Book review: Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar


Vanessa and Her SisterVanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in return for an honest review.

This is the story of the two sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Their life’s story is told by Vanessa through her diary and by making use of the existing correspondence among them and their friends as well.

Basically, the author describes the story of the Bloomsbury Group which comprises some very well-known writers such as Virginia Wolff, John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Foster and Lytton Strachey . Even if it’s a work of fiction, the author kept “the external chronologies and events as much accurate as possible”.


Some of the Bloomsbury members, left to right: Lady Ottoline Morrell, Maria Nys (later Mrs. Aldous Huxley), Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

According to Wiki, At Trinity in 1899 Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf, Saxon Sydney-Turner and Clive Bell became good friends with Thoby Stephen, and it was through Thoby and Adrian Stephen’s sisters Vanessa and Virginia that the men met the women of Bloomsbury when they came down to London.

Vanessa Bell was the eldest sister of Virginia. Both sisters suffered quite a lot with the death of their brother Thoby.

Vanessa, also referred as Nessa in this book, had an “open marriage” with Clive Bell, an art critic. Vanessa’s paintings are considered as Post-Impressionism style.

The lives of both sisters were quite tumultuous, specially due to Virginia’s jealousy of Vanessa which was increased with Nessa’s marriage and the birth of her children. It seems that Virginia was a quite possessive sister, she wanted exclusive attention from everyone around her.

Author’s Note:
In 1925 Virginia Woolf wrote, “My affair with Clive and Nessa turned more of a knife in me than anything else has ever done.”


Roger Fry, Portrait of Vanessa Bell, 1911.

Vanessa Bell is portrayed by Janet McTeer in the 1995 Dora Carrington biopic Carrington, and by Miranda Richardson in the 2002 film The Hours alongside Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf.

Another book on the same subject was published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers.

Interesting links:

Archive Journeys Bloomsbury: this site provide timeline, biographies and description of the Bloomsbury Group.

Biographile Blog on Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf

Book review of “Vanessa and her Sister.”

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