‘Such Friends’ 100 Years Ago, December 1910

In Ireland

Coats, a one-act comedy by Lady Augusta Gregory, 58, premieres at her Abbey Theatre, along with The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, 54.

Shaw’s play had debuted at the Abbey the year before, defying the censorship of the British government in Dublin Castle. Augusta and her fellow Abbey founder and director, William Butler Yeats, 45, had acquired the rights from Shaw after his play about hypocrisy had been banned by the English Lord Chamberlain because of its portrayal of a prostitute with integrity.

The Abbey was not fined for presenting the banned play, and included it in its touring repertoire for the next few years.

In England

‘On or about December 1910,’ wrote Virginia Woolf 14 years later, ‘human character changed.’

In this pivotal month and year, she is 28-year-old Virginia Stephen, working for women’s suffrage. Her married sister, painter Vanessa Bell, 31, has just had her first child. Their friend, art critic Roger Fry, just turned 44, is presiding over his first post-impressionist exhibit, which has introduced Cezanne and Monet to the British public with scandalous results.

A few years before, their other Bloomsbury friend Lytton Strachey, then 28, had scandalized them all, as Virginia remembered:

“It was a spring evening. Vanessa and I were sitting in the drawing room…Suddenly the door opened and the long and sinister figure of Mr. Strachey stood on the threshold. He pointed his finger at a stain on Vanessa’s white dress. ‘Semen?’ he said. Can one really say it? I thought and we burst out laughing. With that one word all barriers of reticence and reserve went down. A flood of the sacred fluid seemed to overwhelm us. Sex permeated our conversation. The word bugger was never far from our lips. We discussed copulation with the same excitement and openness that we had discussed the nature of good. It is strange to think how reticent, how reserved we had been and for how long.”

In France

Lytton is recuperating from yet another bout of illness, and visiting his sister Dorothy, 44, and her husband Simon Bussy, 40, in Roquebrune.

Dorothy had married the French painter seven years before, and they moved to this house in the south of France that her father owned. Their marriage shocked the Strachey family. Bussy was younger! He used his bread to clean his plate! He was French! But her brother Lytton admired his older sister’s courage.

Simon is friends with other French painters, such as Henri Matisse, about to turn 41, whom he introduces to many of Lytton’s Bloomsbury friends.

In America

On New Year’s Eve, in the Episcopal Church in Plainfield, NJ, Maxwell Perkins, 26, marries Louse Saunders, 17. It is quite a family affair. His brothers and her sisters are part of the wedding party, and his uncle performs the service.

The young couple had both attended this church while growing up, but had only taken a serious interest in each other about 18 months ago. As a young reporter with the New York Times, Max knew he couldn’t support a wife and family. But his new job gave him regular working hours and a steady salary. He had recently joined the venerable publishing house of Charles Scribner’s and Sons. In the advertising department.

Elsewhere in the US, Scribner’s future star writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 14, Ernest Hemingway, 11, and Thomas Wolfe, 10, are dreaming of becoming novelists.

For daily updates, follow the writers on Twitter @SuchFriends.

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