The only things I knew about Angelica Garnett before I read this autobiography were (1) that she was the daughter of Vanessa Bell and her lover Duncan Grant, and (2) that her eventual husband David Garnett had announced that he would marry Angelica on first meeting her, in her cradle. Deceived With Kindness suggests that these fragments of anecdote were not atypical: this memoir could be alternately subtitled How Not To Bring Up A Daughter.
Having read this miserable account of a Bloomsbury childhood I now understand that (3) Angelica believed Clive Bell to be her father for a very long time, and that they had a loving relationship, that (4) her future husband had had an affair with her real father Grant, and that (5) David Garnett had apparently made it a long-term project, after being rebuffed by Vanessa before Angelica was born, to seduce Vanessa’s daughter, once she had one. In addition it would seem that Vanessa Bell apparently did not believe in education, of any kind, and certainly not for girls. She also didn’t give Angelica any of the helpful guidance due from protective, caring parents that would have helped her daughter repel Garnett’s advances. Muddled? I was revolted, and furious.
David Garnett married someone else while waiting for Angelica to grow up enough to be beddable. but his first wife, Ray, died from cancer. The only adult to come out with any credit from Angelica’s account of her childhood and adolescence is Leonard Woolf, who was concerned about her lack of reading, and tried to suggest principles of behaviour that might help Angelica survive in the world outside the Bloomsbury bubble of self-absorption.
Therapy also helped her: vast amounts of it. Reading this memoir — which is undeniably from one particular perspective — confirms what I have instinctively felt for years, that the Stephen sisters were awful people, and that ‘Bloomsbury’ was a snakepit of social experimentation on the innocent and hapless.
6 thoughts on “Angelica Garnett, Deceived with Kindness. A Bloomsbury Childhood”
Oh dear. I had read something describing this book before and thought I would not like it, and now I know I wouldn’t like it, it sounds very disturbing; and anything where children are not treated well is not something I can read. They were so intent on being bohemians that they had no proper judgment on rearing children.
It is very disturbing, especially if one has had anything to do with bringing up children.
I don’t know much about the Bloomsbury Group, but Woolf does seem to have been the most pragmatic and kindest of the circle. I like the way he’s portrayed in ‘Life in Squares’, a BBC mini-series centred on the Stephen sisters.