Cindy Brown Ash's Reviews > Vanessa and Virginia

Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers
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Jun 07, 11

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Read from May 24 to June 07, 2011

Having read all the books Susan Sellers cites in her Acknowledgements (Frances Spalding's Vanessa Bell; Angelica Garnett's Deceived with Kindness; Jane Dunn's A Very Close Conspiracy; and Hermione Lee's Virginia Woolf), I can't say that Vanessa and Virginia offered many fresh insights. In some ways it was frustratingly opaque. One of the joys of reading fiction based on historical figures is the opportunity to flesh them out, round them, make them realer than real. In some respects Sellers does come close to doing this for Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, but only for Vanessa and Virginia themselves; everyone else in the novel, including Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf, and especially Thoby Stephen, is a bare cardboard cut-out. Readers who are unfamiliar with Vanessa and Virginia might feel a little lost in this novel.

What Sellers captured beautifully was Vanessa's relationship to her painting. Another reviewer on Goodreads commented that it would have been delightful to have been able to see some plates of the paintings described, and I totally agree, especially since it can be difficult to find much of Vanessa Bell's work reproduced anywhere. Without titles or other reference points to go by, it seems that Vanessa Bell's work will remain in the obscurity that Vanessa worries over in the novel. What a lost opportunity.

I do give Sellers credit, however, for having done something very difficult, which is to offer a biographical novel in the manner of a Woolf novel, using a visual artist (which is to say, somewhat inarticulate) as her narrator. I don't know if I would recommend this one, but it was not an unpleasant read.
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