Deceived with Kindness

I can’t but think that Angelica Garnett is a bit of a whiner. Maybe it’s the result of her growing up during the birth of Freudian psychoanalysis but her entire memoir seems focused on blaming her parents. Her mother, Vanessa Bell, smothered her with kindness. “When she was alive, I had seen her only as a stumbling block, as a monolithic figure who stood in my way, barring my development as a human being…I burdened her instead of myself with the responsibility for my life…I longed for her to want me to be strong and independent, whereas apparently all she desired was to suffocate me with caresses.” Her father, Duncan Grant, was distant. Angelica Garnett was in her teens before she discovered that her mother’s lover was her father. Later she married his lover, Bunny Garnett.

I have no patience for people who blame others for their unhappiness. What a waste of a life to wait around for others to please us. How petty seem the problems of the privileged. I prefer to read about people who have risen above their circumstances. Ursula Bacon fled the German holocaust only to trapped in the Jewish ghetto of Shanghai during the war. And her approach to life is radiant.

For the reader, the promise of this book is a first-hand account into the daily lives of the Bloomsbury Group by one of its daughters. There are many personal observations of family life, another viewpoint, another glimpse into the world and people already so well-documented in letters and diaries. I don’t find Angelica Garnett interesting in her own right.

Quotes and Notes

“It is generally believed that to understand all is to forgive all, but apart from the fact that it is impossible to understand everything, to talk of forgiveness smacks too much of superiority.” — p. 175

I know that saying only from Brideshead Revisited. I wonder if it was a common saying in the 1930s. I never hear it now. Anyway, I have my own prescription for forgiveness, from my childhood catechism. One has to ask for it, to be truly sorry, and to offer penance. Of course, before asking for forgiveness one has had to have sinned. The catechism spells out rules for that, too. Very few people have sinned against me personally. Although I’ve neither forgotten nor forgiven, I don’t spend any time worrying over old sins either. Why would I give them that power over me?

“I have tried to describe my own ghosts, and, in doing so, to exorcise them.” – p. 176

That is the last line of Deceived with Kindness and perhaps it should have been the first. I’m just not interested in reading someone else’s psychoanalysis even if it is someone with very famous relations. The glimpse of the people I’m really interested is too faint and distorted.

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The surface and beneath the surface