What if Virginia Woolf s sister had kept a diary? For fans of "The Paris Wife" and "Loving Frank" comes a spellbinding new story of the inseparable bond between Virginia and her sister, the gifted painter Vanessa Bell, and the real-life betrayal that threatened to destroy their family. Read more...
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What if Virginia Woolf s sister had kept a diary? For fans of "The Paris Wife" and "Loving Frank" comes a spellbinding new story of the inseparable bond between Virginia and her sister, the gifted painter Vanessa Bell, and the real-life betrayal that threatened to destroy their family. Hailed by "The New York Times" "Book Review "as an uncanny success and based on meticulous research, this stunning novel illuminates a little-known episode in the celebrated sisters glittering bohemian youth among the legendary Bloomsbury Group.
London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer.
Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf s book review has just been turned down by "The" "Times." Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.
But the landscape shifts when Vanessa unexpectedly falls in love and her sister feels dangerously abandoned. Eerily possessive, charismatic, manipulative, and brilliant, Virginia has always lived in the shelter of Vanessa s constant attention and encouragement. Without it, she careens toward self-destruction and madness. As tragedy and betrayal threaten to destroy the family, Vanessa must decide if it is finally time to protect her own happiness above all else.
The work of exciting young newcomer Priya Parmar, "Vanessa and Her Sister" exquisitely captures the champagne-heady days of prewar London and the extraordinary lives of sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.
Praise for "Vanessa and Her Sister"
Fiction and history merge seamlessly in this dazzling novel. "Entertainment Weekly"
Being related to Virginia Woolf can t have been easy. In this delightful novel, Parmar re-imagines the brilliant, fragile writer and her turn-of-the-century bohemian friends, the famous Bloomsbury set. . . . You ll be spellbound. " People"
Rarely do you encounter a woman who commands as much admiration as does the painter Vanessa Bell in Priya Parmar s multilayered, subtly shaded novel. . . . She has caught the phantom. "The New York Times Book Review"
A] gossipy, entertaining historical novel . . . Parmar conjures a devastating fictional portrait. "USA Today"
Captivating . . . echoes of Austen s "Sense and Sensibility" emerge in Parmar s portrayal. "Newsday"
An elegant, entertaining novel that brings new life to the Bloomsbury Group s intrigues. "The Dallas Morning News""
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-10-20
- Reviewer: Staff
Parmar’s excellent sophomore effort (after Exit the Actress) contends mostly with the complicated relationship between the four Stephen sisters (including Vanessa, later known as Vanessa Bell, the painter, and Virginia, later known as Virginia Woolf). After a happy upbringing, the sisters are separated in their 20s by the death of their brother, Thoby, and Vanessa’s marriage to Clive Bell, Thoby’s college pal. Parmar does a stellar job conveying Virginia’s complicated, almost incestuous feelings for Vanessa, which are exacerbated by Virginia’s manic depression and need to be the center of attention. Distracted by the birth of her first child, Vanessa all but ignores Clive, who falls prey to Virginia’s efforts to insinuate herself into the marriage. Vanessa is torn by her love for her sister and an understanding of how her illness colors everything, as well as her own desire to have a life of her own. The author also deftly brings to life the various artists and writers who formed the nascent Bloomsbury group, heralding the arrival of Leonard Woolf—who eventually comes home to England and saves Virginia from spinsterhood. Structured primarily as Vanessa’s diary, with fictional letters from characters like Woolf and the journalist Lytton Strachey included, Parmar’s narrative is riveting and successfully takes on the task of turning larger-than-life figures into real people. Readers who aren’t familiar with the Bloomsbury group might be overwhelmed at first by the sheer number of characters in the book, but Parmar weaves their stories together so effortlessly that nothing seems out of place. (Jan.)
Inside the Bloomsbury group
Priya Parmar’s second novel opens an intimate, witty and highly entertaining window into the early 20th-century circle of writers, philosophers and artists known as London’s Bloomsbury Group. They met several times a week at the homes of Vanessa and Clive Bell and Vanessa’s brother and sister, Adrian and Virginia Stephen (later Woolf). This erudite group also included the novelist E.M. Forster; biographer Lytton Strachey; artist Duncan Grant; art critic Roger Fry, curator of New York’s Metropolitan Museum; and economist John Maynard Keynes. The Stephen siblings—Vanessa, Virginia, Adrian and Thoby, the eldest brother— moved to the “bohemian hinterland” of Bloomsbury after their parents died, and Thoby’s Cambridge friends quickly adopted it as their favorite gathering place.
By means of Vanessa’s diary entries and letters, postcards and telegrams traveling back and forth among this large cast of characters, Parmar delves into not just their intellectual pursuits, but also their flirtations, affairs and sexual proclivities, which they reveal with little thought to discretion. But, as the title suggests, Parmar’s main focus is the Stephen sisters: Vanessa, the artist, and Virginia, the novelist, whose relationship was challenged by Vanessa’s 1907 marriage to Clive Bell.
Vanessa and Her Sister succeeds not only as a glimpse into this remarkable artistic family, but as an insightful portrayal of post-Victorian London as seen through the eyes of its increasingly uninhibited intellectual elite.
RELATED CONTENT: Read a behind-the-book essay by Priya Parmar.