Duncan Grant by Frances Spalding - review by Gillian Beer

Gillian Beer

Endogamous Nesting

Duncan Grant


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This is a mysterious book. Its mystery is suggested in the plainness of its title, Duncan Grant. At the end of more than four hundred pages thronged with people, love affairs, painting, travel and reminiscence surrounding Duncan Grant, he remains a vague figure. Perhaps that is a proper portrait. To his friends and lovers, Grant was infinitely engaging: ‘this darling strange creature so like an animal and so full of charm’ as Bunny Garnett wrote. Few seem to have resisted that charm, although D H Lawrence, with bluster, did so. In previous accounts of Bloomsbury, Grant is always present and admired, yet never quite in focus. Frances Spalding gathers an array of unpublished material – notably David Garnett’s diaries and a mass of Grant’s papers, including letters from a vast range of correspondents. She has discussed him with many of his later friends and admirers, and sets down their accounts with a cautious refusal to interpret that sometimes acts as adverse judgement.

The life that Spalding recounts with dispassionate sympathy touches so many intersections of a web that it cannot fail to fascinate the reader. As the account accumulates, it rouses and sates curiosity. The effect becomes like an overfilled engagement diary where you long to spy a free afternoon. It sometimes

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