This month, instead of looking back 100 years, I want to visit 1916.
Recently I attended a writing workshop, conducted by the terrific Fiona Joseph, connected to the Library of Birmingham’s exhibition, Voices of War: Birmingham People 1914-1919 [http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/event/Events/voicesofwar]. The display will be up until the end of the year, and I highly recommend paying a visit.
Our assignment was to write a piece based on something we saw in the exhibit. I chose a quote from a conscientious objector’s letter, and connected it to the members of the Bloomsbury group.
[PS: The first shot in the trailer for the film Carrington shows Jonathan Pryce as Lytton Strachey in the scene described below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9MXDP2B4DU]
By Kathleen Dixon Donnelly
March 1916: London
Essayist and pacifist Lytton Strachey, soon to turn 36, is called before the Hampstead Tribunal to apply for status as a conscientious objector. He brings a cushion for his tush, explaining to the military men sitting in judgment on him,
‘I am a martyr to the piles…’
When they ask him, ‘If you were to find a German soldier raping your sister, what would you do?,’ Lytton answers,
‘I would try to interpose my own body between them.’
He then gives an impassioned explanation of his stand against the current war, reminding them,
‘I am the society you’re fighting for.’
October 1916: East Sussex
Painter Vanessa Bell, 37, is desperate. She is trying to find any way to keep her lover—Lytton’s cousin and former lover—painter Duncan Grant, just turned 31, out of the war.
The only way for a single man to avoid conscription is to work in service to his country. As a last resort, Vanessa finds a local farm, Charleston, which she can rent and live in with her sons. Duncan and their other painter/writer/intellectual/homosexual friends can then ‘work’ the farm.
Oh, and her husband, art critic Clive Bell, 34. He can help, too.
February 1916: Birmingham
‘Never mind if you feel a prig or if you look a fool before the rest of the world. Those living in 2016 will be the best judges of whether you did right or wrong at this time.’
–Gerald Lloyd, 30, conscientious objector
And we will…
Birmingham Remembering 1914-18