With sensitivity and imagination, Britisher Dunn re-creates the fascination, dependencies, competition, ``complicity,'' jealousies, the whole range of ``dynamics'' expressed in the pathologically close sibling relationship between two beautiful, talented, brilliant, intense, and creative women. Dunn structures her book on how the two sisters responded to the same influences: the death of their idealized mother, of their beloved half-sister who had become her surrogate, and of their brother; the ``household of needy, greedy men,'' including their aging, sickly, self-centered father and their half-brother George, who sexually abused them; their awakening talents and sexuality; their marriages, lovers, Vanessa's children, Virginia's books; the deaths of Virginia's lover Roger Fry and her son Julian, concluding with the suicide of their friend Carrington and then, unexpectedly, of Virginia. Dunn believes that the sisters tacitly divided the world between Virginia's intelligence, articulateness, ``fame,'' and antipathy to sex, and Vanessa's image as love-goddess, centered, beloved, fertile, visual, sensual. Using diaries, letters, Virginia's novels, and reports, Dunn anatomizes every incident, motive, and fleeting expression as symptoms of (or compensations for) the losses and afflictions of childhood, leading to inevitable repetition even into the stretch required to find one more term for Vanessa's ``reticence,'' such as ``unloquacious.'' Although the opposition is strained and the motives oversimplified, this is a good gossip. Its strength as an inside look, however, is related to its concomitant weakness as the eloquence and passionate involvement become excessive and intrusive, projecting unverifiable feelings and thoughts on characters—and as Dunn manipulates them to meet her hypotheses.
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