The Virtually Unknown Book That Lived in Queen Mary's Dollhouse for Almost a Century

Chronicle Books
Chronicle Books / Chronicle Books

In the 1920s, British artists were asked to produce miniature works for a dollhouse made for Queen Mary, the wife of King George V and grandmother of the UK’s current monarch, Elizabeth II. Writers like A.A. Milne, Rudyard Kipling, and Arthur Conan Doyle all submitted teeny-tiny versions of their stories, most of which were published elsewhere, to be placed in the Windsor Castle dollhouse. But Vita Sackville-West, the acclaimed British writer best known as the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, submitted a story that was a wholly new piece, one that would remain unknown, even to her estate, for decades.

Finally uncovered, that book is now available to the public for the first time. Chronicle Books just published the first full-size edition of A Note of Explanation: An Undiscovered Story from Queen Mary's Dollhouse, so you can read it without straining your eyes.

Chronicle Books

The playful children’s story is accompanied by Art Deco-style illustrations by Kate Baylay and an afterword by Matthew Dennison, who published a biography on Sackville-West in 2014. Dennison calls A Note of Explanation “unique among Vita’s fiction" for its playful storyline.

He notes that Sackville-West’s story, about a time-traveling sprite who appears in fairy tales across time and space, may have influenced Woolf's Orlando, which was published four years after A Note of Explanation was placed in Queen Mary’s dollhouse. Dennison describes that novel as the “story of long-lived, gender-fluid Vita, the sum of all of her ancestors.” The sprite who appears in A Note of Explanation, meanwhile, “embraces old and new, fact, fiction, romance, and modernity—much like the character of Orlando … much like Vita herself.”

It’s available for $20 on Amazon.