Virginia Woolf was a famous writer, member of the infamous Bloomsbury Group, and fascinating figure. People remember her literary works and also her psychological problems that led to her suicide. What about her sister? Who was the woman that stood beside Virginia when she was dealing with breakdowns and at her worst? Who was the sister that loved her even when Virginia would betray her? Meet Vanessa Stephens Bell, the sister of Virginia Woolf and the one who knew her best. “Vanessa and Her Sister” by Priya Parmar is a look at Vanessa, with Virginia and without Virginia.
“Vanessa and Her Sister” takes readers back to London 1905 where the Bloomsbury Group of creative writers and artists were coming together. Two major members of the Bloomsbury Group were the Stephens sisters: Virginia and Vanessa. Virginia is on her way to becoming a highly regarded writer while Vanessa is a talented artist and the major caretaker of the family. Written through diary entries from Vanessa and having an epistolary style with letters, telegrams, and other forms of communication through members of the Bloomsbury Group, Vanessa’s life is explored. The novel focuses on her her art, her marriage to fellow artist Clive Bell, his emotional affair with her sister Virginia, and her own tumultuous relationship with her sister. “Vanessa and Her Sister” is a look at the complex relationship between two very different sisters.
You can tell the work and heart Parmar put into this novel. Creativity and thorough research leap off the pages. Whether Parmar is exploring Vanessa’s inner-most thoughts through diary entries or portraying the famed Bloomsbury Group and all their creative members, you can understand how this novel was a labor of love for Parmar. Her heart and soul was put into doing this novel justice.
Vanessa and Virginia simply come to life thanks to Parmar. Readers will understand Vanessa’s protectiveness over Virginia and then become horrified as Virginia commits heinous acts to get her sister’s attention and have only her love. Vanessa is warm, nurturing, and talented while Virginia is difficult, fascinating, and at times, very unlikable. These two women are utterly fascinating.
Readers, do beware though. The novel features a large cast of characters who bed hop from relationship to relationship so it can be very confusing. The epistolary style is also not for everyone. The novel is seen through Vanessa’s diary and letters from the various members of the Bloomsbury Group so it can be confusing at times.
Parmar has created a fitting tribute to the two Stephens girls. Beautiful, complex, difficult, charming, talented, and oh so fascinating are the perfect words to describe Parmar’s portrayal of these two women. Woolf herself would be proud!
To purchase “Vanessa and Her Sister”: http://www.amazon.com/Vanessa-Her-Sister-A-Novel/dp/080417637X
For more information on Priya Parmar: http://www.priyaparmar.com/