Miniature book that ‘inspired Virginia Woolf’s Orlando’ published after nearly 100 years

Vita Sackville-West's A Note of Explanation
Vita Sackville-West's A Note of Explanation. Credit: Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The book that is said to have influenced Orlando by Virginia Woolf has finally been published more than 90 years after it was written.

A Note of Explanation by Woolf’s lover, Vita Sackville-West appeared in 1922, but until now, the fairy story has existed only in miniature. The original handwritten book, with its 4cm high pages, sits in the library of a dolls’ house designed for Queen Mary and now in Windsor Castle. It allows just 20 words per page in tiny script. Attentive visitors can spot it alongside 200 other minuscule works, including titles by Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle. Yet it never quite made it to a bookshop.

A Note of Explanation is about an ageless sprite, who has conversed and collided with figures from fairytales but has now moved in the 1920s and is making herself at home in the dolls’ house. Woolf’s Orlando, which was published in 1928, follows a similar pattern, telling the story of an androgynous poet who has lived for centuries and conversed and collided with famous figures throughout history. 

Kate Bayley has illustrated the new edition
Kate Baylay has illustrated the new edition. Credit: Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The new edition of A Note of Explanation has been printed by the Royal Collection Trust. It has far more legible 25cm-high pages and features newly commissioned illustrations by London artist Kate Baylay.  

Kate Baylay's illustrations
Kate Baylay’s illustrations have a 1920s feel. Credit: Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II


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