Two famous sisters explored

There have been many famous sisters throughout history, but a new novel about two of them — Vanessa and Her Sister — was published yesterday, Dec. 30, and its author, Priya Parmar, will visit Wilton Library on Thursday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. to talk about it.

Vanessa and Her Sister is about the painter Vanessa Bell and her more famous sibling, the writer Virginia Woolf. The pre-publication buzz has been considerable and the subject matter should provide for a lively discussion with Ms. Parmar.

Vanessa Stephen was born into English nobility in 1879. Upon the death of her father in 1904, she sold the family home and moved to the Bloomsbury district of London with her sister and brother, Thoby Stephen, and became immersed in the collection of artists and writers that became known as the Bloomsbury group. Among them were the novelist E.M. Forster, the biographer Lytton Strachey, the economist John Maynard Keynes, the writer Leonard Woolf, as well as Vanessa’s future husband, the art critic Clive Bell and the artist Duncan Grant, with whom she had a long-standing affair. Meeting frequently from about 1907 to 1930, they were known for their discussions and views of the arts and philosophical questions.

A century later, Ms. Parmar also moved to Bloomsbury to research her subject, reading thousands of letters, postcards and diary entries to learn not only about the circle Vanessa became a part of but also of Vanessa’s relationship with Virginia. She was rewarded by the discovery of a forgotten scandal, “one that is brushed over in the popular mythology of Virginia — something that happened before these sisters became the icons they are today,” according to publicity for the novel.

Weaving fact with fiction, Ms. Parmar explores the sisters’ relationship — loving to the point of obsession, both supportive and destructive. It is as complicated as it is extraordinary.

Ms. Parmar writes in the novel, “I looked at Virginia. She had grown bigger in the last few minutes. Rounded and settled, like a spider who is sure of her breakfast. She had caught everyone in her nonsense web. They were each wrapped and bundled and waiting for the spider feast. And she did it with a tiny word.”

Vanessa and Her Sister has received considerable praise. Among those with kind words is Philippa Gregory, another visitor to Wilton Library earlier this year.

“Priya Parmar is a powerful new voice in historical fiction,” she wrote. “This novel explores the anguished relationship between Virginia Woolf and her sister, and provides a new view of the artistic, sensual Bloomsbury world, placing Vanessa Bell at the heart of the story.”

The author of one previous novel, Exit the Actress, Ms. Parmar attended Mount Holyoke College, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Oxford. Vanessa and Her Sister is published by Ballantine Books.

During her visit to Wilton Library, Ms. Parmar will take questions from the audience. Copies of her books will be available for sale and signing. Admission is free, but registration is highly recommended.

Information: 203-762-3950 or