Sister of Virginia Woolf, wife of critic Clive Bell, lover of painter Duncan Grant, and an accomplished artist herself, Vanessa Bell was a mainstay of the Bloomsbury group. As was only to be expected from this unconventional little group, Vanessa's personal life was a tangle of soap-opera proportions, including an illegitimate daughter fathered by Grant but raised as her husband's and a succession of Grant's male lovers among other eccentricities. Yet she was also an oddly conventional woman in many respects, maintaining her married name long after she'd deserted her husband to live with her lover, and devoting herself to her children in a shockingly (for Bloomsbury) maternal way. Though paint on canvas was her primary modality of expression, Vanessa Bell was also a talented writer, as evidenced in the Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell
In her introduction to the collection, editor Regina Marler writes:
To her children, her sister, her lovers, Vanessa wrote almost daily. On the whole, her reserve and shyness argued against written declarations of affection; she preferred to entertain, keeping up a teasing, ironic tone. She excelled in narratives of domestic chaos and embarrassment. She was forever spilling her inkpot down the front of her skirt, then describing the mess.
The letters selected here reflect all this and more. Writing to her friend Margery Snowden while touring Italy, she describes an elderly woman "muttering imprecations and growling at her unfortunate daughter.... Shall I shock you if I tell you of her form of oath, when her unfortunate daughter happens to offend her? 'G-d d-amn you,' she shrieks at her." Vanessa then adds, charmingly, "I think dashes may make it less shocking..." Art, literature, domestic details, and personal relationships are among the subjects Vanessa Bell touches on, and taken together, this collection provides both a self-portrait of the artist and an intimate glimpse of the remarkable circle in which she moved. --Margaret Prior
From Publishers Weekly
Painter Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) conducted an intimate correspondence with fellow members of the circle of English artists and writers known as the Bloomsbury group. Published here for the first time in this collection edited by Marler, literary editor of the journal Aleh-zon , are more than 300 of Bell's letters, written between 1885 and 1961, accompanied by biographical essays and a foreword by Bell's son, Quentin. Included are her letters written to husband Clive Bell, to friends Lytton Strachey and Maynard Keynes, and to her lovers, art critic Roger Fry and painter Duncan Grant. The letters testify to Bell's passion for painting and to her commitment to an unconventional life. Those written to her sister, the writer Virginia Woolf, express both love and concern for Woolf's precarious mental health. Bell also wrote about the devastation she experienced over the death of her son, Duncan, during World War II, and Virginia's suicide in 1941. This is a valuable addition to Bloomsbury studies. Illustrations.
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