Random musings from a "rabid" reader. The title comes from my admiration of John Updike and his Rabbit Angstrom series.When I read a review of a book I have not read, I only read enough to get a general idea of the content. If it sounds interesting, I make a note of the review, read the book, and only then do I go back and read the review completely. I intend these short musings to convey that spirit and idea to the readers of "RabbitReader."
Sunday, May 05, 2013
Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers
I have read a lot of Virginia Woolf, including some of her
journals, letters, and a biography by her nephew, Quentin Bell.But I know almost nothing about her sister,
the painter Vanessa Stephens Bell.After
reading this wonderful, insightful novel of the relationship between the two
sisters, told from the point of view of Vanessa, I now have a starting point
for understanding them, their relationship, and the connection to Virginia’s work.
Normally, I am wary of this genre I call biographical
fiction, but Susan Sellers has the credentials which made me want to read.She is a professor of English at St. Andrews
University in Scotland and co-editor of the Cambridge University press editions
of Virginia Woolf’s work.She has won
the Canongate prize for New Writing and has authored many short stories and
non-fiction books.As the jacket also
says, this is her first novel.
At first, I found it a bit hard to know who was talking and
who was listening, because Sellers does not use traditional attribution tags
with dialogue.Then I began to notice
clever clues in the text.For example,
when she referred to “your writing,” or “my painting,” I was able to sail
through the story.I also enjoyed some
of the obscure references to Virginia’s works.
In the folllowing passage, Vanessa has had one of many
confrontations with her father.Sellers
“‘Can you not imagine what it is like for me now?Have you no pity?’It is bearing down on me, Father’s beak.I feel it ripping into my flesh, ravenous for
sympathy. / Finally, I am released.I go
out onto the landing bowed down by my failure.You are sitting on the bottom stair.I can tell from your expression that you have been listening to our
exchange.Your eyes signal your
compassion, your powerlessness to help. / “‘Damn him!’ I burst out. / I realize
from the tapering light in your eyes that I have gone too far.You look away.You are only a partial accomplice.I sense from the set of your shoulders, a
sudden movement of your arm, that though you acknowledge Father’s tyranny you
love him still” (41).
This interesting twist on sibling rivalry is only the
beginning of the wonderful aspects of this novel.
Virginia Woolf is one of the most important feminist writers
of the early 20th century.Her novels – To the Lighthouse,
Orlando, and Mrs. Dalloway, represent some of the finest modernist novels.Reading Virginia Woolf requires a great deal
of concentration, because time and place can easily slip slide away from