Monday, September 8, 2014

Sketches in Pen and Ink by Vanessa Bell

In the past few years, I've managed to collect several books by or about the members of the Bloomsbury Group. It seems that there are some in the group whose work and lives have demanded a great deal of attention while the painter Vanessa Bell has been somewhat in the background. I've wondered what she was like and what it must have been like to be the sister of Virginia Woolf. Sketches in Pen and Ink has answered those questions.

Sketches in Pen and Ink, published in 1997, is a collection of autobiographical writings by Vanessa Bell, edited by Lia Giochero with an introduction by Bell's daughter, Angelica Garnett. Some of the writings are informal recollections while some pieces are what Bell wrote and presented as a member of the elite Memoir Club.

In 1920, writer Mary MacCarthy formed the Memoir Club, primarily as a way to get her procrastinating husband, Desmond MacCarthy, more serious about his writing. The club was made up of twelve members, most of them members of Bloomsbury, like Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Vanessa and Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, and Roger Fry. The meetings consisted of the members reading their own autobiographical writings to one another. My first thought when I read about the Memoir Club was how brave Vanessa Bell must have been to stand up and present her writing to such an illustrious group!

As I went through this collection, I felt really excited to read Bell's own words. Her writing had a refreshing quality to it. She wrote in a conversational style that was at times humorous, poignant, or could be mischievous, and that made the book fun to read. 

Included is the text of a speech she gave at her son's school which has some genuinely funny moments, but I also found the speech interesting because of what she wrote about her experience of being an artist and what art is. In the other writings, she gave recollections about her grandmother, memories of her childhood with Virginia Woolf, the beginnings of Bloomsbury, and there is a lovely piece about her relationship with Roger Fry.

I would recommend Sketches in Pen and Ink to anyone who is interested in Vanessa Bell or the Bloomsbury Group.

Have you read Sketches in Pen and Ink?

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