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MITZ by Sigrid Nunez

MITZ

The Bloomsbury Marmoset

By Sigrid Nunez

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-017407-2
Publisher: HarperCollins

From letters and memoirs, the versatile Nunez (Naked Sleeper, 1996, etc.) shapes a small, curious contribution to the greater glory of Bloomsbury, in the form of a story based on Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s pet monkey. The sickly Mitz entered the Woolfs’ lives in 1934, when a pet-sitting arrangement blossomed into something more permanent: genuine affection between Leonard and his charge. Tucked into her master’s waistcoat, the tiny, pampered Mitz soon overcame infirmities brought on during confinement on the voyage from South America and on subsequent neglect. Befriending the Woolfs— spaniel Pinka meant having a warm bundle of fur to sleep next to, as well as an alternate grooming partner whenever the absentminded Leonard—with his pockets full of slugs and head full of dandruff—was unavailable. On the odd occasion at their country house in Sussex when Mitz would escape into the trees, Leonard’s simple stratagem of openly displaying affection toward Virginia would be enough to bring the jealous marmoset back to her perch on his shoulder. The literary life continued apace with Mitz part of the routine, but her unique role didn—t fully emerge until a driving trip to Italy in 1935, when, in Bonn, she charmed a beet-faced storm trooper long enough for Virginia and Leonard to make their getaway. Her charms, however, couldn—t save them, or herself, from the shadows lengthening over Bloomsbury on their return: Leonard’s frailty, Virginia’s depression, and the gathering thunder of war, which in Spain claimed the life of their nephew Julian Bell. Mitz’s own departure, the result of a winter chill, foreshadows further tragedies about to befall the extraordinary couple. Domestic vignettes here are nicely turned, but the details of social and literary history are obtrusive, rendering dense and merely illustrative what might have been a quirky, modest tale.