In Number 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London, summer of 1913…

…art critic Clive Bell, 32, is considering an opportunity.

His friend and fellow art critic, Roger Fry, 46, has been asked by publisher Chatto and Windus to write a book on post-impressionism, a term that Roger coined and used for two major art exhibits he has mounted in the past few years.

Fry is the obvious choice, but currently he is too busy setting up his ‘Omega Workshops’ to sell ceramics and fabrics with painters Duncan Grant, 28, and Vanessa Bell, 34, Clive’s wife. So he has recommended Clive for the job.

Clive and Roger have had their theoretical differences about art. They’d recently sustained an argument about the definition of the term ‘aesthetic’ in the Nation magazine.

But Roger is distracted by his Omega project. And by Vanessa, Clive thinks. So the book would be all his. Clive decides to call it Art.

Clive Bell, c. 1913

Clive Bell, c. 1913

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

If you were able to watch the BBC Two drama Life in Squares about the Bloomsbury group, let us know what you think.                                                                                                                       

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

At the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, the Grafton Galleries, London, 16th November, 1912…

…Exhibition secretary, newlywed Leonard Woolf, about to turn 32, is glad to have this job.
Returning last year to his native England after a seven-year stint with the British civil service in Ceylon, Leonard had married Virginia Stephen, 30, the sister of one of his Cambridge University friends. It took a lot of persuading, but Virginia had finally said yes.
While they were on their extensive honeymoon, the Woolfs’ friend, art critic Roger Fry, 45, had sent an urgent message asking if Leonard would act as secretary for this major art show Fry was mounting, as soon as the they got back to London. Leonard agreed to do it at least until the end of the year, as he had no other job waiting for him.

Catalogue cover, Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, by Duncan Grant

Catalogue cover, Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, by Duncan Grant

Now Leonard is sitting at his table in the second room of the gallery, ready to help any potential buyers. Mostly, he has been disgusted by the reactions of the British middle-class to the modern art on the walls, writing later:

The whole business gave me a lamentable view of human nature, its rank stupidity and uncharitableness. I used to think, as I sat there, how much nicer were the Tamil or Sinhalese villagers who crowded into the veranda of Ceylon Kachcheri than these smug, well dressed, ill-mannered, well-to-do Londoners. Hardly any of them made the slightest attempt to look at, let alone understand, the pictures, and the same inane question or remarks were repeated to me all day long.

Today, however, two New Yorkers have spent quite a lot of time here, asking lots of questions about the art. They are excited to hear that Fry’s show is going so well, because they’re scouting for a similar exhibit they plan to present in New York City next spring. Although they say that the art is not as impressive as what they have just seen in Paris, the Americans feel work by the late Paul Cezanne is the best in the show. And they are telling their Paris representative to get as many paintings by Henri Matisse, 42, as he can.
Leonard is pleased that at least somebody understands what Fry is trying to do, even if they are American.

A Room at the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, Matisse Room, by Vanessa Bell, Leonard’s sister-in-law, 1912

A Room at the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, Matisse Room, by Vanessa Bell, Leonard’s sister-in-law, 1912

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.
If you were able to watch the BBC Two drama Life in Squares about the Bloomsbury group, let us know what you think.
To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

In 27 rue de Fleurus, the Left Bank of Paris, April, 1909…

…British painter Duncan Grant, 24, is thrilled to visit the American ex-pat art collectors Gertrude Stein, 35, and Alice B. Toklas, about to turn 32, to see the latest art hung all over their walls.

He’s been to Paris many times, but this trip has been an even bigger eye opener for Duncan. Thanks to an introduction from a friend, he has been to the studio of Henri Matisse, 39, and was blown away. Here at Fleurus he’s seeing more Matisses and equally astounding works by other contemporaries.

Duncan has also been to Versailles with his current lover, economist John Maynard Keynes, 25. They’ve been living together since the end of last year in Fitzroy Square. But Duncan is starting to feel that this relationship has run its course. Time to move on.

Le Danse, Henri Matisse, 1909

Le Danse, Henri Matisse, 1909

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

If you were able to watch the BBC Two drama Life in Squares about the Bloomsbury group, let us know what you think.                                                                                                                       

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

In Bloomsbury, London, 20th February, 1909…

…essayist Lytton Strachey, 28, is reading over the letter he wrote yesterday to his friend from his Cambridge University days, Leonard Woolf, also 28, currently serving in the British civil service in Ceylon.

Leonard had written to Lytton a few days ago, excited at Lytton’s suggestion that Virginia Stephen, 27, might marry him. Leonard wrote:

Do you think Virginia would have me?…I’ll take the next boat home!”

Yesterday, Lytton responded:

Your letter has this minute come—with your proposal to Virginia…The [other] day…I proposed to Virginia. As I did it, I saw that it would be death if she accepted me, and I managed, of course, to get out of it before the end of the conversation. The worst of it was that as the conversation went on, it became more and more obvious to me that the whole thing was impossible. The lack of understanding was so terrific! And how can a virgin be expected to understand? You see she is her name…Her sense was absolute, and at times her supremacy was so great that I quavered. I think there’s no doubt whatever that you ought to marry her. You would be great enough, and you’ld have too the immense advantage of physical desire. I was in terror lest she should kiss me. If you came and proposed she’ld accept. She really really would. As it is, she’s almost certainly in love with me, though she thinks she’s not.”

Now, Lytton is relieved to add:

I’ve had an eclairissement with Virginia. She declared she was not in love with me, and I observed finally that I would not marry her. So things have simply reverted.”

Lytton Strachey and Virginia Stephen, c. 1909

Lytton Strachey and Virginia Stephen, c. 1909

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

If you were able to watch the BBC Two drama Life in Squares about the Bloomsbury group, let us know what you think.                                                                                                                       

 
To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

In 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London, in fall of 1914…

…artist Vanessa Bell, 35, is in tears. She’s admitting to her sister, Virginia Woolf, 32, that her love for gay painter Duncan Grant, 29, is hopeless. Totally hopeless.

Vanessa, Duncan, and the art critic Roger Fry, 47, have been running the Omega Workshops together for a while now. But last year, while she was carrying on an affair with Roger, she inexplicably found herself attracted to Duncan.

Roger Fry by Vanessa Bell, 1912

Roger Fry by Vanessa Bell, 1912

Vanessa feels she has learned so much about art—and herself—from her time with Roger. He is so upset he won’t even visit Gordon Square if he knows Duncan is present. Which he often is. Even her husband, art critic Clive Bell, 33, has complained that Duncan is around too much.

Vanessa has always admired Duncan as the only other full-time painter in the group. She knows about his relationships with the gay men in their circle of Bloomsbury friends. But now…she feels she wants to have his child.

Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant, 1914-15

Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant, 1914-15

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

Watch the final episode of the BBC Two drama Life in Squares about the Bloomsbury group, on Monday, 10th August, at 9 pm, and let us know what you think.                                              

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

In 29 Fitzroy Square, Bloomsbury, London, 23rd August, 1909…

…aspiring author Virginia Stephen, 27, writes to her friend, painter Duncan Grant, 24:

Good God! to have a room of one’s own with a real fire and books and tea and company, and no dinner-bells and distractions, and little time for doing something!—It’s a wonderful vision, and surely worth some risks!”

Virginia realizes how lucky she is. When her Quaker aunt Caroline Stephen died a few months ago, aged 75, she left her favorite niece £2500—a lot more than the £100 she left to Virginia’s siblings Vanessa, 30, and Adrian, 26.
Caroline had published books about her Quaker religion, and Virginia knew that her aunt wanted to encourage her own writing efforts. In the Stephen family aunt Caroline was known as ‘Nun’ because she, like many women in those days, had given up her own career to care for her older brother, Leslie Stephen, then age 43, when his first wife died.

Virginia Stephen and her father, Sir Leslie Stephen

Virginia Stephen and her father, Sir Leslie Stephen

Men always need a woman to take care of them. Virginia has had marriage proposals; but has no interest in taking care of a husband.
But now that she has a room of her own, here with her brother, and some pieces published in the Times Literary Supplement, and some private income, Virginia can turn her efforts to what she has been working on intermittently for the past few months—a novel.
This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.
Watch the last episode of the BBC Two drama Life in Squares about the Bloomsbury group, on Monday, 10th August, at 9 pm, and let us know what you think.
To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

In 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London, in March of 1907…

…everyone is moving.

Clive Bell, 25, is moving in with his new wife, Vanessa Stephen Bell, 27. Clive has been living with his family since graduating from Cambridge University. Vanessa has been living in the tacky neighbourhood of Bloomsbury since she moved her brothers and sister, Virginia, 25, out of Hyde Park Gate when their widowed father died, more than three years ago. Smartest thing she ever did.

46 Gordon Square

46 Gordon Square

Their brother Thoby unexpectedly died last fall, age 26. Two days later, Vanessa finally accepted Clive’s proposal.

Now that Vanessa is a married Edwardian lady with a husband, it’s time for her siblings to move out.

Virginia and Adrian, 24, have found a suitable place, 29 Fitzroy Square. Virginia has heard that the family of the playwright George Bernard Shaw, 50, had lived there when they first emigrated from Dublin. That’s a good omen.

Moving a few blocks away won’t separate Virginia and Vanessa. The Bell marriage is a bigger threat. Virginia worries that the intimacy that she has shared with her sister will suffer.

But at least now she will have her own place, with Adrian. She can spend more time writing.

And their friends will still come on Thursday evenings, which Virginia always looks forward to. As she described these evenings later:

Talking, talking, talking…as if everything could be talked…’

Tour guide talking, talking, talking in front of 29 Fitzroy Square.

Tour guide talking, talking, talking in front of 29 Fitzroy Square.

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

Watch the BBC Two drama Life in Squares about the Bloomsbury group, Mondays, 3rd and 10th August, at 9 pm, and let us know what you think.   

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

In the UK, on Monday, 27th July, 2015, Life in Squares premieres on BBC Two…

…focusing on the life and loves of the Bloomsbury group.

We’d love to know what you think of it. We’ll be watching—with the cats, William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory, both 12 years old—and tweeting our highly valued opinions @SuchFriends.

Parts of the three-part series were filmed at the gorgeous Charleston, the east Sussex home of Vanessa Bell, and parts in the Bloomsbury section of London, where many of them spent their early years together.

This month we’ll be posting about what the Bloomsbury group was doing during the important years of 1907-1915. And watch this space for information about upcoming walking tours of Gordon and Fitzroy squares you can enjoy with me—even if you’re not in London!

Post your comments about the BBC show here. We’d love to know what you think.

The cast of Life in Squares. Can you figure out who is who?

The cast of Life in Squares. Can you figure out who is who?

At Coole Park, Co. Galway, Christmas, 1898…

…poet, playwright and linguist Douglas Hyde, 38, is putting on a ‘Punch and Judy’ show for kids as part of the local school festival. His hostess, Lady Augusta Gregory, 46, presents the play first in English, and then Hyde does it in Gaelic.

Douglas Hyde

Douglas Hyde

Augusta and he met this past summer when he was traveling around the west of Ireland, collecting stories. He would stop on a country road and pretend that his bike had broken down until a passing farmer would stop to help him. They’d end up back in the farmer’s house for a drink. Hyde’s proficiency in Gaelic helped him draw out their folk tales in their native language.

Augusta is interested in learning more Gaelic, and having Hyde ‘put the Irish on’ the plays she and poet William Butler Yeats, 33, are writing for their theatre. The plays will be performed in English, but they need to sound right. So they will write them in English. Hyde can then translate them into Irish, and then back into English.

Hyde is happy to help, and he thinks both Yeats and Lady Gregory can be useful to his organization, The Gaelic League.

And besides, Lady Gregory and he actually like each other.

Pamphlet setting out the aims of the Gaelic League, 1893

Pamphlet setting out the aims of the Gaelic League, 1893

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.                                                                                                                        

On the train to Gort, in the summer of 1898…

…writer John Millington Synge, 27, is looking forward to the next part of his trip.

He has just spent time living on the Aran Islands, getting to know the people, their stories, and their dialects.

Synge's cottage on the Aran Islands

Synge’s cottage on the Aran Islands

Now Synge will spend a few days in the west of Ireland with his new friend, the poet William Butler Yeats,  just turned 33, whom he met in Paris a few years ago. It was Yeats who had suggested that Synge ‘go west’ to explore his own family’s roots in Aran. Yeats felt Synge would be better off writing about them than the reviews of French literature he had been working on.

The two will stay at Coole Park, and their hostess there, Lady Augusta Gregory, 46, is coming to meet Synge at the train station. He has his manuscript about the Aran Islands tucked under his arm.

Sketch of John Millington Synge

Sketch of John Millington Synge

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.