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Archive for the ‘Vanessa Bell’ Category

A new novel about the Stephen sisters, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, will be out late this year.

Vanessa and Her Sister novelVanessa and Her Sister, written by Priya Parmar and published by Ballantine Books, opens in 1905 as the Stephen siblings move from Kensington to the famous Bloomsbury. Conflict ensues when Vanessa falls in love, Virginia spirals into madness, and Vanessa must decide whether she should pursue her own life or put her sister first, according to a Bookreporter review. Read more review comments on this new piece of historical fiction.

However, it’s not the first novel written about the two famous Stephen sisters. Susan Sellers published her acclaimed version, Vanessa and Virginia, in 2009.

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Vanessa and Her Sister, a novel by Priya Parmar exploring the complicated relationship between the two sisters, will be published by Ballantine in 2015. The historical novel will also cover the Bloomsbury Group.

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Susan Sellers, author of the novel Vanessa and Virginia, is spreading the news via Facebook that the Moving Stories Theatrevanessa & virginia play production of the eponymous play based on her novel is sold-out for its current three-week run.

Written by Dr. Elizabeth Wright, the play is on stage at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London, through April 14.

Read more about it — and Susan Sellers:

A screen shot of Susan Sellers' Facebook post about "Vanessa and Virginia"

A screen shot of Susan Sellers’ Facebook post about “Vanessa and Virginia”

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Blogging Woolf is back from a holiday hiatus made longer by a bout with On Being Ill — the virus, not the Virginia Woolf essay published in 1930  by the Hogarth Press. But now that we are back, we recommend a couple of essays for your edification in this new year.

armoury-show-posterThe first, “1913–What year…” by Kathleen Dixon Donnelly on the SuchFriends blog, takes an in-depth look at the New York Armory Show in February 1913, connecting it to Bloomsbury Group painters Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, etc. who closed London’s Second Post-Impressionist Exhibit early so many of the paintings could be sent on to New York.

Donnelly promises to post updates all year on what was happening to writers in 1913. You can also check out the Such Friends page on Facebook.

The second is Blogging Woolf contributor Alice Lowe‘s latest published work, “On the Road Again,” which appears in the current issue of The Feathered Flounder.

Lowe notes that “being the mother of a daughter and the daughter of a mother is a rich source of feathered flounderreflection.” In this latest poignant essay, she draws on those dual experiences, as well as “from those other gems, memory and aging” to wonder whether she has encountered the beginning of her dotage.

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My two-week stint doing research at the NYPL Berg Collection is over, and letters and rare books took up the last two days of my Short-Term Research Fellowship on the topic of the Bloomsbury pacifists.

The letters were written by Vanessa Bell and Lytton Strachey to a variety of correspondents, including Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Duncan Grant and Nick Bagenal. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read them in their original form, taking time to decipher the usually elegant handwriting of the letter writers and savoring the idea of a world where friends and colleagues posted missives to each other on a regular, if not daily, basis.

It was special to be able to touch and handle papers nearly 100 years old that belonged to writers and artists I have read so much about and admire so greatly.

It was also invaluable to have access to such rare books as Clive Bell’s Civilization (1928), Julian Bell: Essays, Poems and Letters (1938) and David Garnett’s A Rabbit in the Air: Notes from a Diary Kept While Learning to Handle an Aeroplane (1932).

So while I knew that my research would come to an end, I felt sad when it did. I even felt a little lost when I turned the last page of Garnett’s book, realized I had no more documents or books in my queue and knew that I would soon be on my way back to my regular everyday life in Ohio.

I will miss the grandeur of the NYPL’s Schwartzman building, the luxurious silence of the Berg reading room, the helpful friendliness of librarians Anne Garner and Rebecca Filner, the expertise of Curator Isaac Gewirtz and the technical expertise of a regular volunteer and Yeats scholar named Neal who eagerly came to my aid when my laptop refused to reboot after loading some troublesome and unwanted Microsoft updates.

I hope all of those mentioned above will consider this an official public thank you for helping me have such a valuable experience.

Here are links to past posts about my research at the Berg and the Morgan Library & Museum:

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Last week, NYPL Berg Collection librarian Rebecca Filner gave me the hot tip that I could find unpublished letters written by Vanessa Bell to Maynard Keynes at the Morgan Library & Museum. Today I went there to read them.

The routine at the Morgan is different than that at the Berg. At the Morgan, one is required to lock one’s personal items in a small locker, wash one’s hands, then read a full page of instructions about handling the rare materials before any are handed over. Then the materials come to you one slim folder at a time, after being checked and logged by the librarian. When you are ready for another, you let her know, and she picks up the current folder and brings a new one. As a reader, you never carry the materials.

At the Berg, one is brought as many as five folders at once and just expected to be careful. There is no hand washing procedure, and the librarian locks your purse in a bookcase after one has checked other items in the NYPL cloakroom. Sometimes I returned the materials to the librarian’s desk; other times she picked them up from me.

Today at the Morgan, I focused on letters written during World War I. About 17 of them connected to the Bloomsbury pacifists, the topic of my Short-Term Research Fellowship. But other tidbits included in these letters caught my eye as well. Here are a few of them:

  • Vanessa gave her children haircuts and shaped the hair of one of her servants into what sounded like a stylish bob (May 1916).
  • Vanessa complained that a vist from Ottoline Morrel was so taxing she couldn’t spend more than one weekend a year with her (August 1916).
  •  Both Vanessa and Clive asked Keynes to look over their investments and make suggestions for ways they could maximize their income (February 1918).
  • Keynes invested in David “Bunny” Garnett’s bee keeping enterprise (February 1918).
  • Wood was so scarce during the latter part of the war that Vanessa asked Keynes to save packing cases from a recent wine purchase for her to use as rabbit hutches (February 1918).
  • Vanessa couldn’t imagine anything more hellish than Keynes’s upcoming three-day trip to America (October 1918).

The bit that popped out at me the most, though, was the contrast between Vanessa’s letters to her sister Virginia written shortly before the birth of her daughter Angelica on Christmas Day 1918 and those written to Keynes. The letters to Virginia were filled with a panicky rush of last-minute requests and instructions regarding the upcoming birth and the care of Vanessa’s two older children. Her letters to Keynes are measured and sedate, calculated to reassure him that all is well.

To Keynes, she writes that Duncan Grant (Angelica’s father, although Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell played that role for many years) is quite anxious to be useful around the house. She mentions that he has cut up wood for the fire and done other necessary chores, while agreeing to stay on until after the baby is born.

Vanessa also boasts that Grant is spoiling her. She says she spends the mornings in bed, is only allowed downstairs for lunch, then is kept quiet in the drawing room for the rest of the day. Best of all, she notes, Grant never lets on that this domestic pampering routine is the least bit boring.

I found it interesting the way Vanessa changed the tone and content of her letters, based upon her audience.

Read more about my time at the Berg for my NYPL Short-Term Research Fellowship:

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Door to the Berg Collection

After four hours of reading mostly unpublished letters from Vanessa Bell to her sister Virginia Woolf today, I felt sad.

The letters — and there are 371 of them dating from 1910 to 1940 in the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection — are full of details about living arrangements, house guests, child rearing, artistic endeavors and personality conflicts.

But the thing that stuck out to me today — which is well off my research topic of the Bloomsbury pacifists — was how much Vanessa had to juggle. And that made me sad.

The letters written during the World War I years, which was also the period of time in which she had young children at home, had the biggest impact on me. In them, I saw how much she did to keep so many balls in the air at once.

Vanessa kept the household running smoothly, doing her best to economize on household expenses such as coal and foodstuffs and to work around such challenges as war rationing and exiting servants.  She kept the men in her life, Clive Bell and Duncan Grant and David “Bunny” Garnett, happy and productive, and she helped Grant and Garnett obtain conscientious objector status. She raised three children, instructing at least two of them in French and music, along with the similarly aged children of friends.

To me, several of the most poignant letters were written shortly before Christmas 1918, after the Armistice but before Vanessa gave birth to her third child and only daughter, Angelica. Those letters, obviously written hastily, with last-minute thoughts scribbled up the margin and across the top of the page, were full of instructions to Virginia about the children.

Virginia had generously agreed to care for Vanessa’s two eldest, Julian and Quentin, when she gave birth to her third child. And Vanessa was frantic to convey her gratitude, as well as her advice — about using nightlights and administering bromide and promising to ship additional clean clothing for the boys after their arrival.

While writing the last of the letters, on Christmas Eve, Vanessa went into labor. Angelica was born on Christmas Day.

Even then, there was no real rest for Vanessa. For she had guests. Garnett was at Charleston Farmhouse on the day of the birth, and Maynard Keynes was a houseguest as well.

More amazing than all this is that on top of the busy life as a wife and mother that Vanessa led, she produced art, wonderful art. How did she find the time and energy for it all?

All I can say is, she was a woman. And that is what women do. Isn’t it?

Read more about my time at the Berg for my NYPL Short-Term Research Fellowship:

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