You are on page 1of 28


46 Gordon Square, London WC1, where it all began

Bloomsbury a state of mind 1

if Paris in the Twenties had Montparnasse, London had Bloomsbury. // It was a postal district, around the British Museum, mostly noted for bookshops & Georgian terraces. Bloomsbury, in fact, was a distinctive caste, though also a state of mind. It stood for what was avantgarde & experimental, not just in writing & publishing but in sexual relations, economics, painting, politics, philosophy, biography and interior design.

Bloomsbury was amongst other things a shared social & family background, a web of family relations, friendships, a network of complex sexual liaisons, an lite with a body of agreed social and cultural assumptions and standards. Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel


Bloomsbury a state of mind 2

Essential to this was an aesthetic attitude to the world itself, which involved a celebration of the modern. It helped to have read Walter Pater, who emphasized the power of impressions and of quickened, multiplied consciousness. It was wise to have gone to Cambridge, perhaps been an Apostle there, and certainly to have studied with or read the philosopher G. E. Moore.

Bloomsbury was unmistakably descended from the liberal, critical Victorian intelligentsia, and knew its own cultural authority.

Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel


The only society which comes to my mind is the Bloomsbury Group which is composed of
people of high intelligence, great critical ability, economic independence and liberal opinions.

Their enemies sarcastically call them highbrow and impute sterility to them. This society, however, has already produced Lytton Strachey, J. M. Kynes, Virginia Woolf (the poetic novelist with great talent), Roger Fry (our principal art critic), Arthur Waley (the great Japanese scholar and translator), not to mention other writers of the younger generation like David Garnett. E. M. Forster, Interview to a Greek newspaper, 1929

Oh the Bells, the Woolves or rather Virginia, for I do like Leonard! Oh how I do agree, and if to become anti-Bloomsbury were not to become Bloomsbury, how I would become it! E. M. Forster, Letter to W. J. H. Sprott, 16 July 1931

Bloomsbury: the most beautiful, the most exciting, the most romantic place in the world where everything was going to be new; everything was going to be different. Virginia Woolf quoted by Malcolm Bradbury in The Modern British Novel

Click icon to add picture

Conversation; that was all. Duncan Grant

What exactly do you mean was the phrase most frequently on our lips. If it appeared under cross-examination that you did not mean exactly anything, you lay under a strong suspicion of meaning nothing whatever. It was a stringent education in dialectic; but in practice it was a kind of combat in which strength of character was really much more valuable than subtlety of mind. John Maynard Keynes

Wild fancy dress parties

.a party for seventeenat the Caf RoyaleAfterwards they went back to 46 Gordon Square for Clives and Vanessas party. There they listened to a Mozart trioand went upstairs for the last scene of a Racine play played by three puppets made by Duncan, with words spoken by the weirdvoiced Stracheys. The evening ended with Gerald Shove enthroned in the centre of the room, crowned with roses

Click to edit the outline text format

Second Outline Level

Third Outline Level

Fourth Outline Level Fifth Outline Level Sixth


We were at an age when our beliefs influenced our behaviour.

I read again last week Moores famous chapter on The Ideal.. It is remarkable how wholly oblivious he managed to be of the qualities of the life of action and also of the pattern of life as a whole. He was existing in a timeless ecstasy. His way of translating his own particular emotions of the moment into the language of generalised abstraction is a charming and beautiful comedy. John Maynard Keynes

The Ideal

By far the most valuable things, which we know or can imagine, are certain states of consciousness, which may be roughly described as the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects. No one, probably, who has asked himself the question, has ever doubted that personal affection and the appreciation of what is beautiful in Art or Nature, are good in themselves; nor, if we consider strictly what things are worth having purely for their own sakes, does it appear probable that any one will think that anything else has nearly so great a value as the things which are included under these two heads.


19th century French lart pour lart

19th century British aestheticism: Walter Paters Hellenism and Oscar Wildes art for arts sake

Moores Platonic philosophy

Woolfs independent reading in Plato, her fascination with the Greek ideal of beauty and with the Socratic roots of androgyny and personal relations


The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating. If one is a man, still the woman part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine, I thought.

Coleridge certainly did not mean, when he said that a great mind is androgynous, that it is a mind that has any special sympathy with women; a mind that takes up their cause or devotes itself to their interpretation. Perhaps the androgynous mind is less apt to make these distinctions than the singlesexed mind. He meant, perhaps, that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided. In fact one goes back to Shakespeares mind as the type of the androgynous, of the manwomanly mind, though it would be impossible to say what Shakespeare thought of women.


The novelists Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster The literary journalist Desmod MacCarthy The critics Roger Fry and Clive Bell The biographer and essayist Lytton Strachey The painters Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell The political writer and worker, publisher and autobiographer Leonard Woolf The economist John Maynard Keynes

The Cambridge Apostles

an intellectual secret society at the University of Cambridge founded in 1820 The origin of the Apostles' nickname dates from the number, twelve, of their founders The society is essentially a discussion group. Meetings are held once a week, traditionally on Saturday evenings, during which one member gives a prepared talk on a topic, which is later thrown open for discussion during the meetings, members used to eat sardines on toast, called "whales Women first gained acceptance into the society in the 1970s The Apostles retain a leather diary of their membership ("the book") stretching back to its founder, which includes handwritten notes about the topics each member has spoken on. It is included in the so-called "Ark", which is a collection of papers with some handwritten notes from the group's early days, about the topics members have spoken on, and the results of the division in which those present voted on the debate Undergraduates being considered for membership are called "embryos" and are invited to "embryo parties", where members judge whether the student should be invited to join. The "embryos" attend these parties without knowing they are being considered for membership Becoming an Apostle involves taking an oath of secrecy and listening to the reading of a curse, originally written by Apostle Fenton John Anthony Hort, the theologian, in or around 1851 Former members have spoken of the life-long bond they feel toward one another. Henry Sidgwick, the philosopher, wrote of the Apostles in his memoirs that "the tie of attachment to this society is much

OLD BLOOMSBURY On or about December 1910 the human character changed.

When they came down from college, the men of Cambridge began to meet the women of Bloomsbury through the Stephen family.

Cambridge Apostle friendships brought into the group Desmond MacCarthy, his wife Molly, and E. M. Forster.

Except for Forster, who published three novels before the highly successful Howards End in 1910, the group were late developers.

It was also in 1910 that Roger Fry joined the group. His notorious postimpressionist exhibitions of 1910 and 1912 involved Bloomsbury in a second revolution following on the Cambridge philosophical one.



Old Bloomsburys development was shattered along with just about everything else in modernist culture by the First World War. None of the men fought in the war. Most but not all of them were conscientious objectors, which of course added to the groups controversies.

July 1913

Click to edit the outline text format

Second Outline Level

In July 1913 Omega Workshops Ltd opened to the public at 33 Fitzroy Square in the heart of London's Bloomsbury.

Third Outline Level Fourth Outline The workshops incorporated public showrooms Level as well as studios. Fifth Outline Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry were named as Directors. Level Roger Fry founded and was the driving force Sixth Outline behind the Omega Workshops. He wanted to remove what he saw as the false division Level between the fine and decorative arts. Seventh Outline



Fry was keen to see some of the key ideas of PostImpressionism, such as bright colours and bold, simplified forms, applied to design.

Click to edit the outline text format

Second Outline Level

Fry felt that objects and furniture should be bought for their aesthetic qualities rather than the reputation of the artist, so he insisted that all work was produced anonymously.

Designs were unsigned and marked only with the symbol , the Greek letter 'Omega'. 'Omega' is the last letter of the Greek alphabet, and in the late nineteenth century it was used to mean the 'last word' on a subject.

Third Outline Level Fourth Outline Level Fifth Outline Level Sixth Outline Level Seventh Outline

While the workshops lasted "It is time that the spirit of fun was introduced Click to edit the outline into furniture and fabrics. We have suffered too long from the dull and stupidly serious. text format

Roger Fry

Second Outline Level

Third Outline Level Fourth Outline Level Fifth Outline Virginia Woolf Level Vanessa Bell's painted screen, Bathers in a Sixth Outline Landscape is a transitional piece between fine and decorative art. Level The Omega Workshop lasted until 1920 Seventh Outline

"There were bright chintzes designed by the young artists; there were painted tables and painted chairs and there was Roger Fry himself escorting now Lady So-and-so, now a businessman from Birmingham, round the rooms and doing his best to persuade them to buy.


Charleston was the home and country meeting place for the writers, painters and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group.

Click to edit the outline text format

The interior was painted by the artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolfs sister), and together with their collection forms a unique example of their decorative style. House parties were common and Charleston was frequently full of guests. Clive Bell came to visit his sons, and the Woolfs lived only four miles away. Other guests included Roger Fry and his children, Maynard Keynes and his wife the dancer Lydia Lopokova and Lytton Strachey and his sisters. All were captured by Vanessa with her camera, and some with her paintbrushes.

Second Outline Level

Third Outline Level Fourth Outline Level Fifth Outline Level Sixth Outline Level Seventh Outline

How Vanessa described Charleston

My dear Roger, You must really come & see this place soon. I wish you could think it possible to come even with D. here. You see youd have 8 solid hours a day alone with me! It really is so lovely that I must show it to you soon. Its absolutely perfect I think. It has been refaced with some kind of quite harmless stucco or plaster & has a creeper over it. The other sides are wonderful. I suppose its 17 th or early 18th century (but my word doesnt go for much). Anyhow its most lovely, very solid & simple, with flat walls in that lovely mixture of brick & flint that they use about here, & perfectly flat windows in the walls & wonderful tiled roofs. The pond is most beautiful with a willow at one side & a stone - or flint - wall edging it all round the garden part, & a little lawn sloping down to it, with formal bushes on it. Then theres a small orchard & the walled garden like the Asheham one & another lawn or bit of field railed in beyond. Theres a wall of trees one single line of elms all round two sides which shelters us from west winds. We are just below Firle Beacon, which is the highest point on the downs near, & except towards the downs the ground slopes down from the house on all sides.

Click to edit the outline text format Second Outline Level

Inside the house the rooms are very large, & a great many. 10 bedrooms I think, some enormous. One I shall make into a studio. It is very light & large, with an east window, but the sun doesnt come in much after quite early morning, & it has a small room out of it with another window, so one might get interesting interiors, I think. The house is really much too large at present of course, but its nice to have space & no doubt it will get filled in time. Theres hardly any furniture in it yet. I am going into Lewes today to buy a few necessary things. The Omega dinner service looks most lovely on the dresser. I wish you could come & see it all. It would be such fun to show it to you. Please write & tell me how youre getting on potting. Your V.

Third Outline Level

Fourth Outline Level Fifth Outline Level Sixth


Click to edit the outline text format

Second Outline Level

Third Outline Level

Fourth Outline Level Fifth Outline Level Sixth

Summer school at Charleston

Vanessa had always hoped to run a Summer School for children which would arouse their interest in the arts without the stifling orthodoxy of a traditional school. In 1925 and 1926 she achieved this when Marjorie Strachey ran courses for about ten children at Charleston. She ran a full curriculum for them including drama productions which were presented to their parents and friends. Amateur dramatics continued to be a popular form of entertainment at Charleston in the period between the wars.

Click to edit the outline text format

Second Outline Level

Third Outline Level

Fourth Outline Level Fifth Outline Level Sixth

In 1917 the Woolfs founded their T. S. Hogarth Press, which would publish Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, and many others including Virginia herself along with the standard English translations of Freud.

Click to edit the outline text format

Second Outline Level

Third Outline Level The press was named after a house Fourth Outline where they lived in Richmond. Level In 1918 Lytton Strachey published his critique of Victorianism in the shape of Fifth Outline four ironic biographies in Eminent Victorians, which added to the Level arguments around Bloomsbury that continue to this day. Sixth Outline The Hogarth Press - 1917 Level Seventh Outline

Virginia set the type and Leonard worked the press to produce books.

LATER BLOOMSBURY The Memoir Club 1920

In March 1920 Molly MacCarthy began a club to help Desmond and herself write their memoirs and also to bring the members of Old Bloomsbury back together.

Click to edit the outline text format

Second Outline Level

The comedy of a group of friends in their forties reading one another their memoirs was not lost on Bloomsbury.
The Memoir Club testifies to the continuing cohesion of Bloomsbury. For the next thirty years they came together in irregular meetings to write about the memories they shared in growing up together, at college, and later in Bloomsbury.

The members of The Memoir Club were not quite equivalent to those of Old Bloomsbury. Yet all but one of the other members belonged to Old Bloomsbury, and indeed Old Bloomsbury itself became a popular subject for the Clubs memoirs.

Third Outline Level Fourth Outline Level Fifth Outline Level Sixth Outline Level Seventh Outline


The 1920s were in a number of ways the blooming of Bloomsbury. Virginia Woolf was writing and publishing her most widely-read modernist novels and essays, E. M. Forster completed A Passage to India which remains the most highly regarded novel on English imperialism in India. Forster wrote no more novels but he became one of Englands most influential essayists. Duncan Grant, and then Vanessa Bell had single-artist exhibitions. Lytton Strachey wrote his biographies of two Queens, Victoria and Elizabeth . Desmond MacCarthy and Leonard Woolf engaged in friendly rivalry as literary editors, respectively of the New Statesman and the Nation and Athenaeum. Roger Fry wrote and lectured widely on art, while Clive Bell applied Bloomsbury values to his book Civilization (1928), which Leonard Woolf saw as limited and elitist. Leonard, who had helped formulate proposals for the League of Nations during the war, offered his own views on the subject in Imperialism and Civilization (1928).

The twilight

In the darkening 1930s Bloomsbury began to die.

A year after publishing a collection of brief lives, Portraits in Miniature (1931), Lytton Strachey died; shortly afterwards Carrington shot herself.

Roger Fry, who had become Englands greatest art critic, died in 1934. Vanessa and Clives eldest son, Julian Bell was killed in 1937 while driving an ambulance in the Spanish Civil War.

Virginia Woolf wrote Frys biography but with the coming of war again her mental instability recurred, and she drowned herself in 1941.



Leonard Woolf - On the Bloomsbury Group and a critical appraisal of Virginia Woolf (9:56) The home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf in Rodmell - film by Ann Perrin (2:16) The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf (Part 1 9:54; Part 2 8:06; Part 3 6:39) Virginia Woolf Documentary (29:25)


Any questions? THANK YOU!