Remarkable Relations

by Barbara Strachey. Universe, $15.95. Hannah Whitall, born in 1832, refused to adopt the “sugarscoop bonnet” in which pious Quaker damsels were expected to immerse themselves. Unbonneted, at least by a sugarscoop, she married Robert Pearsall Smith, another “birthright” Quaker, and soon led him astray too. They drifted into strange religions and wound up living in England, where Hannah plunged, with considerable effect, into women’s rights and other nettlesome good works. She also raised up a positive dynasty of equally independent and managerial female descendants. Her sons-in-law (Bertrand Russell and an unfortunate Fabian politician who was quickly ditched and replaced by young Bernard Berenson) loathed her, but her daughters and their daughters were fiercely loyal to the dear old dragon. They were also copious, irreverent, amusing letter writers, and it is these letters that Ms. Strachey, a great-granddaughter, has woven together to create a vivid, entertaining history of the family and its connections. The connections range from Bloomsbury (Virginia Woolf’s brother) to I Tatti (Berenson) to Tahiti (Charles Nordhoff). Remarkable relations they certainly were.