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Deceived With Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood Paperback – 2 Mar 1995
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Deceived with Kindness The record of the young Angelica Garnett's struggle to emerge from the extraordinary and intense milieu of the Bloomsbury Set as a mature and independent woman. She creates a poignant picture of her mother, Vanessa Bell, of her own emerging individuality, and of the Bloomsbury era. Full description
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She was overshadowed by famous parents and older, more accomplished, more privileged brothers. Her relationship with Vanessa was profoundly and damagingly ambiguous. Out of misplaced kindness and perhaps guilt, her mother was too self-indulgent with her so that she was never allowed to test her abilities, leading to a lasting loss of self-confidence. Vanessa, often too possessive, while being inarticulate and too reticent about things that really mattered to her daughter, comes out quite badly in this memoir. Until she was seventeen Angelica understood her father was Clive Bell, but her mother shattered this when she revealed that in fact Duncan was her father. He however, though charming and kind to her, was not father-material, and though a strong bond existed between her parents, Duncan was gay. The result was that, paradoxically, though she now had two fathers she felt she had no real father at all. This, she admits, led her to seek a father figure to fill the gap when she came to marry Bunny Garnett, who was twenty-six years her senior. Though the marriage lasted a long time and produced four daughters, Angelica knew it was a mistake, but Bunny dominated her. Like Charleston, her childhood home in Sussex, Hilton Hall in Cambridgeshire, their family home, was another place she eventually had to escape. Only in middle-age, living in France, did she begin to find out who she really was. She had many ghosts to lay, and writing the book , squeezing it out of her troubled psyche, as it were, was cathartic.
After a revealing Prologue, the chapters begin (and end) with Vanessa and her family (including her aunt Virginia Woolf who comes out rather well from this account, though her fawning need for love is a little disconcerting). Chapters Two and Three describes her early years at Charleston and in Gordon Square in London during the Twenties. Chapter Four is about the Bells, her hunting-shooting-fishing relations on her 'father's' side. Chapter Five takes us to Vanessa's rented holiday home in Cassis, France, and Chapter Six briefly describes Angelica's not very successful attempts to educate her at school. In Chapter Seven we return to life at Charleston: Angelica is now a teenager surrounded by the famous names of Bloomsbury, trying to work out how each related to each, feeling both the centre of attention yet on the edge of everything, as the yongest, indulged but overlooked. She loved Virginia, was shy of the stern Leonard; she looked up to her elder brother Julian, who tended to take her part when he thought to do so. Then in Chapter 10 we have the shattering revelation about her parentage, the effects of which were compounded when, as Chapter Eleven lays out, she gradually discovered that the man she married was once the lover of her father. The fact that she could never discuss this with her parents demonstrates how reticent Bloomsbury - famous for its frank talk - could be with regard to intimate, uncomfortable family matters. The chapters comes full circle with Vanessa's death in her eighties.
It's a pity Angelica did not write more, she had a real talent for writing. This book, giving us a child's eye view of some members of the Bloomsbury group, is quietly devastating. Whether it's anything more than a version of the truth is for the reader to decide, but it is the truth that the writer carried with her all her life and hammered out the shape of in a fog of confusion and self-doubt. It deserves its classic status.
Her determination to untangle as many of the interweaving strands that made up the lives of these people who were responsible for her well-being and how short of the mark they often fell, allows for deep affection, a remarkable lack of self-pity and, at times, an almost zen-like detachment.
The sheer quality of the writing, alone, would have kept this reader reading, even without the absorbing set of characters she lays before us.
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Other reviewers have said that you won't get much out of this book unless you are familiar with the complex web of relationships that was...Read more