The Bloomsbury Group

After the death of their father, Leslie Stephen in 1904, his daughters Virginia Stephen and Vanessa Stephen moved to Fitzroy Square, Bloomsbury. Their brother, Thoby Stephen, introduced them to some of his friends that he had met at the University of Cambridge. The group began meeting to discuss literary and artistic issues. The friends and relatives included Adrian Stephen, Clive Bell, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster, Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Desmond MacCarthy, Molly MacCarthy, Duncan Grant, Arthur Waley and Saxon Sydney-Turner.

Ottoline Morrell also lived in Bloomsbury and in December 1908, had tea with Vanessa Stephen and Virginia Stephen at their home in Fitzroy Square. Virginia was especially impressed with Ottoline and confessed to Violet Dickinson that their relationship was like "sitting under a huge lily, absorbing pollen like a seduced bee." Vanessa believed that Ottoline was bisexual and that she was physically attracted to her sister. In her memoirs, Ottoline admitted that she was entranced by Virginia: "This strange, lovely, furtive creature never seemed to me to be made of common flesh and blood. She comes and goes, she folds her cloak around her and vanishes, having shot into her victim's heart a quiverful of teasing arrows." The women became close friends and from then on Morrell was considered by some to be a member of the Bloomsbury Group.

In 1910 Clive Bell met Roger Fry in a railway carriage between Cambridge and London. Later, Virginia Stephen recalled: "It must have been in 1910 I suppose that Clive one evening rushed upstairs in a state of the highest excitement. He had just had one of the most interesting conversations of his life. It was with Roger Fry. They had been discussing the theory of art for hours. He thought Roger Fry the most interesting person he had met since Cambridge days. So Roger appeared. He appeared, I seem to think, in a large ulster coat, every pocket of which was stuffed with a book, a paint box or something intriguing; special tips which he had bought from a little man in a back street; he had canvases under his arms; his hair flew; his eyes glowed."

From then on Roger Fry became a very important member of the Bloomsbury Group. Robert Trevelyan, an art collector, began buying Fry's work. Trevelyan told Paul Nash that "Fry was without doubt the high priest of art of the day, and could and did make artistic reputations overnight." In the summer of 1910, Fry and two other members of the group, Clive Bell and Desmond MacCarthy went to Paris and after visiting "Parisian dealers and private collectors, arranging an assortment of paintings to exhibit at the Grafton Galleries" in Mayfair. This included a selection of paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Édouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, André Derain and Vincent Van Gogh. As the author of Crisis of Brilliance (2009) has pointed out: "Although some of these paintings were already twenty or even thirty years old - and four of the five major artists represented were dead - they were new to most Londoners." This exhibition had a marked impression on the work of several English artists, including Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Spencer Gore.

The critic for The Pall Mall Gazette described the paintings as the "output of a lunatic asylum". Robert Ross of The Morning Post agreed claiming the "emotions of these painters... are of no interest except to the student of pathology and the specialist in abnormality". These comments were especially hurtful to Fry as his wife had recently been committed to an institution suffering from schizophrenia. Paul Nash recalled that he saw Claude Phillips, the art critic of The Daily Telegraph, on leaving the exhibition, "threw down his catalogue upon the threshold of the Grafton Galleries and stamped on it."

According to Hermione Lee, the author of Virginia Woolf (1996): "Those who belonged to it (Bloomsbury Group) said that it was a figment, or that it was too diverse to be categorisable. The origins of the term, as applied to a number of like-minded friends living in a particular area of London and involved mainly with the arts and politics are disputed. It seems to have started being used, as a joke, in 1910."

In his autobiography, Beginning Again (1964), Leonard Woolf, has suggested that the Bloomsbury Group only began when he arrived back in Bloomsbury in 1911. "On Monday, July 3rd (1911) only three weeks after I had arrived in England, I went and dined with Vanessa and Clive Bell in Gordon Square. I was alone with them at dinner, but afterwards Virginia, Duncan Grant, and Walter Lamb came in. This was, I suppose, so far as I was concerned, the beginning of what came to be called Bloomsbury." Woolf recalls that at that time the group consisted of Virginia Stephen, Vanessa Stephen, Adrian Stephen, Clive Bell, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Desmond MacCarthy, Molly MacCarthy, Duncan Grant and Saxon Sydney-Turner.

In 1913 Roger Fry joined with two other members of the Bloomsbury Group, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant to form the Omega Workshops in 1913. Other artists involved included Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Percy Wyndham Lewis and Frederick Etchells. Fry's biographer, Anne-Pascale Bruneau has argued that: "It was an ideal platform for experimentation in abstract design, and for cross-fertilization between fine and applied arts.... However, in spite of a number of commissions for interior design, the company survived the war years with difficulty, and closed in 1919.

According to Hermione Lee, the author of Virginia Woolf (1996): "Those who belonged to it (Bloomsbury Group) said that it was a figment, or that it was too diverse to be categorisable. The origins of the term, as applied to a number of like-minded friends living in a particular area of London and involved mainly with the arts and politics are disputed. It seems to have started being used, as a joke, in 1910."

Philip Morrell and Ottoline Morrell purchased Garsington Manor near Oxford at the beginning of the First World War and it became a refuge for conscientious objectors. They worked on the property's farm as a way of escaping prosecution. It also became a meeting place for the Bloomsbury Group. Gretchen Gerzina, the author of A Life of Dora Carrington: 1893-1932 (1989) has argued that in 1915 Dora Carrington, Barbara Hiles and Mary Hutchinson became members of the "Bloomsbury Circle". However, Jane Hill, the author of The Art of Dora Carrington (1994), suggests that "Carrington's role in Bloomsbury was a satellite one".

Carrington, as the partner of Lytton Strachey, definitely spent a lot of time with the Bloomsbury Group. She later recalled: "`It was a marvellous combination of the highest intelligence, & appreciation of literature combined with a lean humour & tremendous affection. They gave it back wards and forwards to each other like shuttlecocks only the shuttlecocks multiplied as they flew in the air."

In 1917, Lytton Strachey set up home with Dora Carrington at Mill House, Tidmarsh, in Berkshire. Julia Strachey was a regular visitor to the house. In 1918 both Strachey and Carrington began an affair with Ralph Partridge. According to his biographer, Stanford Patrick Rosenbaum, they created: "A polygonal ménage that survived the various affairs of both without destroying the deep love that lasted the rest of their lives. Strachey's relation to Carrington was partly paternal; he gave her a literary education while she painted and managed the household. Ralph Partridge... became indispensable to both Strachey, who fell in love with him, and Carrington." Carrington and Partridge, both became members of the Bloomsbury Group.

Vanessa Bell lived with Duncan Grant and David Garnett, first at Wissett Lodge in Suffolk, then at Charleston Farmhouse, near Firle, where he undertook farm work until the end of the war. In 1918 Bell gave birth to Grant's child, Angelica Garnett. His biographer, Quentin Bell has argued: "Despite various homosexual allegiances in subsequent years, Grant's relationship with Vanessa Bell endured to the end; it became primarily a domestic and creative union, the two artists painting side by side, often in the same studio, admiring but also criticizing each other's efforts."

Frances Marshall, who later married Ralph Partridge, also became a member of the Bloomsbury Group. She later recalled in her autobiography, Memories (1981): "They were not a group, but a number of very different individuals, who shared certain attitudes to life, and happened to be friends or lovers. To say they were unconventional suggests deliberate flouting of rules; it was rather that they were quite uninterested in conventions, but passionately in ideas. Generally speaking they were left-wing, atheists, pacifists in the First World War, lovers of the arts and travel, avid readers, Francophiles. Apart from the various occupations such as writing, painting, economics, which they pursued with dedication, what they enjoyed most was talk - talk of every description, from the most abstract to the most hilariously ribald and profane."

Leonard Woolf, argues that after the First World War new figures such as Julian Bell, Quentin Bell, Angelica Garnett and David Garnett joined the Bloomsbury Group: "in the 1920's and 1930's when Old Bloomsbury narrowed and widened into a newer Bloomsbury, it lost through death Lytton (Strachey) and Roger (Fry) and added to its numbers, Julian, Quentin and Angelica Bell, and David (Bunny) Garnett."

A member of the Bloomsbury Group, John Maynard Keynes introduced Lydia Lopokova to his friends. This included Virgina Woolf, Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, and Duncan Grant. They did not always make her feel welcome. According to Margot Fonteyn: "When Keynes began to think of marriage, some of his friends were filled with foreboding. They tended to find Lopokova bird-brained. In reality she was intelligent, wise, and witty, but not intellectual... She artfully used, and intentionally misused, English to unexpectedly comic and often outrageous effect. Keynes was constantly amused and enchanted."

Quentin Bell claimed that Virginia Woolf liked Lydia Lopokova. "Lydia as a friend, Lydia as a visiting bird hopping gaily from twig to twig was, Virginia thought, very delightful. She was pretty, high-spirited, a comic, a charmer and extremely well-disposed. In that gay, peripatetic capacity she was altogether irreproachable. But how, without two solid ideas to rub together, could she fail to destroy the intellectual comforts of Maynard Keynes's friends, and indeed of Maynard himself?" Lytton Strachey described her as a "half-witted canary".

Vanessa Bell, like everyone else, was enchanted by Lydia, until Keynes announced he intended to marry her. Vanessa wrote to Keynes: "Clive (Bell) says he thinks it is impossible for any one of us... to introduce a new wife or husband into the existing circle... We feel that no one can come into the sort of intimate society we have without altering it." Michael Holroyd, the author of Lytton Strachey (1994) pointed out that Duncan Grant, his former lover, had good reason to object to the proposed marriage: "Perhaps Duncan Grant had some excuse for resenting the emergence of a second great love into Maynard's life. But it was the others who were really malicious. As Maynard's mistress, Lydia had added something childlike and bizarre to Bloomsbury - she was a more welcome visitor than Clive's over-chic mistress Mary Hutchinson. But don't marry her... . If he did so Lydia would give up her dancing, Vanessa warned, become expensive, and soon bore him dreadfully. But what Vanessa and the other Charlestonians chiefly minded was Lydia's effect as Maynard's wife on Bloomsbury itself. Living a quarter-of-a-mile from Charleston at Tilton House on the edge of the South Downs, she would sweep in and stop Vanessa painting - and these interruptions were always so scatterbrained!"

Gretchen Gerzina makes the point that members of the Bloomsbury Group took part in sexual experimentation: "Mansfield was herself bisexual, but there is no indication that their relationship became a physical one. Mansfield allowed Carrington to express her concerns about her sexuality without necessarily encouraging her to act them out.... Bloomsbury's sexual relationships crossed lines Carrington in her youth assumed to be firm. Maynard Keynes had relationships with men before marrying in middle age; Duncan Grant, despite fathering a child with Vanessa Bell, was primarily homosexual and had an affair with David Garnett who later married Duncan and Vanessa's daughter Angelica; Virginia and Leonard Woolf had a celibate marriage; Lytton was, of course, homosexual and continued to have affairs with men despite his relationship with Carrington."

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (1996)

Those who belonged to it (Bloomsbury Group) said that it was a figment, or that it was too diverse to be categorisable. The origins of the term, as applied to a number of like-minded friends living in a particular area of London and involved mainly with the arts and politics are disputed. It seems to have started being used, as a joke, in 1910.

(2) Leonard Woolf, Beginning Again (1964)

Then on Monday, July 3rd (1911) only three weeks after I had arrived in England, I went and dined with Vanessa and Clive Bell in Gordon Square. I was alone with them at dinner, but afterwards Virginia, Duncan Grant, and Walter Lamb came in. This was, I suppose, so far as I was concerned, the beginning of what came to be called Bloomsbury.

What came to be called "Bloomsbury" by the outside world never existed in the form given to it by the outside world. For "Bloomsbury" was and is currently used as a term - usually of abuse - applied to a largely imaginary group of persons with largely imaginary objects and characteristics. I was a member of this group and I was also one of a small number of persons who did in fact eventually form a kind of group of friends living in or around that district of London legitimately called Bloomsbury. The term Bloomsbury can legitimately be applied to this group and will be so applied in these pages. Bloomsbury, in this sense, did not exist in 1911 when I returned from Ceylon; it came into existence in the three years 1912 to 1914 . We did ourselves use the term of ourselves before it was used by the outside world, for in the 1920's and 1930's, when our own younger generation were growing up and marrying and some of our generation were already dying, we used to talk of "Old Bloomsbury", meaning the original members of our group of friends who between 1911 and 1914 came to live in or around Bloomsbury.

Old Bloomsbury consisted of the following people: The three Stephens: Vanessa, married to Clive Bell, Virginia, who married Leonard Woolf, and Adrian, who married Karin Costello; Lytton Strachey; Clive Bell; Leonard Woolf; Maynard Keynes; Duncan Grant; E. M. Forster (who will be referred to in this book as Morgan Forster or Morgan); Saxon Sydney Turner; Roger Fry. Desmond MacCarthy and his wife Molly, though they actually lived in Chelsea, were always regarded by us as members of Old Bloomsbury. In the 1920's and 1930's, when Old Bloomsbury narrowed and widened into a newer Bloomsbury, it lost through death Lytton and Roger and added to its numbers Julian, Quentin, and Angelica Bell, and David (Bunny) Garnett, who married Angelica.

(3) Sandra Jobson Darroch, The Life of Lady Ottoline Morrell (1976)

There are many views of Bloomsbury (or, to be more accurate, the Bloomsbury Group). Some argue about its membership, others about its importance, still others about its very existence. Probably the least disputable thing that can be said is that whatever it was, it revolved around the Stephen sisters, their relatives, and Cambridge friends. Its main concerns were ideas, art, music, and literature and its principal tenet was freedom of expression, a legacy of the fact that several of its leading lightsihad been Apostles who at this period were much influenced by the philosopher G. E. Moore and his theories about honesty in personal relationships. In practice Bloomsbury was a very liberated group and some (though by no means all) of its members were homosexuals. Although several of the group - notably Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and J. M. Keynes - produced work of major significance, probably what distinguished Bloomsbury most was its conversation.

(4) Gretchen Gerzina, A Life of Dora Carrington: 1893-1932 (1989)

Carrington made her "formal" entry into the Bloomsbury circle later in 1915 when she spent three days at Asheham house near Lewes along with Barbara Hiles, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey and Mary Hutchinson; they had borrowed the house for several days from Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Carrington found their ways much different from hers: they slept late in the morning, were innocent in domestic matters, and gossiped incessantly. In turn they found her sturdy and eager; she rose hours before them each day and went for long walks over the hills, returning red-cheeked and invigorated to find them still in bed....

While on that long walk with Lytton Strachey, she told Barbara, he had suddenly and inexplicably stopped to hold and kiss her. She was horrified; she found him very unattractive. Indeed they were physical opposites: Lytton, thirteen years her senior, tall and thin with dark, lank hair, eyeglasses, and a peculiar voice; Carrington, twenty-two, was shorter and solidly built, with heavy, fair hair and a voice that often came out in little gasps. When she returned to the house she recounted the upsetting incident to Barbara, who tried to reassure her. Lytton was a known homosexual, and Barbara knew well (if Gertler did not) the nature of his attraction to Mark. Carrington apparently did not even understand the meaning of the word "homosexual". When she was enlightened, she was even angrier and swore to take revenge.

As the story goes, she crept into Lytton's room late that night with a pair of scissors, prepared to cut off the offensive beard. Just as she leaned over to make the first clip, Lytton's eves opened. From that moment, until the end of her life, she was absolutely in love with him.

(5) Dora Carrington, letter to Mark Gertler (December, 1915)

It was much happier than I expected. The house was right in the middle of huge wild downs, four miles from Lewes, & surrounded by a high hill on both sides with trees. We lived in the kitchen for meals, as there weren't any servants. So I helped Vanessa cook. Lytton is rather curious... They had rum punch in the evenings which was good. Yesterday we went a fine walk over tremendous high downs. I walked with Lytton ... What traitors all these people are! They ridicule Ottoline! even Mary Hutchinson laughs at the Cannans with them. It surprised me. I think it is beastly of them to enjoy Ottoline's kindness & then laugh at her.

(6) Dora Carrington, letter to Mary Ruthentall (6th December 1915)

Duncan Grant was there who is much the nicest of them and Strachey with his yellow face and beard. Ugh! ... We lived in the kitchen and cooked and ate there... Everyone devoid of table manners. The vaguest cooking insued. Duncan earnestly putting remnants of milk pudding into the stockpot ... What poseurs they are really!

(7) Virginia Woolf, diary entry (16th August 1918)

Carrington came for the weekend. She is the easiest of visitors as she never stops doing things - pumping, scything, or walking. I suspect part of this is intentional activity, lest she should bore; but it has its advantages. After trudging out here, she trudged to Charleston... She trudged off again this morning to pack Lytton's box or buy him a hair brush in London - a sturdy figure, dressed in a print dress, made after the pattern of one in a John picture, a thick mop of golden red hair, & a fat decided clever face, with staring bright blue eyes. The whole just misses, but decidedly misses what might be vulgarity. She seems to be an artist - seems, I say, for in our circle the current that way is enough to sweep people with no more art in them than Barbara in that direction. Still, I think Carrington cares for it genuinely, partly because of her way of looking at pictures.

(8) Jane Hill, The Art of Dora Carrington (1994)

They (Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey) physical relations, even gave them a try... Sex was not going to work between them, and in a letter to Lytton in 1917 Carrington jokingly described how: "Hours were spent in front of the glass last night strapping the locks back, and trying to persuade myself that two cheeks like turnips on the top of a hoe bore some resemblance to a very well nourished youth of sixteen."

Carrington was petite, several heads shorter than Lytton and had a quirky way of dressing. Lytton was bohemian looking and emaciated. Both together and apart they were stared at in the street. Carrington's hair attracted hostile yells and Lytton's unfashionable beard provoked "goat" bleatings.

They were undoubtedly a curious looking couple but the point was, and is, there are "a great deal of a great many kinds of love" and Carrington and Lytton found a kind that suited them. They were both image breakers and advancing spirits who, each in their way, helped fashion the age in which they lived.

Quite bluntly, their friends were appalled. They thought the match ill-conceived and Virginia would later joke to her sister Vanessa of an evening at Tidmarsh Mill when Carrington and Lytton quietly withdrew, "ostensibly to copulate" but were found to be reading aloud from Macaulay. And if Lytton did Carrington a disservice at all, it was not by not loving her sufficiently but by failing to have the courage at that time to acknowledge to his oldest friends how important she was to him.

These friends, most of whom had known each other from university days at Cambridge, became known as the Bloomsbury Group, or Bloomsberries, as Molly MacCarthy nicknamed them. They continued to meet in Thoby Stephen's house in Gordon Square and came to include Thoby's sisters, Vanessa and Virginia.

Many years later, in her diary, Carrington puzzled over the "quintessence" of Bloomsbury and concluded: `It was a marvellous combination of the highest intelligence, & appreciation of literature combined with a lean humour & tremendous affection. They gave it back wards and forwards to each other like shuttlecocks only the shuttlecocks multiplied as they flew in the air." But on the whole they were Lytton's friends and Carrington's role in Bloomsbury was a satellite one. Carrington's friends did not form cliques in the way that Bloomsbury did and her cronies came from the Slade; they chose to live around the Hampshire-Wiltshire borders and had their studios in Chelsea, whereas the Bloomsbury Group lived in Sussex and Bloomsbury.

(9) Frances Marshall, Memories (1981)

They were not a group, but a number of very different individuals, who shared certain attitudes to life, and happened to be friends or lovers. To say they were unconventional suggests deliberate flouting of rules; it was rather that they were quite uninterested in conventions, but passionately in ideas. Generally speaking they were left-wing, atheists, pacifists in the First World War, lovers of the arts and travel, avid readers, Francophiles. Apart from the various occupations such as writing, painting, economics, which they pursued with dedication, what they enjoyed most was talk - talk of every description, from the most abstract to the most hilariously ribald and profane.

(10) Gretchen Gerzina, A Life of Dora Carrington (1989)

Carrington knew of Gertler's homophobia (very likely encouraged both by her growing friendship with Strachey and by Gertler's friendship with D. H. Lawrence, a notorious homophobic), and this letter indicates both her dawning recognition of her own bisexuality as well as a plea for a neutral and all-encompassing androgyny. Mansfield was herself bisexual, but there is no indication that their relationship became a physical one. Mansfield allowed Carrington to express her concerns about her sexuality without necessarily encouraging her to act them out. Others in Bloomsbury apparently recognised this aspect of Carrington for, twelve years after Carrington posed nude, simulating a statue, for a photograph in Garsington, Vanessa Bell painted a panel entitled Bacchanale, featuring a figure astonishingly similar to it with one important exception: the figure is clearly an hermaphrodite. Bloomsbury's sexual relationships crossed lines Carrington in her youth assumed to be firm. Maynard Keynes had relationships with men before marrying in middle age; Duncan Grant, despite fathering a child with Vanessa Bell, was primarily homosexual and had an affair with David Garnett who later married Duncan and Vanessa's daughter Angelica; Virginia and Leonard Woolf had a celibate marriage; Lytton was, of course, homosexual and continued to have affairs with men despite his relationship with Carrington.