At Oxford University, in England, 7th June, 1926…

…American Alice B. Toklas, 49, is watching her partner Gertrude Stein, 52, delivering her lecture entitled ‘Composition as Explanation.’ She’s excited, but a bit nervous for Gertrude.

Last year, when the Cambridge University Literary Society first asked Stein to come speak, as she wrote later,

quite completely upset at the very idea [Stein] quite promptly answered no. Immediately came a letter from Edith Sitwell saying that the no must be changed to yes. That it was of the first importance that Gertrude Stein should deliver this address and that moreover Oxford was waiting for the yes to be given to Cambridge to ask her to do the same at Oxford. There was very evidently nothing to do but to say yes and so Gertrude Stein said yes.’

Back in January, Gertrude had drafted the lecture in a few hours while waiting for the mechanics to fix her Ford, called “Godiva,” because it arrived naked. Then Gertrude had read it to Alice and to friends. And had them read it back to her. She read it and read it and read it.

Gertrude and Alice planned only a short trip to England from their home in Paris, but they did enjoy the dinner party that Sitwell, 38, gave last week in Stein’s honor. They had met writer Virginia Woolf, 44. Gertrude and Alice were hopeful that Woolf would agree to publish the lecture through the Hogarth Press that she ran with her husband, Leonard, 45.

Despite her initial apprehension, Gertrude is a big hit. Alice remembers later,

One of the men was so moved that he confided to me as we went out that the lecture had been his greatest experience since he had read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.’

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in traveling mode, c.1927

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in traveling mode, c.1927

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

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

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At Oxford University, England, 7th June, 1926…

…American writer Gertrude Stein, 52, is delivering her lecture entitled ‘Composition as Explanation.’ She’s a bit nervous.

Last year, when the Cambridge University Literary Society first asked her to come speak, as she wrote later,

quite completely upset at the very idea [she] quite promptly answered no. Immediately came a letter from Edith Sitwell saying that the no must be changed to yes. That it was of the first importance that Gertrude Stein should deliver this address and that moreover Oxford was waiting for the yes to be given to Cambridge to ask her to do the same at Oxford. There was very evidently nothing to do but to say yes and so Gertrude Stein said yes.’

Back in January, Gertrude had drafted the lecture in a few hours while waiting for the mechanics to fix her Ford, called “Godiva” because it had arrived naked. Then she’d read the lecture to her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 49, and to friends. And had them read it back to her.

Gertrude and Alice planned only a short trip to England from their home in Paris, but they did enjoy the dinner party that Sitwell, 38, gave last week in their honor. They’d met writer Virginia Woolf, 44, and were hopeful that she would agree to publish the lecture through the Hogarth Press that she ran with her husband, Leonard, 45.

Despite her initial apprehension, Gertrude is a big hit. Alice remembers later,

One of the men was so moved that he confided to me as we went out that the lecture had been his greatest experience since he had read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.’

Composition as Explanation by Gertrude Stein, published by the Hogarth Press, 1927

Composition as Explanation by Gertrude Stein, published by the Hogarth Press, 1927

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

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

In Jaffna, Ceylon, 1906…

Leonard Woolf, 25, feels as though he will never adjust to his life as a cadet in the British civil service, assisting the Government Agent here. In the past two years, he has survived typhoid, lost his virginity to a local prostitute, and carried on an affair with one of the women in the expat Brit community.

But it is still too depressing. The heat is oppressive and Charlie, the dog he brought with him from England, is suffering from it. Leonard exchanges letters every day with his friend from his years at Trinity College, Cambridge, essayist Lytton Strachey, also 25. But even that’s not enough. Lytton’s gossip about their friends back in Bloomsbury makes him feel even worse. Leonard writes,

I took out my gun the other night, made my will, and prepared to shoot myself…I shall live and die in these appalling countries now’

Leonard Woolf and friends in Jaffna, Ceylon

Leonard Woolf and friends in Jaffna, Ceylon

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

 

 

In mid-January, 1902, at Cambridge University…

Lytton Strachey, 21, has returned to Trinity College. He’s looking forward to reading his new essay, ‘Christ or Caliban?’ for the weekly debate at the Apostles’ meeting. He was thrilled to have been elected to the university’s ‘secret’ society, and has met the most interesting men there. His friend Leonard Woolf, also 21, takes the group very seriously. And the new guy, John Maynard Keynes, 19, from King’s College, is…very attractive.

Lytton's page in the Apostles album, 1902

Lytton’s page in the Apostles album, 1902

Lytton is also planning a major academic work on the 18th century governor general of India, Warren Hastings, which he hopes will secure him a permanent position at Cambridge. He’d spend his whole life there, if he could. Lytton’s been getting some other pieces published in the Cambridge Review, including, ‘The Cat’:

‘Dear creature by the fire a-purr,

Strange idol, eminently bland,

Miraculous puss! As o’er your fur,

I trail a negligible hand,

And gaze into your gazing eyes,

And wonder in a demi-dream,

What mystery it is that lies,

Behind those slits that glare and gleam…

Oh, strange! For you are with me, too,

And I who am a cat once more

Follow the woman that was you

With tail erect and pompous march,

The proudest puss that ever trod…’

The results of a debate at an Apostles meeting later that year. The question was ‘Why laugh?’ and Lytton voted, ‘Don’t.’

The results of a debate at an Apostles meeting later that year. The question was ‘Why laugh?’ and Lytton voted, ‘Don’t.’