Deceived with Kindness

In the first three decades of the twentieth century, such highly distinguished people as Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, and Vanessa Bell formed a loose group of friends that came to be known by the part of London they often inhabited: Bloomsbury. Angelica Garnett brings something new to the large body of literature about this famous circle. She shows readers what everyone looked like from the vantage point of childhood.

Vanessa Bell, Angelica’s mother, lived her life in defiance of society’s rules, allowing her husband, Clive, to have many liaisons while devoting herself emotionally to Duncan Grant, a homosexual painter. Duncan became Vanessa’s lover just long enough to father Angelica, but he lived amicably if asexually with the Bells for the rest of his long life. Angelica grew up confused and insecure, intimidated by her parents’ circle, mistake about her actual paternity.

Acknowledging their daring, Angelica nevertheless accuses her parents of a cowardly dishonesty in keeping the facts of her parentage from her and of causing her to live in a pampered state of anomie, which even now, at age sixty-six, she finds hard to escape. She blames her parents further for keeping her ignorant of the past of David “Bunny” Garnett--the man who was at one time Duncan’s lover, who tried unsuccessfully to bed Vanessa, and who eventually avenged himself on them both by seducing and marrying Angelica.

There are gaps and chronological imprecisions in this memoir that are bothersome as well as several long stretches of painterly description that only bog down the book. Yet DECEIVED WITH KINDNESS is nevertheless fascinating reading, essential for anyone interested in the Bloomsbury circle. With integrity and even consideration, Garnett shows readers the difficulty of establishing an identity for herself when her parents were such astonishingly talented renegades.