#CBR7 Review #14: Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

I am a huge nerd for anything related to Virginia Woolf. Ever since I read Mrs. Dalloway for a modern lit seminar and then took a Virginia Woolf seminar as an undergrad, I’ve been hooked (fun sidenote: my professor called us the Woolf Pack. It was awesome). I read The Voyage Out, Night and Day, Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own, To the Lighthouse, The Waves, The Years, Orlando, and her play Freshwater for that class (The Chancellor bought me Between the Acts a few Christmases back. I will read it soon. Maybe this CBR if I can get my library stack down to a reasonable size). Plus, we read Michael Cunningham’s adaptation The Hours and watched the less-interesting film adaptation, just as we watched the film Carrington–it’s about painter Dora Carrington who was tangentially connected to the Bloomsbury group and was hopelessly in love with the very gay Lytton Strachey. I mean:


(PS: great movie. LOTS of skin. Not that I complained.)

So I was super-intrigued by Priya Parmar’s Vanessa and Her Sister and lucky that it just happened to be on my library shelf, so I didn’t have to wait ages and ages to get it. It fueled my love for the Bloomsbury group, and it made me want to circle back and do a Woolf re-read.

The novel begans when the four Stephen siblings–Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia, and Adrian–move into a house together in the Bloomsbury district in London. Thoby’s university friends drop in, often unannounced, and their “at homes” begin. Filled with intellectual and racy conversations, the circle begins to see some artistic output–from E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, Virginia, Duncan Grant, and Vanessa herself. The novel focuses on their life from Vanessa’s point of view, with letters between Lytton and Leonard Woolf (Virginia’s future husband), and Roger Fry and his mother. Vanessa is a complex individual, trying to hold a family together, facilitate Virginia’s mental health, and even decide for herself the kind of future she wants, both as an artist and a woman.

It’s an intriguing and well-written novel. My familiarity made it that much more pleasurable for me, so I have no idea how well it translates if you just pick it up without any context or background info on the Bloomsbury group.


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