Friday 24 October 2008

Bloomsbury Baby

I wasn't sure whether or not to introduce this book to my 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About, but the longer it is since I read it, the better it seems in my mind... so, step forward Deceived with Kindness by Angelica Garnett. In the end, I've included it because it's such a useful and captivating book about the Bloomsbury Group, whether or not you know anything about it before.

It's been months since I read it and, like The Brontes Went to Woolworths, I've been promising to review the book on here for simply ages... so forgive me if I repeat all the things I've already mentioned about it over the past weeks.

Deceived with Kindness is the seventh non-ficti
on book in the 50 Books, but like most of the others listed there, it is literary in nature - Angelica Garnett was the daughter of Vanessa Bell, and thus the niece of Virginia Woolf. She was also Duncan Grant's daughter, believed Clive Bell was her father for many years, and later married David Garnett (author of 50 Books entrant Lady Into Fox) - so she is well qualified to give her autobiography the subtitle A Bloomsbury Childhood. In fact, her book is less an autobiography than a focalised biography of the group - how could it be anything else with such fascinating people around her? They're all here - as well as those mentioned above are Leonard Woolf, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes...

I've read a few books about the people Angelica writes about, especially Virginia Woolf , but though others might put years into research and erudition, Angelica Garnett doesn't have to do all this because the material is right in front of her. Which means she can treat the topic without a scholarly reverence or a postmodern desire to re-evaluate the concept of being or anything like that - instead, there is an intriguing meld of affectionate childhood memoir and biography of the renowned. She sees them as her family and family friends, but also recognising their importance in literary history. We see her childhood relationship with Vanessa and Clive Bell, and later some moving chapters on discovering that Duncan Grant was her actual biological father. Before this, she reaches back into her mother's upbringing, and provides brief but well-drawn biography, imbued with filial feeling. Her encounters with 'The Woolves' were of particular interest to me - and the relationship between Virginia and Vanessa is viewed with understanding and compassion: 'Of Vanessa's love for Virginia there was no question: she simply wished that it could have been taken for granted.'

I'm not sure I've given an accurate impression of Deceived with Kindness - the greatest quality of Garnett's book is an intimacy which gives the reader greater access to the Bloomsbury group than any other biography I've read. For an introduction to the group, or something to add to your extant knowledge, this book is invaluable - and definitely one to read before starting Susan Sellers' excellent novel Vanessa and Virginia.


  1. I shall check out the Bloomsbury book !

  2. I found this same exact edition at the mid-Manhattan library booksale. A very interesting (if sometimes a bit sad) read. Do you know the journals of Frances Partridge? If not, I think you would like them, especially "A Bloomsbury Album", her personal collection of photographs. Forgive me if you've already covered her!

  3. I have to say good day to you fine sir, and mind you, the succulent read you have opined for your followers is quite an astute endeavor indeed! You speak in a tongue laden with the 1920s and your haughty pronouncements must be enthralling in person. Reading them has garnished you an entire two comments. Fine day to you Good Sir.

  4. Ha! I can always tell a comment is going to be unkind when it's by 'Anonymous', but yours was too funny not to post! Rereading my review, it does use some rather long words... sorry, esoteric vocabulary. (And I think you might mean 'garnered' rather than 'garnished'? At least you didn't put an apostrophe into 1920s)

  5. Quentin Bell's bio of the Bloomsbury Group was excellent, as well. I shall have to try to look this one up. Thanks!


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