Virginia Wolf
The girl with a wolf inside

Here is our favourite biography, child and grown-up size:)

Not a surprise as we have two special names here: Kyo Maclear (superlative at writing memoirs) and award-winning Isabelle Arsenault, who meet again to tell us this offbeat story about two extraordinary women of the past, Virginia Woolf and her older sister, painter Vanessa Bell.

By looking at them as sisters, Maclear sheds new light on their personalities and on the sisterly love and rivalry that shaped their artistic lives.
After the deaths of her mother in 1895 and her father in 1904, Vanessa sold their hometown in 22 Hyde Park Gate and moved to Bloomsbury, in the West end, with Virginia and brothers Thoby and Adrian, where they met and began socialising with the artists, writers and intellectuals who would come to form the Bloomsbury Group.
Virginia Woolf suffered from anxiety and depression throughout her life, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. During the darkest episodes, she would close herself in silence.

The book condensates in just a few pages multiple references to Virginia's turbulent inner life : the illness is a wolf, of which Virginia takes the form while hiding in bed in silence, and healing happens thanks to art and nature and to sisterly love.
As Vanessa starts painting a beautiful garden on Virginia's bedroom walls, she wakes up and goes back to play, taking on the appearance of a child again.

We absolutely love the final spreads where the girls are depicted together playing in a garden in bloom.

Where is that garden where Virginia wants to escape? It might in Bloomsbury ('Bloomsberry' :) home to their artistic life, or at Talland House, in Cornwall, where the sisters spent thirteen happy summers of their childhood. We went hunting for that house during a trip to St Ives a couple of years ago.
Sadly it is private property and therefore not marked with any sign, so unless you know expertly where and what to look for, you wouldn't find it.
It's a cream house with a beautiful garden overlooking the sea, which the current residents with the help of the local heritage horticulturalist are trying to bring back to flotation as it was described in Virginia's novels.

'Talland House, and particularly the gardens, were fundamental in the shaping  of Virginia Woolf’s life and work and remained a source of inspiration and happy memories for her throughout her life. She draws on her memories of Talland when creating settings within the three novels The Waves, Jacob’s room and To The Lighthouse, where the entire novel is set within Talland House and the gardens. It features one of the characters, Lily Briscoe, painting a violet purple Jackmanii Clemantis against the white wall of the house, and associates the pear tree in the garden with the formation of deep insights.'

Is that the flower that Vanessa paints on Virginia's wall?

In the book, I also particularly liked that Virginia doesn't actually transform into a wolf, but rather into a shady figure with a wolfish profile. That's how her sister sees her and it helps to keep the story more real and less allegoric.

The illustrations are just delightful throughout the book, the double spreads are full of details that will enchant and intrigue any child, not necessarily girls who might find identification with the characters more straight forward.

We have continued to read this book since my daughter was 4, each time we add some details and explanations of the story and we continue to gift it to friends. Check it out!

Virginia Wolf
Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Published by BookIsland
Reading age: 4+
Themes: Biography, Art, Imagination, Sisterhood, Depression

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