Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel
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A New York Times Notable Book • An Entertainment Weekly “Must List” Pick • “Prepare to be dazzled.”—Paula McLain • “Quite simply astonishing.”—Sarah Blake
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.
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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. . . . 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.”—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
metaphors rolling around like loose boulders, my handwriting that slopes uphill no matter how squarely I face the page—invariably, they do not equal Virginia’s hammered prose. And—Dinner with the Balfours tomorrow with George and Margaret. No doubt they have several eligible young men they would like us to meet. A white glove and seed pearl evening. It will be dreadful. Thursday 18 May 1905—46 Gordon Square Restless and unable to settle this afternoon. I know my demons are out in force because
she is terrified I will get married, just as I am afraid that Thoby will get married. As soon as one of us goes, the thing unravels and the whole of us comes apart. But I thought she would realise that Clive could never hurt us. I would not give the four of us up for Clive. How could I? I misread her mood yesterday. “Nessa!” Virginia banged the front door shut. “No, no, Sloper, I want to give them to her myself. Nessa!” “In here, dearest!” I wiped my hands on the old blue cloth and stood back
relief until the frenzy subsides.” I looked at Lytton. This autumn he has done his best to make peace with Duncan and Maynard. It is a courageous thing. “I suppose I see it in a carnal, objective way, as he is astonishing to look at, but I just do not see the point of Brooke. He is so self-satisfied and, I don’t know, lazy—yes, lazy.” Lytton reached for another slice of cake. “Lazy? You only say that because he is not interested in being friends with you,” I said. “Do you know, we spent a
conjures Roman elephants. “Quentin?” Duncan said. He had been eating cake, and his mouth was rather full. “Quentin?” I repeated. “Quentin.” I rolled the word over my tongue. Snow came in, holding the baby. She is leaving tomorrow, and I am desperate for her to stay. “Mabel will be down in a minute, but I think he just wants you.” She handed me the squalling baby. “Quentin Claudian Stephen Bell? Yes.” 30 August 1910 Dearest Virginia, Quentin Claudian Stephen Bell. Quentin for short. It
and the faces of the other passengers inside. We use simple words and uncomplicated grammar but have exemplary conversations. Harry has been buried inside his newspaper since Paris, but Roger is exuberant and jolly. I cannot think why he ever frightened me so. He is unlike anyone I have ever known. He is game. Game for painting anything: the light, the sea, the people, the goats, and for discussing anything: babies, families, books, art. No suggestion is ever too silly or too impossible. He will