WOMEN OF BLOOMSBURY: Virginia, Vanessa and Carrington by Mary Ann Caws

WOMEN OF BLOOMSBURY: Virginia, Vanessa and Carrington

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Reading this book as fiction would make a good deal of sense: the author/narrative voice, Caws (English, French & Comparative Lit./CUNY), as time-traveller intruding in the historical lives of the Bloomsbury Circle, participating in their various entanglements, introducing as-yet-unrevealed information, creating unlikely combinations, only to discover that everything turns out the same anyway. Caws calls the book, however, ""personal criticism,"" a ""willing, knowledgeable, unspoken involvement"" in her subject. As such, it is a disturbing performance: believing that the disordered sexual alliances of the Bloomsbury women explain the character of their creative work, she anatomizes their relationships, personalities, motives, preferences, and responses, reducing these otherwise complex and remarkable people to being one another's sexual objects. At the opening, each ""character"" is identified by creative occupation and sexual preference, and by the end we do not know much more about them. Virginia Woolf is a bisexual writer, a suicide, married to Leonard; Dora Carrington is a bisexual painter, a suicide, married to Ralph Partridge and companion to Lytton Strachey, a homosexual; and Vanessa Bell is Virginia's sister, a heterosexual painter married to womanizer Clive Bell, in love with heterosexual Roger Fry, who is abandoned for the homosexual painter, Duncan Grant, her brother's ex-lover as well as Strachey's, and who, after a brief bisexual episode, gives her a daughter who grows up to marry her father's ex-lover--which is not so bad as it sounds since she thought she was Clive's daughter anyway. Even as intellectualized gossip of the kind at which the Bloomsbury Circle excelled, this book is technically too flawed to be an absorbing read. Interpretation (shallow and psychologically uninformed) takes priority over exposition: we find out why Carrington committed suicide in the first chapter, who she is in the sixth. Instead of the personal involvement the author claims, she hides behind the oblique syntax, passives, impersonal and indefinite pronouns, and collective ""we's"" that produce what one critic (quoted by Caws) calls the ""rhetoric of uncertainty"": an evasive and contingent style. Except for some interesting ""readings"" of the paintings, some photographs of the various lovers that acquire salacious overtones from the text, and some familiar love letters placed in a changed context, there is not much new here. But for someone interested in these women as lovers and artists, the men who loved them and those who didn't, this book, in its disordered way, says as much as anyone would want to know.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1990
Publisher: Routledge