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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 Significant new light is shed on them, partly through the presentation of previously unpublished pictures, photographs, and texts, partly through the fresh examination of relevant manuscripts and images.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 The five non-Bloomsbury essays too are based on primary source-materials, including previously unpublished texts and images.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.

Martin Ferguson Smith

it to public attention, but her presentation of it is not entirely satisfactory: her transcript of the letter is not fully accurate; she is not confident of the identity of the writer (“This correspondent may be Mary Louisa Gordon …”); and her treatment of Helen is limited to a reference to a footnote in which the editors of Virginia’s diary comment briefly on the cause of Helen’s mental illness. 7 In this essay I discuss Mary Gordon, present a corrected text of her letter based on autopsy of the original, 8

in In and out of Bloomsbury
Abstract only
Martin Ferguson Smith

during the Second World War. Essay 6 , like some of the other Bloomsbury pieces, is not entirely about Bloomsbury. Roger Fry died in 1934, Helen Fry in 1937; and after Virginia Woolf’s biography of Roger was published in 1940, she received a letter from Mary Louisa Gordon strongly critical of her portrayal of Helen, and even more critical of Roger’s character and conduct. Mary and Helen, neither of whom was ever a “Bloomsberry”, had been friends before the latter married. In 1936 the Woolfs had published

in In and out of Bloomsbury