Bloomsbury in the book’s title is the “Bloomsbury Group” of writers, artists, thinkers, and theorists associated with the Bloomsbury area of London and active in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Essays 1–6 are mainly, but by no means exclusively, about four of its pivotal members – the artists Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell, the art critic Clive Bell, and the writer Virginia Woolf. The essays do not attempt a comprehensive account of their lives and works, and the same is true of the writers and the artist treated in the five out-of-Bloomsbury essays – Rose Macaulay, Katharine Tynan, Dorothy L. Sayers, J. R. R. Tolkien’s schoolteacher Richard Williams Reynolds, and Tristram Hillier. Instead, the intention is to enhance knowledge and understanding of them by presentation of previously unpublished texts and works of art, pictures, and photographs, and by the close re-examination of known documents. Rebecca West warns that biography is often heavily reliant on speculation. The present book prefers to deal in hard facts, many of them previously unknown. The mixture of Bloomsbury and non-Bloomsbury, present even in the Bloomsbury essays, makes possible a varied and balanced picture of the cultural scene in the first half of the twentieth century.
Essay 1 presents two recently discovered portraits by Roger Fry. One is an unsigned drawing of an unnamed woman. The identity of the artist is certain, as is that of the sitter. Comparison with other images proves that she is Roger’s wife, the artist Helen Coombe. The drawing was made on their wedding day in 1896. The occasion is indicated by her dress and jewellery and clinched by a passionately loving note in her handwriting. The other portrait, executed in pencil and gouache on paper, is of Vanessa Bell. Roger and Vanessa had fallen in love on a visit to Turkey in the spring of 1911, and his “new” portrait of her is to be dated 1911–1912, when their affair was going strong, his style was much influenced by Matisse, and he had recently put on the first of his two post-impressionist exhibitions in London. So the second portrait, like the first, belongs to a very important time of his life.
This book explores how the contemporary American novel has revived a long literary and political tradition of imagining male friendship as interlinked with the promises and paradoxes of democracy in the United States. In the last decades of the twentieth century, not only novelists but philosophers, critical theorists, and sociologists rediscovered the concept of friendship as a means of scrutinising bonds of national identity. This book reveals how friendship, long exiled from serious political philosophy, returned as a crucial term in late twentieth-century communitarian debates about citizenship, while, at the same time, becoming integral to continental philosophy’s exploration of the roots of democracy, and, in a different guise, to histories of sexuality. Moving innovatively between these disciplines, this important study brings into dialogue the work of authors rarely discussed together – including Philip Roth, Paul Auster, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Dinaw Mengestu, and Teju Cole – and advances a compelling new account of the political and intellectual fabric of the contemporary American novel.
The essay is the first detailed study of Richard Williams Reynolds (1867–1947). It reveals that, although born in Liverpool, he was the illegitimate son of Brigadier-General Daniel Harris Reynolds of Arkansas by Annie Franklin, a British settler who had been widowed just before the Civil War, in which her lover fought for the Confederate Army. Educated at King Edward’s School (KES), Birmingham, and Balliol College, Oxford, Richard spent the 1890s in London, where he trained for the Bar and did some journalism. His membership of the Fabian Society brought him into close friendship with the writer Edith Nesbit. In 1900 he joined the staff of KES. His most famous pupil was J. R. R. Tolkien. In 1910 he married the novelist Dorothea Deakin, Nesbit’s niece, with whom he had three daughters. In 1922 he retired from KES. He and his family moved to Capri, where they associated with Axel Munthe and other writers and artists. But Dorothea died in 1924, and in 1935–1936 Richard suffered further losses on a Greek-tragic scale – the deaths of his daughters Diana and Pamela, and of the second wife whom he had just married. Pamela, a promising poet, perished in a fall down a cliff.
After being home-educated until she was fifteen and a half, Dorothy Leigh Sayers was sent to a boarding school by her parents in January 1909. They chose the Godolphin School, Salisbury. The essay presents some of the results of detailed research into Dorothy L. Sayers’s time at school. The main sources exploited are three: the letters, many of them unpublished, which she wrote while at the Godolphin; The Godolphin School Magazine; and the handwritten School Diary, with many items pasted in. Some use is also made of Dorothy’s unfinished novel Cat O’Mary, which is partly autobiographical, but not always factually reliable. As well as contributing much to school life, as a brilliant modern linguist and with her outstanding talents in music and drama, Dorothy benefited greatly from the high standard of education she received, from the civilised and stimulating atmosphere fostered by the outstanding headmistress, Mary Alice Douglas, and from the varied contacts she had with her fellow-pupils as well as with her teachers. But she also suffered setbacks, notably when she developed pneumonia after a bout of measles and nearly died, and when she left school suddenly before the end of what was planned to be her penultimate term.
The first discussion concerns Virginia Woolf’s attempted suicide in September 1913 and her recuperation from the attack of mental illness that provoked it. The main focus is on the interest and advice of Roger Fry, whose wife, Helen Coombe, had a long history of mental illness which invites comparison and contrast with that of Virginia. When Virginia was convalescing, and a new nurse was required for her, Roger approached the medical superintendent of the hospital in which Helen was a patient. The letters exchanged between the two are made known for the first time. The superintendent was a keen amateur artist, and Roger discussed with him the effect of colour on the mind and its possible therapeutic benefits in cases of mental illness. The second discussion is a postscript to the discussion, in the preceding essay, of the photographs taken by the Woolfs in Greece. It is about Maggie Humm’s claim that the error of misidentifying the Temple of Olympian Zeus as a building on the Acropolis originated with Virginia herself and is of psychobiographical significance. It is demonstrated that Humm’s claim is incorrect, and that the edifice she seeks to build on this fallacious foundation is unsound.
The essay reveals, describes, and discusses an important event, overlooked by her biographers, in the childhood of the detective novelist and religious writer Dorothy Leigh Sayers. In August 1908, when she had only just turned fifteen and was still being educated at home, she made a major contribution to a pageant in the Huntingdonshire village of Somersham, near her home in Bluntisham, where her father was rector. Historical pageants were so much in vogue at this time that the term “pageantitis” was coined to describe the infectious enthusiasm for them. The Somersham pageant, under the professional direction of D’Arcy de Ferrars, was an important local event and even the subject of a report in a national newspaper. Dorothy, as well as being one of three musical accompanists, composed the words for the “Somersham Triumph Song,” sung by a professional soprano, and the verses for at least two of the tableaux. Her compositions, revealing a prodigious talent and singled out for special praise at the time, including in the national newspaper, total a minimum of fifty-six lines of verse.
Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000)
This chapter focuses on the second and third volumes of Philip Roth’s ‘American Trilogy’ (1997–200). It explores how Roth connects the political cultures of the 1940s and 1990s through the male friendships framing each narrative. The chapter considers how, in I Married a Communist (1998), Roth offers a revisionist history of the fraternal politics and demotic aesthetics of the Popular Front, a history crafted by the novel’s co-narrators, Nathan Zuckerman and his former teacher Murray Ringold. Expanding on the novel’s allusions to Thomas Paine, Howard Fast, and Norman Corwin, and drawing on new archival research into Roth’s sources and inspiration for the character of Murray, the chapter provides a re-estimation of I Married a Communist as a deceptively subtle work of historical fiction. The chapter then turns to The Human Stain, analysing how the intense friendship between Nathan and Classics professor Coleman Silk comes to define the novel’s narrative form and its engagement with history.
After Virginia Woolf’s biography of Roger Fry was published in 1940, she received a letter from Mary Louisa Gordon strongly critical of her portrayal of Roger’s wife, the artist Helen Coombe, and even more critical of Roger’s character and conduct. Mary and Helen had been friends before the latter married in 1896 and went on to develop severe mental health problems. In 1936 the Woolfs had published Mary’s historical novel, Chase of the Wild Goose, about the Ladies of Llangollen, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby. The essay is in four sections. The first is introductory. The second is about Mary, discussing Chase of the Wild Goose, its relationship to Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, and Virginia’s comments on it and its author, whom, in letters to Ethel Smyth, she calls “the Hermaphrodite.” It goes on to describe Mary’s life and career as medical doctor, suffragist, first female Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales, and scathing critic of the prison system. The third section presents Mary’s letter to Virginia, with significant corrections of the text published by Beth Rigel Daugherty; and the fourth describes Helen’s life, personality, and artistic talents, with discussion of Mary’s assessments of her and Roger.
This chapter outlines a model for re-reading European-authored travel texts
of the nineteenth century (and potentially travel writing more generally)
that aims to move beyond an approach to their aesthetics shaped by moments
of arrival and meeting, and prospect views. It takes a mobilities studies
approach and focuses on the example of the ‘pedestrian tour’ in Augustus
Earle’s Narrative of Nine Months’ Residence in New Zealand, in 1827 (1832).
The chapter asks what different understandings of history and coeval ‘life
worlds’ might emerge when we pay attention to mundane, local, and embodied
movements within texts such as Earle’s – movements of both the European
traveller(s) in the text and of Indigenous peoples, in this case Māori. It
pays particular attention to what happens when we read mobility within prose
travel texts alongside – and to an extent against – the more dominant
worldings evoked by the visual art of pre-colonial and early colonial