Life in Squares: Loving in Triangles

Previously on Life in Squares: The Stephens family became the nucleus of the early Bloomsbury Group, which included Clive Bell, who married Vanessa Stephens, and Duncan Grant, who became very attached to Vanessa as well, despite being homosexual.

‘Let me remind you that I’m not the marrying sort.’

‘Not an easy feat keeping Roger as a friend and Clive as a husband and Duncan as…?’

In the 1920s and in 1912, Vanessa and Clive are preparing for a party. In 1912, it’s Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s wedding, which the Bells are hosting. Would have been nice to see how Virginia came to embrace marriage, but since this mostly seems to be Vanessa’s story, I can understand the oversight. There’s some good-natured ribbing amongst the group, but Vanessa seems glum and removes herself to her studio to be a little depressed. Duncan comes in and asks to see some of her more recent work. He asks if she’s sad to lose a sister and she riposts that she’s ‘gaining a Leonard’ and suggests playfully that they find someone for Duncan next. He reminds her that he’s not the marrying sort. They return to the dining room, which is a cozy little domestic scene of friends being friends together.

The party sees the newlyweds off on their honeymoon, during which the Woolfs attempt to engage in some very awkward sex, made even more awkward by Virginia telling her new husband that she wants ‘to copulate.’ Man, that’s a boner killer right there. He tells her so and she tries vulgarity next. They manage to get it together.

Vanessa, in bed with her own husband, gossips that Virginia says that orgasm is a bit disappointing, which suggests she’s not really having one. Vanessa goes on about how Virginia was never much interested in sex, probably on account of having been molested as a child. Uh, yeah, I’d say that would have an effect. Vanessa gets up to take the kids to the park and briskly asks if Clive will be seeing his mistress that day. She asks only that he return for dinner, because Duncan’s coming by to go over designs for a mural.

Virginia goes to see her new mother-in-law and seems very wan and low. MIL tries to make some small talk, and Virginia tries to join in, but this is awkward as hell. MIL mentions her dead husband and how sad it is he didn’t live long enough for grandkids. Virginia’s face says, ‘oh, here we go.’ Leonard tries to break the tension by mentioning that Virginia’s writing a book.

The book is The Voyage Out, and she shows the finished manuscript to Vanessa, who’s basically like, ‘oh, wow, a whole book. Great. Gonna pop out a kid next? You know you won’t be fulfilled until you have a kid, right?’ She would totally be one of those obnoxious ‘you don’t know love until you’ve had a child’ Facebook mums, wouldn’t she? She keeps herself distracted by nailing out a canvas, while Virginia asks her why sister why she didn’t mention her affair with a man named Roger. She accuses Vanessa of not talking to her anymore and Vanessa shrills that they talk all the time and Virginia’s too sensitive.

[cryout-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left” width=”33%”]Vanessa would totally be one of those obnoxious ‘you don’t know love until you’ve had a child’ Facebook mums, wouldn’t she?[/cryout-pullquote]Vanessa and Duncan spend some time in the park with her boys, look up at some trees, and talk about the impending war. He says he couldn’t imagine fighting and killing another person. She reminds him that he’s likely to be thrown into jail but he says he’s rather used to that possibility. One of the boys pretends to shoot Duncan with a stick and he dramatically drops to the ground, because he’s adorable with these kids.

At the Bell home, Clive is painting his wife blue for some reason while Duncan shaves in the bathroom (does he always shave here?) and talks about a new ‘friend’ of his who really is just a friend, because the guy, Bunny, is straight. Vanessa very obviously checks Duncan out as he strips off his shirt, and then he comes into the bedroom at Clive’s invitation to finish painting Vanessa’s skin, which is clearly a very sensual moment for her. He talks about Bunny and how confident he is and how Duncan loves that in him and in Vanessa, how they seem to know so clearly what they want.

They all go to a rather wild and bizarre looking costume party. I don’t even know what most of these costumes are supposed to be. Vanessa, painted blue, is draped in some sort of toga that’s barely hanging onto her. Duncan and Bunny are in matching outfits, and Duncan’s clearly a bit drunk and pressing his suit on Bunny pretty hard. Bunny reminds him that he’s straight, but Duncan’s not in a ‘no means no’ mood and starts making out with the guy. And I guess Bunny’s not all that straight, because he reciprocates.

Virginia, meanwhile, is gabbling away at several hundred miles an hour while smoking, and Vanessa watches Duncan and Bunny make out jealously.

A little later, she joins Clive on the stairs. He tells her Virginia’s not sleeping and has had a constant headache for the last month. He thinks she’s stressed about the book. Vanessa’s dismissive of her sister’s distress but tiredly suggests they hit up Hyslop for some help here.

Hyslop checks Virginia out and suggests she take some meds. She doesn’t want to, because they cloud her thoughts. Hyslop tells her that food and rest are necessary to protect the brain, and if she doesn’t tend to herself she’ll be sent somewhere where she’ll be cared for, if you get his meaning. Virginia asks if she might be able to have a child someday and Vanessa briskly says she should, as long as she follows Hyslop’s advice. Virginia doesn’t seem too happy about this.

Leonard tries taking care of her, reading to her in bed and trying to get her to take enforced naps. She can’t sleep, though. She tells him that when she went crazy after her father died, she thought sparrows were speaking to her. He measures out some sleeping powders and gives them to her. The phone rings and he goes to answer it, leaving the jar of powders out on the bureau.

Vanessa and Duncan are having a tandem painting session while a friend reads art criticism. Clive bursts in and tells Vanessa that something’s happened to Virginia.

She’s OD’d. Vanessa arrives at the Woolf home as Hyslop and a nurse are working to pump Virginia’s stomach. Leonard’s beside himself.

Vanessa sits by her sister’s bed all night, crying and apologising and promising they’ll talk more from now on.

Leonard goes to see his mother, who’s aghast at the whole situation. She tells her son there can be no question of children now, not because she’s worried about the strain on Virginia (which is his concern) but because this sort of thing can be passed on. Leonard cries and looks stressed out.

Afterwards, he goes home and gives Virginia some candies his mother sent along. She takes them appreciatively and offers him some. He takes her hand and they have a companionable moment.

Duncan asks Vanessa how her sister is and learns that Leonard’s taking her out of London, which is probably for the best. Vanessa, too, is heading out of town for the duration of the war and invites Duncan to come along and stay. He can even bring Bunny! She studies Duncan for a moment, then bluntly announces that she’s in love with him. She thought for a while it was just a physical attraction to his hot bod, but it’s not. He gets all sad-eyed and does the ‘I really like you, but not, you know, inthat way,’ thing. She’s clearly a bit sad and disappointed but tells him she doesn’t expect anything, because she knows he’s not into women.

Clive returns home very late at night and finds Vanessa still awake in bed. He climbs in next to her and tells her that the war has officially begun.

Duncan goes out to the countryside to work on a farm, doing manual labour for probably the first time in his life. At least he’s got Bunny to keep him company.

Vanessa has taken up residence in her incredibly picturesque home, joined by Duncan and Bunny. Clive comes by with Mary, his uptight, upper-class girlfriend who is so not into the dirt and bohemian-ness of this little countryside retreat. Vanessa chatters about the plans for the garden and the pond, not that Mary cares. The boys come barreling in and Julian shows off a recently lost tooth. Clive is cute with the kids. Mary takes this as a cue to leave, because Clive can’t even be bothered to spend a night under the same roof as his family, which is rather shitty. Vanessa sees them out and tells Clive she kind of misses having him around.

At night, she can hear Duncan and Bunny cavorting in the next room while she writes letters to Virginia, telling her all about the country life and urging her to come visit.

Virginia does come visit, and declares the place utterly perfect. Her book has been published and Vanessa’s really pleased for her. They talk about their creations: children and home for one and books for the other. They both seem content with that.

Inside, Duncan and Bunny fool around.

At dinner, Bunny talks to Virginia about a book he wants to write. She doesn’t seem all that impressed by the fact he hasn’t even started it yet. Vanessa fetches some salve for Duncan’s hands and while she applies it he throws some shade Bunny’s way for running up to London all the time.

The girls chat later and Virginia reassures her sister that things are really great with her and Leonard, which Vanessa’s glad to hear. She starts talking about Duncan, whom she considers a great painter, and how wonderful it is that they can work together whenever they like. Virginia reminds Vanessa that she once hoped to be a great painter, and Vanessa tartly says she still hopes that.

The boys have a tiff, and Bunny leaves the house. Duncan joins Vanessa in her studio to be comforted. Bunny’s off to see some girl, but Vanessa reassures him it’ll pass. He doesn’t seem so sure.

Later, he finds her painting a mural over one of the fireplaces, grabs a paintbrush and joins her. We then cut directly to Bunny saying:

‘You know it won’t last,’ which seems rather unsubtle for this show. He continues that the plaster will suck up all the paint. Vanessa basically ignores him and makes it clear she’s not a big fan of his, so he grabs her hand and suggests she’d hate him less if they slept together. ‘I don’t think we can be certain of that, do you?’ she sneers. Burn!

As everyone’s going to bed, the boys start having another shouting match, because Bunny has hogged the last of the coal and the milk, which is rather shitty of him. Vanessa wearily reminds him that they kind of need to keep the kitchen stove going so they can, you know, eat, and also the milk was supposed to feed her children in the morning. Duncan yells at Bunny for failing to show Vanessa proper respect, telling him that she’s been a total saint. ‘Aren’t you lucky to have the devotion of an actual, living saint?’ Bunny shouts. The two men start tussling as Vanessa shouts for them to stop. Her sons come in and Julian says: ‘aren’t they pacifists anymore?’ Hee!

Some time later, Vanessa seeks out Duncan in one of the barns, where he’s deeply into some self-pity, complaining about not having enough to eat or paint and Bunny basically just being a dick and man, he just wishes he were dead! ‘Well, join up, then!’ Vanessa tells him, fed up at last. She reminds him that she knows how hard it is to be in love with someone who doesn’t love you back and he backs down, realizing what an ass he’s being and apologizing. She apologises too, then runs her hand down his body, grabs his crotch, and says she wishes she could make him happy. He says she does. She then suggests they have a kid together. Um, what? Even more bizarrely, he goes along with that and has sex with her right there in the barn. So, I guess he’s not gay so much as bi, then? This seems strange and abrupt.

Vanessa gets knocked up. The Bloomsburies get back together so we can get caught up: Lytton’s published his book of Eminent Victorians, to his mother’s great pride, and Clive’s going to pretend that Vanessa’s baby is his. All very neat and proper. After dinner, Virginia looks out at their friends and tells Vanessa that what she’s accomplished here is pretty extraordinary. Not an easy thing keeping an ex-lover, husband, and babydaddy happy and in harmony, yet Vanessa manages it.

It’s Christmas Day and Vanessa’s in labour, pacing around her kitchen while Bunny and Duncan chill in another room, Duncan nervous as all hell and Bunny totally relaxed. They joke about having to call the baby Jesus, and how that would make Duncan, as the dad, God. The labour intensifies, but Vanessa refuses to go to bed and calls for Duncan. Unfortunately, he’s chosen to take a walk, so the only person around to help her out besides the midwife is Bunny, who’s called in to read poetry and hold Vanessa’s hand, which kind of amuses me, for some reason. He does really well and Vanessa delivers a healthy daughter.

Duncan finally gets his ass home and is introduced to his kid. He smiles proudly at Vanessa while Bunny snuggles the kid and declares her beautiful. ‘Shall I marry her someday?’ he asks, and knowing the dynamics of this group, he’s probably not entirely kidding. Still, considering you once propositioned her mother and had an ongoing affair with her father, I’m thinking no, Bunny, you should not. He passes the baby over to Duncan and leaves the new parents with their offspring. She will be named Angelica.

In the 1920s, Vanessa admires her daughter, now a teenager, from afar. A truck pulls up outside the house and Julian, now grown, steps out and is enthusiastically greeted by his mother and sister. Another man, George, is with him, and apparently he’s an old friend, or maybe a ‘friend’, of Duncan’s. Duncan is quite pleased to see him.

Julian’s homecoming is the reason for the party. Champagne has been poured, and Vanessa manages a rather tight greeting for George, so clearly there’s some tension there. The family sits down happily to enjoy their reunion.



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