Cover image for Vanessa and her sister a novel
Vanessa and her sister a novel
Parmar, Priya, 1974-
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Publication Information:
[Westminster, MD] : Books on Tape ; New York : Random House Audio, [2014]
Physical Description:
9 audio discs (11 hr.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
"In 1905, Virginia and Vanessa Stephens and their brothers Thoby and Adrian moved to unfashionable, bohemian Bloomsbury. All in their twenties, orphaned and unmarried, they began holding Thursday night gatherings in their unchaperoned, unconventional drawing room. Most of the young guests in that room would become famous, breaking the old rules and blazing their own new paths. It is from Vanessa's point of view at the center of this eccentric, charmed circle of artists and intellectuals that this novel is told, with unsparing honesty about their friendships, their love affairs, and in particular her own troubled relationship with her complicated, brilliant sister Virginia"--
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Audiobook on CD


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For fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank comes a captivating novel that offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of Vanessa Bell, her sister Virginia Woolf, and the controversial and popular circle of intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group.

London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer.

Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf's book review has just been turned down by The Times . Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.

But the landscape shifts when Vanessa unexpectedly falls in love and her sister feels dangerously abandoned. Eerily possessive, charismatic, manipulative, and brilliant, Virginia has always lived in the shelter of Vanessa's constant attention and encouragement. Without it, she careens toward self-destruction and madness. As tragedy and betrayal threaten to destroy the family, Vanessa must decide if it is finally time to protect her own happiness above all else.

The work of exciting young newcomer Priya Parmar, Vanessa and Her Sister exquisitely captures the champagne-heady days of prewar London and the extraordinary lives of sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.

Read by a Full Cast:
"Virginia" read by Clare Corbett
"Vanessa" read by Emilia Fox
"Lytton Strachey" read by Julian Rhind-Tutt
"Leonard Woolf" read by Daniel Pirrie
"Roger Fry" read by Anthony Calf

Advance praise for Vanessa and Her Sister

"Priya Parmar is on a high-wire act all her own in this radiantly original novel about the Bloomsbury Set. Irrepressible, with charm and brio to spare, Vanessa and Her Sister boldly invites us to that moment in history when famous minds sparked and collided. Prepare to be dazzled." --Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

"With sparkling wit and insight, Priya Parmar sets us down into the legendary Bloomsbury household of the Stephen siblings, where sisters Vanessa and Virginia vie for love and primacy amidst a collection of eccentric guests. Vanessa and Her Sister kidnapped me for a couple of days. I couldn't put it down." --Nancy Horan, author of Under the Wide and Starry Sky

"I loved this brilliant depiction of the true price of genius. Parmar's novel shines a bright light into the empty spaces between the lines of history." --Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

"This is the novel I didn't know I was waiting for, and it is, quite simply, astonishing: not just because of Priya Parmar's preternatural skill at evoking the moment when the lid was coming off the Victorians, but because of how she has caught the two sisters at the center of that swirl. It is beautiful, wise, and as deft as a stroke upon the canvas." --Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress

Author Notes

A former dramaturg and freelance editor, Priya Parmar was educated at Mount Holyoke College, The University of Oxford, and The University of Edinburgh. She is the author of Exit the Actress and Vanessa and Her Sister.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In her second historical novel, Parmar (Exit the Actress, 2011) portrays Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, and Leonard Woolf and, through a reenvisioning of the Bloomsbury group's letters, postcards, and telegrams, along with the invention of Vanessa's diary, offers access to their fascinating lives during a snippet of time: 1905-11. Parmar's intimate viewpoint reveals the inspired, contentious, loving, and envious aspects of their relationships while also highlighting their daring, often risqué resistance to lingering Victorian values. At the center, sisters Vanessa and Virginia are just beginning to discover themselves as women and artists, and Parmar shines brightest when exploring Vanessa's internal landscape. There is a good-versus-bad-sister story here, but the narrative is well developed enough to evoke sympathy for each sister's struggle to handle Virginia's mental illness as it shifts the ground beneath their feet. Parmar's novel sparkles, intrigues, and attracts, just as the Stephen sisters must have done in their time. It should inspired readers to revisit the works of the Bloomsbury crowd in a new light, especially Virginia Woolf's.--St. John, Janet Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Before becoming the celebrated writer Virginia Woolf, young Virginia Stephens lived with her sister, Vanessa, and her brothers in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, where they surrounded themselves with other artists and intellectuals. Told in diary entries and letters, this novel captures that period, characterized by emotional upheavals and family crises as well as intellectual and artistic conversations. Emilia Fox is perfect in the role of Vanessa, whose point of view dominates the story. Fox captures Vanessa's feelings of responsibility and exasperation toward her sister, her mixed feelings about her suitor Clive Bell, and her earnest desire to be a serious artist. Julian Rhind-Tutt is likewise excellent as family friend Lytton Strachey: flamboyantly gay, full of lively gossip, prone to self-deprecating humor, and passionately longing for a man he cannot have. Daniel Pirre and Anthony Calf both offer serviceable, straightforward narrations in their respective roles as Leonard Woolf and Roger Fry. The one misstep is Clare Corbett, who is cast as Virginia, the baby of the family and described as brilliant and witty, but also childish, immature, wild, reckless, selfish, prone to fits of hysteria, and actual madness. In narrating Virginia's chapters, Corbett's voice is deeper than the voice of other female characters, with a crackly quality and an overly posh accent, all of which make her sound like a middle-aged woman, not the childish 20-something girl she is supposed to be. The effect is jarring. However, only a handful of chapters are told from Virginia's point of view, so it does not detract too much from the rest of the narration, which is excellent. A Ballantine hardcover. (Dec.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

At the turn of the 20th century, London's Bloomsbury Group held some of the brightest artistic and academic minds of the day, including Vanessa and Virginia Stephen. Through Vanessa's fictionalized diary entries and correspondence among the group's members, listeners witness the exuberance of youth and folly as they experiment with defying the social strictures of their changing world. But the novel primarily concerns the relationship between the two Stephen sisters. Virginia later marries and comes into literary prominence as Virginia Woolf, while Vanessa marries Clive Bell and becomes well-known celebrated artist Vanessa Bell. When Vanessa becomes a wife and mother, Virginia's fragile mental state threatens to tear apart the close relationship she and Vanessa shared as young girls. Emilia Fox does a marvelous job voicing Vanessa, and the other narrators-Clare Corbett, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Daniel Pirrie, and Anthony Calf-shine as well. VERDICT Those with an interest in the Bloomsbury Group or sister relationships will enjoy this title. ["The book's strength lies in the well-written relationship between Vanessa and Virginia, sure to appeal to fans of Michael Cunningham's The Hours," read the review of the Ballantine hc, LJ 11/1/14.]- Laura Brosie, Wentzville, MO © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Virginia Woolf Asheham House Rodmell Sussex 2 December 1912--Asheham Dearest Nessa, She arrived in an inauspicious brown crate. Your painting is smaller and rougher than I expected. Mrs. Virginia Woolf in a Deckchair--what a marvelously blunt title. Without it, I am not sure anyone would know it is me given the empty face but Leonard says he recognized the set of the shoulders right away. Where shall I put your beautiful canvas? Leonard thinks the upstairs hallway. Would you choose when you come down next week? You know how I like it when you decide these things. You are still coming down? There is an unrushed calm about your Mrs. Woolf. Is this how you see me now, dearest? The woman in the painting looks whole and serene and loved. Am I still loveable? Or have I undone that now? No, Nessa, it must not be. What happened cannot break us. It is impossible. Someday you will love me and forgive me. Someday we will begin again. Always your Virginia Excerpted from Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.