Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury

A new edition, with an afterword by Peter Cameron and a never-before-published letter about Mitz by Nigel Nicolson

Soft Skull Press / August 6, 2019

“At that time I had a marmoset called Mitz which accompanied me everywhere, sitting on my shoulder or inside my waistcoat.” — Leonard Woolf, Downhill All the Way

In 1934, a “sickly pathetic marmoset” named Mitz came into the care of Leonard Woolf. After he nursed her back to health, she became a ubiquitous presence in Bloomsbury society. Moving with Leonard and Virginia Woolf between London and Sussex, she developed her own special relationship with each of them, as well as with their cocker spaniels and with various members of the Woolfs’ circle, among them T. S. Eliot and Vita Sackville-West. Mitz also helped the Woolfs escape a close call with Nazis during a trip through Germany just before the outbreak of World War II. This tender and imaginative mock biography uses letters, diaries, memoirs, and other archival documents to offer a striking look at the lives of writers and artists shadowed by war, death, and mental breakdown, and at the solace and amusement inspired by its tiny subject.

From the citation for the 1999 Rosenthal Foundation Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters:
A lesson to all of us who foolishly believed that Flush exhausted the unpromising genre of pet biography, Mitz takes Flush back to the muse, the marmoset that briefly belonged to Virginia and Leonard Woolf. In prose so lucid, so supple, so exquisitely entertaining we only slowly realize we are in the presence of art, Sigrid Nunez constructs a diagram of love and solicitude and abiding solitude: Mitz is tender, astute, wise, funny, and deeply, unsentimentally sad—for all its charm, a novel of masterly formal intelligence.


Praise for Mitz

“[A] perfect little gem of a book.” — Nigel Nicolson

“Just marvelous” — Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust

[A] charming, airy, and disarmingly melancholy novel [that] makes of Bloomsbury a kind of snow globe—diminutive, self-contained, beautifully agitated—within which major and minor figures are given room to float past at their leisure.  — Paris Review

[A] wry, supremely intelligent literary gem about devotion — to writing, to other people, and between humans and their pets. Like The Friend, Mitz captures the heartrending downside of love and connection — loss. But it also reminds us, beautifully, of the “great solace and distraction” of literature. — NPR

“An inventive, intelligent, thoroughly researched and alive creation . . . an absolutely miraculous achievement of intellectual imagination . . . Viva MITZ!” — Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones

“Nunez takes great risks with this novel. . . .  [A]t its very best the book takes on the edginess of Mrs. Dalloway.” — Chicago Tribune

“Mitz shimmers with an emotional truth missing from the most rigorous Bloomsbury histories.” — Editors’ Choice, The Village Voice 

“In short, glistening sentences that refract the larger world, Ms. Nunez describes the appealingly eccentric, fiercely intelligent Woolfs during a darkening time.” — Wall Street Journal

“Delight! Nunez is the absolute best. She is the only writer I know with enough delicacy, subtlety, intelligence, and wit to be a marmoset’s biographer. I adored this book, as small and as brilliant as that little star, Mitz, the marmoset herself. All this, and with it a splendid portrait of the two Woolves, Leonard and Virginia, as well. I learned much that is important about marmosets and about the Bloomsbury group from Mitz, and for both insights, I’m grateful.” — Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs

“Though it’s factually based on diaries, letters, and memoirs, Nunez’s Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury still offers a slice of pure whimsy.” Entertainment Weekly

“[S]ucceeds charmingly in portraying the Woolfs’ companionable writerly routine (as well as their darker days), and in being sympathetic (but not sentimental) toward Leonard’s peculiar pet. . . . Among the flurry of Bloomsbury books, “Mitz” stands out for taking a (Virginia) Woolf-like imaginative leap.” — Hartford Courant

“From letters and memoirs, the versatile Nunez . . . shapes a small, curious contribution to the greater glory of Bloomsbury. . . . Domestic vignettes here are nicely turned.” — Kirkus Reviews