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Martin Ferguson Smith

Researched and written in collaboration with Helen Walasek, former curator of the Punch archive, the essay concerns the remarkably frank account which Clive Bell gave the select and influential Bloomsbury Memoir Club of his first lover, Annie Raven-Hill, the wife of the illustrator and cartoonist Leonard Raven-Hill. The full text of the memoir, read at a meeting on 2 February 1921, is published for the first time, with full annotation and discussion. The affair began in 1899, when she was thirty-five and he was not quite eighteen and about to go up to Cambridge. It continued, with interruptions, until 1914. The relationship was one of lust rather than love, although there was clearly some affection on both sides. The text of the memoir is preceded by an introduction of four sections. The first describes the foundation, character, and history of the Memoir Club. The second is about the presentation and reception of Clive’s memoir. The third, a selective chronology, illuminates his life and work and provides a context for his affair with Annie. The fourth, about Annie, is the first attempt to compare Clive’s account with the facts of her life and to present a fuller and fairer picture of her.

in In and out of Bloomsbury
Martin Ferguson Smith

Essay 2 presents and discusses ten previously unpublished nude photographs of Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, and Roger Fry taken during a seaside holiday at Studland in Dorset. The photographs were taken out of doors on a single occasion in early morning. The Bells had several holidays in Studland, in 1909 and the following years, but there was only one occasion when Roger was there as well, and that was in September 1911. This was a time when he and Vanessa, unknown to Clive, were vigorously pursuing their love affair, and it is this circumstance that makes this nude-posing threesome particularly remarkable. It is most likely to have been organised by Vanessa. Although the Bells were in Studland for almost the whole of September, the event can be securely dated to the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th for several reasons, including the presence of the only known spectator, the economist Gerald Shove.

in In and out of Bloomsbury
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The Conclusion returns to the book’s central preoccupations of citizenship, equality, and community by way of an extended close reading of Benjamin Markovits’s 2015 novel, You Don’t Have to Live Like This.

in The politics of male friendship in contemporary American fiction
Martin Ferguson Smith

The essay is a detailed study of the visit Virginia Woolf made to Greece with Leonard Woolf, Roger Fry, and Roger’s sister Margery Fry in April–May 1932 – the one happy time in an otherwise unhappy year for Virginia. The study, the first by a classical scholar, is based on close examination of the primary sources, published and unpublished. These are: Virginia’s diaries and letters; Roger’s letters; Leonard’s pocket-diary; and Virginia and Leonard’s photographs. After explanation of the background to the holiday and discussion of the relations between members of the party, especially Virginia and Roger, the exact itinerary and timetable are set out. Many of the scenes in the photographs are correctly identified for the first time, including one in which the Woolfs and Frys are seen standing in front of a ruined temple in Athens. The temple, said by leading Bloomsbury writers to be on the Acropolis, is shown to be no such thing. Comparison of the published versions of Virginia’s diary and letters with the manuscripts of them reveals some significant errors, including one that seriously misrepresents her assessment of Roger’s character – no trivial matter, given her admiration for him and their close friendship.

in In and out of Bloomsbury
Paul Auster’s fiction and film

This chapter draws on the anthropology of the gift to examine forms of reciprocity between male friends in Paul Auster’s fiction and screenplays. Beginning with a discussion of Auster’s published correspondence with J. M. Coetzee, the chapter argues that Auster critiques liberal individualism by imagining networks of solidarity and alliance born of generosity. Focusing on three novels that Auster tells Coetzee are ‘stories about male friendship’, the first half of the chapter takes up the metaphor of correspondence to follow the ambiguous forms of textual exchange patterning these fictions. The second half explores the role of money as an alternative ‘currency of friendship’ in Auster’s work to further delineate his concern with relationships of indebtedness and obligation across his oeuvre. Closing with a reading of the 1995 film Smoke, the chapter reveals how Auster’s various portrayals of male friendship demonstrate an interest in questions of community and citizenship that has gone unrecognised in critical accounts of his work.

in The politics of male friendship in contemporary American fiction
Martin Ferguson Smith

The article presents and discusses thirteen previously unpublished letters from the British novelist and poet Rose Macaulay to the Irish poet and novelist Katharine Tynan, who in 1913 initiated a correspondence and friendship when she wrote to congratulate Rose on winning with The Lee Shore in a prestigious and valuable Novel Competition which she too had entered. Katharine continued to express admiration for Rose’s writing, especially her novels, not only in her letters to Rose (not preserved), but also in memoirs and articles. Rose in turn praised Katharine’s work, especially her poetry, emphasising particularly the comfort it gave her and others in wartime. She herself had lost several friends, including Rupert Brooke, and was anxious about her brother, who was serving in the army. Katharine’s two sons were in the army too. Rose took an interest in Katharine’s daughter, Pamela Hinkson, who was showing early promise as a writer. In 1925 Katharine sent Rose a novel, The Victors, by Peter Deane. When Rose replied, she did not realise that Peter Deane was a pseudonym used by Pamela, let alone that the sad story was closely based on the postwar experiences of Katharine’s elder son.

in In and out of Bloomsbury
Biographical essays on twentieth-century writers and artists

The book contains eleven essays, with an introduction and index. Six of the essays focus chiefly on four pivotal members of the influential “Bloomsbury Group” – the artists Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell, the art critic Clive Bell, and the writer Virginia Woolf. Significant new light is shed on them, partly through the presentation of previously unpublished pictures, photographs, and texts, partly through the fresh examination of relevant manuscripts and images. At the same time the life and work of Fry’s wife, the artist Helen Coombe, and her feminist friend the suffragette-supporting inspector of prisons Mary Louisa Gordon, who were never “Bloomsberries”, receive close attention. The five non-Bloomsbury essays too are based on primary source-materials, including previously unpublished texts and images. The first presents thirteen letters from the British writer Rose Macaulay to the Irish poet and novelist Katharine Tynan. It is followed by two essays about the prodigious teenage talents and achievements of Dorothy L. Sayers, destined for fame as a detective novelist and religious writer. The penultimate piece is about the exotic origin and eventful life of Richard Williams Reynolds, who taught J. R. R. Tolkien at school; and the last illuminates the artist Tristram Hillier and especially the personally and professionally important first visit he made to Portugal in 1947. The collection combines homogeneity and variety, and this combination contributes to a rich and balanced picture of the cultural scene in the first half of the twentieth century.

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Opening with a discussion of Norman Rush’s 2013 novel Subtle Bodies, this Introduction explores the long history of the connection between friendship and politics. Friendship has played a central role in the theory and practice of democracy since Aristotle suggested philia as fundamental to citizenship. In the US context, male friendship in particular functioned as a model for civic association in the early republic, and continued to be employed as a figure of egalitarian affiliation through the nineteenth century, including in canonical works of fiction. Yet despite its prominence historically in the US civic imaginary, friendship was sidelined from American political culture for much of the twentieth century, until its dramatic and widespread rediscovery in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a broad communitarian critique of liberal individualism. The Introduction analyses how this revival of critical commentary within mainstream liberal thought coincided with continental philosophy’s exploration of friendship’s role in democratic theory, and a renewed interest in same-sex friendship within gender studies and queer theory. Marshalling these histories, the Introduction demonstrates how understanding male friendship as an important intellectual discourse in this period reframes existing accounts of contemporary American literary culture.

in The politics of male friendship in contemporary American fiction
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Martin Ferguson Smith

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.

in In and out of Bloomsbury
Martin Ferguson Smith

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.

in In and out of Bloomsbury