Thursday, March 2nd, 1905, at #46 Gordon Square in the Bloomsbury section of London…

Virginia Stephen, 23, is anticipating the arrival that evening of the Cambridge University friends of her brother, Thoby, 25.

A few weeks before, Thoby had announced that he would be ‘at home’ on Thursday evenings, and visitors would be welcome. Slowly, his Cambridge University buddies have started to show up, recreating the late night talks of their college days.

Lytton Strachey and Saxon Sydney-Turner, both also 25, and Clive Bell, 23–some had been members with Thoby in the ‘secret’ society, the Apostles, but not Clive. Virginia is jealous that these men have had the advantage of a university education, denied to her.

But these men, smoking their pipes, are different from the ones she had been forced to socialize with previously. These men do not appear to be interested in marriage. And she feels no physical attraction to them. As she remembered years later,

It was precisely this lack of physical splendor, this shabbiness! that was in my eyes proof of their superiority. More than that, it was, in some obscure way, reassuring; for it meant that things could go on like this, in abstract argument, without dressing for dinner, and never revert to the ways, which I had come to think so distasteful.

#46 Gordon Square today, on our Bloomsbury walk last September.

#46 Gordon Square today, on our Bloomsbury walk last September.

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

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In June 1901 at Trinity College, Cambridge…

…Thoby Stephen, 20, is hosting his sisters, up from London, and his cousin, acting as their chaperone, for tea in his rooms.

Virginia, 19, and Vanessa, 22, have to be accompanied by their cousin Katherine Stephen, 45, vice-principal of Newnham College, one of only two Cambridge colleges to admit women.

On previous trips, Thoby had introduced them to some of his university friends, Clive Bell, 19, who came from a good family, and the eccentric Lytton Strachey, 21, a fellow member of the ‘secret’ Cambridge society, the Apostles. This time, one of his other Apostle friends, Leonard Woolf, 20, at Trinity on a classical scholarship, also stops by Thoby’s rooms:

 I also met Thoby’s two sisters, Virginia and Vanessa Stephen, when they came up to see him. The young ladies—Vanessa was 21 or 22, Virginia 18 or 19—were just as formidable and alarming as their father, perhaps even more so. I first saw them one summer afternoon in Thoby’s rooms; in white dresses and large hats, with parasols in their hands. Their beauty literally took one’s breath away, for suddenly seeing them one stopped astonished and everything including one’s breathing for one second also stopped, as it does when in a picture gallery you suddenly come face to face with a great Rembrandt or Velazquez…They were… the most Victorian of Victorian young ladies…It was almost impossible for a man not to fall in love with them and I think that I did at once.

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

Vanessa Stephen

Vanessa Stephen

 

Virginia Stephen

Virginia Stephen

 

 

 

 

In November of 1889…

…in Dublin, Irish scholar Douglas Hyde, 29, has found an excuse to stop by the home of Maud Gonne, 22, for the second time that day. He’s been feeling quite smitten by the six foot tall Englishwoman who has taken up his cause of preserving Irish culture.

Hyde has been giving her Irish lessons and she’s been coming to meetings of the Pan-Celtic Society with him, joining in the singing of ‘All for Ireland’ a few months ago.

However, his friend William Butler Yeats, 24, has written a play for Gonne. He and Yeats have known each other since Hyde was at Trinity; they’ve worked on books of poetry together, sitting up all night in his rooms drinking whiskey and criticising each other’s work. But lately, Willie seems to be spending more time with Gonne than Hyde.

Well, Hyde will see her again tonight at the Society meeting in Marlborough Street, just off Abbey Street, in city centre.

The Dublin Streets A Vendor of Books 1889 by Walter Osborne

The Dublin Streets A Vendor of Books 1889 by Walter Osborne

In December of 1896, in Paris…

…Sorbonne language student and translator John Millington Synge, 25, is thinking about moving on.

He just had an interesting chat with poet William Butler Yeats, 31, who had sought him out when he learned that there was another Irishman staying at the same hotel, the Corneille, near the Theatre Odeon on the Left Bank.

Synge had told Yeats about his work as a book reviewer, interest in French literature and Breton culture, and his desire to travel. Yeats was impressed. Here was a young Irishman with passion—but heading in the wrong direction.

Yeats told him, ‘Give up Paris and go to the Aran Islands….Live there as one of the people themselves. Express a life that has never found expression’

Although he had grown up in Rathfarnham, south Dublin, Synge knew little about his own culture. He had rarely even heard Irish spoken, had spent his life among the Protestant upper class, travelled through Germany, Italy and France. Maybe it was time to visit his own country and find the roots of his culture. He could pick up the language fairly quickly, and the ‘peasants’ might prove to be interesting.

And his girlfriend had just turned down his proposal of marriage—again. Time to head west.

Where are the Aran islands? Off the coast of Galway.

Where are the Aran islands? Off the coast of Galway.

Aran Islanders in the 1890s

Aran Islanders in the 1890s

 

In the summer of 1888…

…aspiring writer Edward Martyn, 29, that great rarity, a rich Irish Catholic landlord, has taken his annual trip to the Bayreuth festival with his cousin, also a west of Ireland landlord, novelist George Moore, 36. As usual, they have visited the great cathedrals and attended concerts of Edward’s beloved sacred music.

On the train trip there, Martyn whistled the tunes from the operas they would see at the festival, to bring Moore up to speed, and lectured him on the difference between Gothic and Norman architecture.

Now, on the way back, they are visiting Paris, where Moore had spent his early years. He introduces Martyn to his painter friend, Edgar Degas, just turned 54. Martyn is so impressed he buys his paintings, as well as some by Oscar-Claude Monet, 47.

Martyn wants to take the art back to his recently restored 15th century family castle, Tullira, near Coole Park in west Ireland. He has devoted a lot of time and a big chunk of his inheritance to refurbishing it, with gargoyles on the battlements and Edward’s monogram everywhere. His widowed mother had hoped that fixing up the castle would encourage her only son to marry; but he still sleeps in a bare bed with a thin mattress in his turret where he spends most of his time. That’ll show her.

Tullira today

Tullira today

Tullira sold at auction about a year ago, with an asking price of £5.5 million [approximately $9 million]. Check out the interiors [Trust me on this one]: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2451911/King-castle-16th-century-stately-home-sale-5-5m.html

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

 

In March of 1890…

…in Dublin, artist, poet, and drapery store clerk George Russell, 22, is pissed off. His best friend for the past six years, poet William Butler Yeats, 24, is moving to London. Why?!

A Mystical Figure, painting by George Russell

A Mystical Figure, painting by George Russell

Since they met in art school, Yeats and Russell have bonded over their shared interests in art, poetry, spiritualism, theosophy—united against their Church of Ireland parents’ values, sitting up talking until the early hours of the morning.

Now, while George is thinking of moving into the Dublin lodge of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophist Society, Willie seems to be moving away from them, using the Ely Place residence as just a place to stay when he is visiting. ‘Yeets,’ as Russell insists on calling him, is more entranced with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Indian mystic Mohini Chatterji, 32, and the British activist on behalf of Irish independence, Maud Gonne, 23.

Well, the hell with him. George won’t even bother to say good bye to his friend; he has to get to South Great George’s Street and his £40 per year job at Pim’s. It’s a good job. It’s very routine. It gives him time to think.

AE by Orpen btr

 

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

I will be doing presentations about Yeats, his father and their Irish-American benefactor, John Quinn, this spring in Birmingham, UK. Email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com if you want more details.

In April of 1894…

…in London,  novelist and man about town George Moore, 42,  is off to the Avenue Theatre to catch a double bill of one-act plays by two new playwrights and fellow Irishmen, George Bernard Shaw, 37, and William Butler Yeats, 28.

He’s heard of Shaw, but Arms and the Man is the first of his plays to be staged. It was a last minute substitution by the producer, Shaw’s mistress, Florence Farr, 33.

Theatrical producer Florence Farr

Theatrical producer Florence Farr

Land of Heart’s Desire is Yeats’ first produced play also, and he has written in a dance part for Farr’s niece. In his autobiography, Moore remembers his first impression of the young Dubliner:

 Yeats provoked a violent antipathy as he strode to and forth at the back of the dress circle, a long black cloak dropping from his shoulders, a soft black sombrero on his head, a voluminous black silk tie flowing from his collar, loose black trousers dragging untidily over his long heavy feet—a man of such excessive appearance…[I mistook] him for an Irish parody of the poetry that I had seen all my life strutting its rhythmic way in the alleys of the Luxembourg Gardens, preening its rhymes by the fountains, excessive in habit and gait.

W B Yeats and his 'voluminous black tie'

W B Yeats and his ‘voluminous black tie’

 

 

 

Both plays are critical successes, but Moore sees no reason to meet his countrymen after the performance to congratulate them.

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

I will be doing presentations about Yeats, his father and their Irish-American benefactor, John Quinn, this spring in Birmingham, UK. Email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com if you want more details.

 

In late 1894…

…in London, Lady Augusta Gregory, 42, widowed for the past two years, is moving her possessions back to the Gregory home, Coole Park in the west of Ireland, and getting rid of a lot of her late husband’s ‘rubbish.’ On the basis of his autobiography, which she edited, she has convinced a London publisher to commission her to edit his family correspondence, which she found in a box at Coole.

This is the kind of project Augusta has been looking for. During her 12-year marriage to Sir William Gregory, Member of Parliament, Governor of Ceylon, and 35 years her senior, she had travelled the world, organized a campaign to free a rebel Arab leader, had an affair with a poet, and become a mother.

St. George’s Place, Hyde Park Corner, London

St. George’s Place, Hyde Park Corner, London

In their London home at Hyde Park Corner, Lady Gregory had hosted a salon with the likes of Henry James, Alfred Lord Tennyson, James Whistler, Randolph Churchill, Sir John Millais, Aubrey Beardsley, and her fellow members of the Protestant Irish upper class, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and William Butler Yeats. Lured by the promise of fascinating conversation, moving between the drawing room, the dining room and the library, the elite of London felt comfortable gossiping about art and politics at the Gregory home.

Early on, Lady Gregory had had her guests sign her fan, made of sandalwood and crimson satin. When that one was filled, she bought fans of ivory for them to autograph, similar to this one:

An autographed ivory fan, similar to Lady Gregory's

An autographed ivory fan, similar to Lady Gregory’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her son Robert, now 13, inherited Coole Park when William Gregory died, but Augusta has the right to live there for life. Back there, working on her book, she wants to invite other writers and artists to visit and stay during the summers.

My photo of Lady Gregory’s autograph tree, Coole Park, western Ireland

My photo of Lady Gregory’s autograph tree, Coole Park, western Ireland

 

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

One morning in 1867…

… in Dublin, lawyer John Butler Yeats, 28, graduate of Trinity Law School and father of William Butler, 2, and Lily, just a few months old, announces to his wife and son at breakfast that he has decided to chuck it all and become a painter. He moves the family to London so he can attend Heatherley School of Fine Art and hang out with the pre-Raphaelite painters at the home of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 39.

Years later, when family friend Oscar Wilde would tell this story, listeners would ask, ‘Could he paint?’ Wilde would answer dramatically, ‘Not in the least! That was the beauty of it!’

W B Yeats by his father John Butler Yeats, 1900

W B Yeats by his father John Butler Yeats, 1900

 

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

I will be doing presentations about Yeats, his father and their Irish-American benefactor, John Quinn, this spring in Birmingham, UK. Email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com for more details.