Echo, first published in 1931, has also been translated and republished.
Violet was not a great novelist. To meet, she was a brilliant woman: bewitching, sophisticated, witty, frightening, capricious, and highly intelligent – but her novels have few of these qualities. They are charming, but unmistakably slight, even trivial. There is a simple reason for this. Violet did not work at