Anybody can cash in on our favorite writers. Novels about Virginia Woolf are especially copious.
Two novels about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf have recently been published, one about, Emily Dickinson, and another about Dorothy Richardson.
1. Priya Parmar’s Vanessa and Her Sister has been well-reviewed: this novel is written in the form of the diary of Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s painter sister. It is said to be “an intimate glimpse” into the lives of Vanessa and Virginia and the Bloomsbury group.
Why haven’t I read it yet? Novels about the Stephens sisters, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, can be dicey, because the members of the Bloomsbury group are so much more talented than most writers. What if I’m disappointed?
But I did admire Susan Sellers’s Vanessa & Virginia, a novel published in 2009. written from the point of view of Vanessa Bell. Broken into a series of short, beautifully written sketches, this is a poetic account of Vanessa’s painting, her ambivalent relationship with her difficult diva of a younger sister, Virginia Woolf, and her long, somewhat shocking love affair with Duncan Grant, an artist who prefers men and has a series of homosexual affairs.
2. Norah Vincent’s Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf will be published April 7. I’m not sure how many novels about Virginia Woolf I can digest in a year, but it is the kind of thing I read.
On April 18, 1941, twenty-two days after Virginia Woolf went for a walk near her weekend house in Sussex and never returned, her body was reclaimed from the River Ouse. Norah Vincent’s Adeline reimagines the events that brought Woolf to the riverbank, offering us a denouement worthy of its protagonist.
With poetic precision and psychological acuity, Vincent channels Virginia and Leonard Woolf, T. S. and Vivienne Eliot, Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington, laying bare their genius and their blind spots, their achievements and their failings, from the inside out. And haunting every page is Adeline, the name given to Virginia Stephen at birth, which becomes the source of Virginia’s greatest consolation, and her greatest torment.
Perhaps it will be good. They like it at Goodreads.
3. William Nicholson’s Amherst, a new novel about Emily Dickinson, would be a wonderful excuse to reread her poems. Nicholson is a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He is best-known for Shadowlands.
Alice Dickinson, a young advertising executive in London, decides to take time off work to research her idea for a screenplay: the true story of the scandalous, adulterous love affair that took place between a young, Amherst college faculty wife, Mabel Loomis Todd, and the college’s treasurer, Austin Dickinson, in the 1880s. Austin, twenty-four years Mabel’s senior and married, was the brother of the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, whose house provided the setting for Austin and Mabel’s trysts.
It, too, has been well-received.
4. Louisa Treger’s The Lodger is a novel about Dorothy Richardson, the author of Pilgrimage and the creator of stream-of-consciousness. (No, Joyce did not invent stram-of-consciousness. It’s the boys who think so!)
I have been a fan of Richardson for decades.
Dorothy exists just above the poverty line, doing secretarial work at a dentist’s office and living in a seedy boarding house in Bloomsbury, when she is invited to spend the weekend with a childhood friend. Jane recently married a writer, who is hovering on the brink of fame. His name is H.G. Wells, or Bertie, as he is known to friends.
Was there any woman writer in those days who did not have an affair with H. G. Wells? Rebecca West, Violet Hunt, and Elizabeth Von Arnim. So many women writers.
If you have any favorite novels about literary figures, let me know. There are so many!