DECEIVED WITH KINDNESS: A Bloomsbury Childhood by Angelica Garnett

DECEIVED WITH KINDNESS: A Bloomsbury Childhood

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In the mid-1970s, middle-aged Garnett--daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, ex-wife of David Garnett--began to realize that she was living in a ""tangled web of repressed emotion"" and started work on this half-forgiving, half-bitter memoir. First she sketches in the Stephen family history, the strains and bereavements suffered by daughters Virginia and Vanessa, the formation of Vanessa's strong yet possessive personality (""when it came to love, she bent like a flower under the weight of a humble bee""), and the unconventional m‚nage that took shape: Vanessa's marriage to philandering Clive Bell; her long-term attachment (sexually brief) to fellow-painter Grant, whose homosexual lovers included young David Garnett; and Angelica's birth in 1918. ""I was the only person successfully kept in the dark,"" says Garnett--who grew up believing that Clive Bell (warm yet lightweight) was her father. Vanessa, with ""a black hole of impalpable depth"" somewhere at the core, was an insecure mother, forcing Angelica to repress her feelings: ""I longed for her to want me to be strong and independent, whereas apparently all she desired was to suffocate me with caresses."" Less complicated affection came from Aunt Virginia, from reliably stern Uncle Leonard, from grand-fatherly Roger Fry. But then, after the Spanish Civil War death of half-brother Julian, Angelica learned that her real father was kind, charming, yet unfatherly Duncan: ""I adored him, but the will to be his daughter was all on my side, and was received with no more than a bland serenity. . . My dream of the perfect father--unrealised--possessed me, and has done so for the rest of my life."" And, with all these psychic handicaps, the 19-year-old Angelica was a sitting duck for urbane ""bulldozer"" David Garnett--whose courtship didn't include the information that he was Vanessa's bygone suitor (rejected) as well as Duncan's bygone lover. (""He knew. . . that he was driving a wedge between Vanessa and myself, one that in fact remained for ever."") This memoir's first half is more descriptive than dramatic, with evocations of Bell-family homes, trips, relatives. And though the later chapters bunch up in revelations, restrained confrontations, and psychoanalytic insights, Garnett herself remains--as she notes herself--a ""shadowy"" presence here. Still, as a darker complement to Frances Spalding's Vanessa Bell (1983): edgy, thoughtful testimony from one of Bloomsbury's innocent victims.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1985
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich