The Bloomsbury Group

Some members of The Bloomsbury Group

Members of The Bloomsbury Group & others

 

 

Flower power, free love, pacifism, fashion, art, literature, philosophy and explorations of the mind.

 

That would be an apt summation of a post Sgt. Pepper 1960s, but in a neighbourhood of London, from which they would take their collective name, some 60 years previously the Bloomsbury Group became synonymous with all of the above.

 

Friends to one another prior to their becoming renowned in their respective fields this some-what incestuous and elitist set of writers, artists, academics, and theoreticians became known, and are still referred to by their collective name.

 

At their core this upper middle-class set of English men and women consisted of 10 members.

 

Omega Cuff Links

 

E.M. Forster

Author of some of the most famous English language novels of the 20th Century and in particular of the Edwardian and post-Edwardian period including Howard’s End, A Room with a View, and A Passage to India.

 

Forster’s works are marked by themes of humanism, a pliancy with regard to sexuality, and the oft forming off ill-conceived or unlikely pairings, marriages and other relationships. Perhaps not surprising given the fertile soil of these ideas lived out by himself and his Bloomsbury contemporaries.

 

Afforded an inheritance equivalent to nearly £1M today, Forster was able to pursue his life as a writer from a very early age. 16 times a Nobel Laureate nominee, Forster was publicly presented as a ‘confirmed bachelor’ remaining unmarried his entire life.

 

This term being familiar code for his generation for a homosexual man, who due to the possibility of imprisonment for engaging in activity considered criminal repressed his sexual urges, admitting his preference only to close friends.

 

Omega Tie

Omega Tie

 

Roger Fry

Founder of the Omega Workshops in London’s Fitzroy Square and a painter, Roger Fry was known predominantly as an art critic and academic.

 

His position as the son of a Sir Edward Fry, a judge at the court of appeal and a member of The Royal Society, from within the prominent Quaker Fry family, meant inevitable access to an elite education and opportunities.

 

Married to the artist Helen Coombe with whom he had two children, Coombe was committed to a mental asylum 14 years into their marriage and for the rest of her life. Subsequently Fry began an affair with the married Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf, who eventually left him and her husband to live life long with the homosexual Duncan Grant. All fellow members of the Bloomsbury group.

 

Omega Crêpe de Chine Silk Scarf

Omega Crêpe de Chine Silk Scarf

 

Clive Bell

Bell was an art critic and notable as a man of changeable and marked political views, including open anti-Semitism, alongside an egotistical snobbery as a result of his privileged social position.

 

His most remembered contribution to art criticism was the theory of ‘critical form’. Bell cited the combinations of lines and colours as the most important elements in works of art. Indicating the example of Paul Cézanne’s works as those in which formal properties were manifested most purely.

 

As the husband of Vanessa Bell, from whom he was never formally separated or divorced despite the fact that she lived with Duncan Grant for 40 years, Bell allowed their daughter together, Angelica, to carry his surname thereby concealing the true paternity of Grant into her adulthood. A deception seemingly carried out in large part on the grounds of securing an inheritance.

 

 

 

Vanessa Bell Design

Vanessa Bell Design for Omega Workshops

 

 

Vanessa Bell

Elder sister to Virginia Woolf, whose books she designed all the dust jackets for on behalf of Hogarth Press, Bell hosted the earliest of the Bloomsbury Group meetings at her house in Gordon Square.

 

Her style of art was one that embraced abstraction whilst maintaining sufficient elements of figurative style to produce several portraits, including those of her sister, the author and eugenicist Aldous Huxley, and writer David Garnett.

 

Becoming fixated with him, she managed to become pregnant by the otherwise homosexual Duncan Grant. Their daughter, Anjelica, was subsequently raised as if a product of Bell’s ongoing marriage to her husband Clive, whilst they all lived communally in Sussex at Charleston Farm.

 

Bell had bought the property so they could facilitate work as agricultural labourers to escape the First World War by the claiming of conscientious objector status, something that those of lesser social and economic status were instead imprisoned for.

 

Most peculiarly of all, when she was 23, Anjelica married the subject of her mother Vanessa’s earlier portrait the writer David Garnett, also a fellow resident of Charleston Farm during World War I. Not only 26 years her senior and the one-time lover of her biological father, Garnett had in fact been present at her birth writing shortly afterwards: "I think of marrying it. When she is 20, I shall be 46 – will it be scandalous?"

 

She would go on to have 4 children by him.

 

 

Duncan Grant Crêpe de Chine

Duncan Grant Chiffon Scarf

 

John Maynard Keynes

Keynes’ macroeconomic theories became a staple for students of the subject throughout the world and continue to inform the behaviours of corporate business, finance officials and governments to this day.

 

Most of his key works came as a response to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent ‘Great Depression’, with his book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money being published in 1936.

 

As recently as 2008, when once again markets experienced a comparable crash and depression, Keynes’ ideas saw a resurgence as the Anglo-American establishment sought to stabilize the economic landscape with fiscal policy under Brown in the U.K. and Obama in the U.S. after a long period of favouring monetarist principles.

 

As a member of the Bloomsbury Group, Keynes sticks out professionally as a theoretician of social science and a member of the financial elite as opposed to the artistic inclination of other members. Although alike to them, he was equally inclined to partake in the insular trysts the group was known for taking Duncan Grant as a lover and being involved with Lytton Strachey and his cousin James Strachey.

 Duncan Grant Cuff Links

Duncan Grant Cuff Links

 

 

Duncan Grant

1st cousin to Lytton Strachey with whom he had one of numerous affairs, Grant was a painter whose work is described as post-modernist. He also designed ceramics, textiles and contributed to production design in the theatrical world.

 

Not noted for any standout individual paintings more than a prolific body of work, Grant’s works on behalf of the Omega Workshops went some way to achieving the intention of founder Roger Fry to dissolve the division between fine and decorative arts, by achieving some level of parity between the two by working in both in his own similar style.

 

What could have been his most significant commission and legacy was that of designing the interior, to include murals, textiles and furnishings for the Queen Mary passenger liner under construction in 1936. Despite some redirections along the way, Grant delivered his finished commission to the Clydebank shipyard where they were fitted, only to be summarily dismissed and removed without explanation at the behest of the Cunard chairman.

 

 

Cat by Duncan Grant

Cat by Duncan Grant

 

 

Virginia Woolf

Perhaps the most celebrated, possibly the most interesting and certainly the most tragic member of the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia Woolf countered a series of episodes of melancholy and abject depression throughout her life with the production of some of the most significant literary works of the 20th Century including Mrs Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own and Orlando.

 

Although married, like other members of her social familiars she engaged in extra-marital affairs with members of her own gender including the writer Vita Sackville-West of which it appears she was quite braggadocious.

 

Again, like other members of this set of upper middle-class post-colonial English, Woolf has been cited for her open prejudices and her scornful descriptions of blacks, Jews, the disabled, those of lesser cognitive ability and the less privileged in general leading to not unfair accusations of her attitude as typical of a person with a privileged, elitist, classist, racist, and antisemitic perspective.

 

By the age of 59, Woolf’s mental state deteriorated to its lowest and final ebb when filling the pockets of her coat with stones, she waded into the River Ouse drowning herself.

 

 

Bloomsbury Tie

Bloomsbury Tie

 

 

Leonard Woolf

Woolf entered into a literary career only after his marriage to Virginia began and the two founded The Hogarth Press. He was a Fabian Socialist and member of the Labour Party founding the 1917 Club where his friends with similar political leanings would meet and have discussion. He also contributed regular writings to political publications.

 

Aside from allowing his wife to engage her extra marital behaviours, Woolf himself appears to have been one of the more conventional members of the group who did not engage in any relationships beyond friendship within it.

 

At the time of his marriage he was unaware how much his wife’s mental instability would affect him, nor the impact on him of her level of fame. After her suicide he began a new relationship with Trekkie Parsons.

 

He produced a five volume autobiography gaining him independent recognition and by the time of his death at the age of 88, he had produced works on international relations, satire, literary and political journalism, poems, a play, short stories, and two novels.

 

 

Bloomsbury Chiffon Scarf

Bloomsbury Chiffon Scarf

 

 

Desmond MacCarthy

Several members of the Bloomsbury Group were offered honours in recognition of their contribution to the ideals of the British system, and most declined. Not so Sir Charles Otto Desmond MacCarthy.

 

At further odds with the pacifists and anti-war sentiment amongst the group he saw service in the First World War in naval intelligence. He was married only once and fathered two sons and a daughter with his wife ‘Mollie’ MacCarthy, herself a writer and active member of a subset of the group concerned with memoir and novel, calling themselves ‘Bloomsberries’.

 

Professionally, Desmond MacCarthy enjoyed a substantial career in journalism including time as literary editor at the New Statesman and literary critic for The Sunday Times.

 

 

Roger Fry Cuff Links with presentation box.

Roger Fry Cuff Links with presentation box.

 

 

Lytton Strachey

A friend of Clive Bell and Leonard Woolf from his time attending Trinity College, Cambridge. Together with them and a few others they formed ‘The Midnight Society’, which Bell opined to be the source of the later Bloomsbury Group.

 

Whilst at the university Strachey was also a member of The Cambridge Apostles, a clique who contrived an elitist and fatuous doctrine of "Higher Sodomy" in an absurd attempt to distinguish the homosexual acts of those of their societal position from those of "ordinary" men. This kind of nonsense was not untypical for the period being issued from the perspective of the privileged English at the zenith of British Imperial power. Strachey was not merely an ideologue in this regard, such lofty proclamations were made to justify real world behaviors and proclivities as he engaged in numerous homosexual affairs that were not publicly known until some 30 years after his death.

 

His most famous literary work was Eminent Victorians, a scoffing four-part biography, reduced from an intended original twelve parts, settling on Florence Nightingale, Cardinal Manning, General Gordon and Thomas Manning.

 

 

 


Older Post Newer Post

0 comments

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published