Meet Woolf’s doll house inspiration

A miniaturised book which inspired Woolf's Orlando is to be published.

A miniaturised book, no larger than a thumb, written by Vita Sackville-West, is to be published early next week. Originally written in 1922, the tiny volume was kept in the Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, a 1:12 scale replica of an Edwardian house, along with works by other eminent authors such as Thomas Hardy, J.M. Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle. Entitled A Note of Explanation, the novel was written exclusively for the project, and has never before been published.

Vita Sackville-West, a close friend and possible lover of Virginia Woolf, was said to have inspired Woolf’s parody-biographical novel Orlando. Elements of the gender-shifting protagonist were mirrored in Sackville-West’s own life and behaviour – she was known to cross-dress and had multiple male alter egos, the most well-known of which was Julian. Woolf even went so far as to dedicate the novel to her.

A Note of Explanation is a charming tale of a sprite who inhabits the Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, unobserved by the guests and Queen Mary. She fulfils a similar role to Woolf’s Orlando character, time-travelling through fairy tale history, and observing many of the major moments, such as Cinderella’s Ball, the creation of Aladdin’s palace and the kiss that awakens Sleeping Beauty. She has made a home for herself in this miniature palace, and the novel follows her delightful antics.

The new edition of A Note of Explanation will be a more easily readable 25cm x 17.5cm, featuring an afterword by Sackville-West’s biographer, Matthew Dennison. The Queen Mary’s Doll’s House collection is held at Windsor Castle, and available for visitators. The book, according to the Royal Collection Trust, “reveals that Vita came up with a similar conception at least four years before Woolf began Orlando.”