At the Café Royal, Regent Street, near Piccadilly Circus, London, January, 1915…

…economist John Maynard Keynes, 31, newly appointed to the Treasury Department, is excited about his new job. Even if his friends aren’t.

Keynes is giving a party here tonight as a celebration of his new position, but his Bloomsbury pacifist friends don’t agree with him working for a government which has entered an impossible war.

Two of his former lovers, writer Lytton Strachey, 34, and artist Duncan Grant, about to turn 30, are conscientious objectors.

Keynes has decided to seat one of his Bloomsbury friends, painter Vanessa Bell, 35, between writer David ‘Bunny’ Garnett, 22, and Duncan. He thinks they’ll all get along.

After the party, they will all go back to Vanessa’s house, 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury, to continue celebrating and watch puppets created by Duncan act out a Racine play.

Painting of the Café Royal by William Orpen, 1912

Painting of the Café Royal by William Orpen, 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.

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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 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.’

100 years ago this month, September 1914…

…In England

War has come to Bloomsbury.

The image of Lord Horatio Kitchener, 64, recruiting young men, appears for the first time, on the black and white cover of London Opinion magazine.

1st appearance of Lord Kitchener's recruiting image

1st appearance of Lord Kitchener’s recruiting image

Bloomsbury friend, critic Desmond MacCarthy, 37, has signed up for the Red Cross Ambulance Service; art critic Clive Bell, turning 33, is trying to figure out how to join a non-combat unit such as the Army Service Corps; and painter Duncan Grant, 29, has entered the National Reserve.

Despite the hostilities in the rest of Europe, the Bloomsberries don’t stop moving. Duncan takes a studio in Fitzroy Square as well as rooms in nearby 46 Gordon Square, where Clive lives with his wife, painter Vanessa Bell, 35. Their friend John Maynard Keynes, 31, writing articles for The Economist magazine, moves to Great Ormond Street; and Vanessa’s sister, writer Virginia Woolf, 32, and her husband, Leonard, 33, are house hunting in London while still spending time at the sisters’ Sussex retreat, Asham.

On Tuesday, 9th September, and Sunday, 14th September, I will be leading a ‘Such Friends’ walking tour of some of these spots in Bloomsbury. Either day we’re meeting at 12:30 at the Mrs. Dalloway bench in Gordon Square, and after a stroll around the area, taking the Tube to see the excellent exhibit, Virginia Woolf: Art, Life & Vision, at the National Portrait Gallery [http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/virginiawoolf/home.php]. Email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com if you would like to join us.

 …In France

Near Paris, the French and British forces rout the Germans and, despite the half million casualties, the Allies score a victory that leads most to believe the troops will be home by Christmas. From her vantage point in Huily, journalist Mildred Aldrich, 60, watches the battle, taking detailed notes in both her journal and letters to her friend and fellow-American ex-patriate, Gertrude Stein, 40, in Paris.

…in America

One who is convinced that the German defeat will mean a short war is American artist and critic Walter Pach, 31, who is hoping to follow up the success of last year’s Armory Show with future exhibits of the latest contemporary art. He decides this would be a good time to go back to Europe and collect the works that have already been promised.

Also in New York, at Columbia University, George S Kaufman, 24, is looking for a new career by taking a playwriting course. But at Princeton University, F. Scott Fitzgerald, turning 18, can write proudly in his ledger, ‘Play accepted.’ His Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! musical for the university’s Triangle Club gets good reviews and is a big hit.

The socialist magazine The Masses carries an article by former Mexican war correspondent John Reed, 26, which states of the current conflict in Europe:

“We, who are Socialists, must hope — we may even expect — that out of this horror of bloodshed and dire destruction will come far-reaching social changes — and a long step forward towards our goal of Peace among Men.

“But we must not be duped by this editorial buncombe about Liberalism going forth to Holy War against Tyranny.

“This is not Our War.”

Yet.

Cover of The Masses, September 1914

Cover of The Masses, September 1914

100 years ago today, 4 August 1914, in England…

A production of The Wrens, a one-act play by Lady Augusta Gregory, 62, is playing in London. One of her fellow Abbey Theatre founders, George Moore, also 62, is in the city, but they haven’t spoken for years.

Painter Vanessa Bell, 35, is with her art critic husband Clive, 32, and his family at Cleve House in Wiltshire. Their friend, biographer Lytton Strachey, 34, is nearby in Marlborough, working on his essay, ‘Cardinal Manning.’ With all the talk of war, he is a bit worried about his sister who is travelling in Germany.

Vanessa’s sister, Virginia, also 32, is with her husband, Leonard Woolf, 33, farther east at her Sussex country house, Asham.

In Cambridge, visiting Americans Gertrude Stein, 40, and Alice B. Toklas, 37, have just been introduced to philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, 53, and Alice has heard bells. ‘I always heard bells when I met a genius,’ said Alice later. They may not be able to go home to Paris for a while, so Alice reluctantly wires her estranged father back in San Francisco for money.

Cambridge economist John Maynard Keynes, 31, is at Westminster. Two days before, at home proofreading his book A Treatise on Probability, with his friend Bertrand Russell, 42, Maynard received a letter from a friend at the Treasury that said, ‘I wanted to pick your brains and I thought you might enjoy the process.’ He knew the discussion would be related to the beginnings of war in Europe, and so hitched a ride in the sidecar of his brother-in-law’s motorcycle to get to London over the bank holiday weekend ASAP.

Lytton Strachey, surrounded by young Bloomsberries, enjoying the early August sun

Lytton Strachey, surrounded by young Bloomsberries, enjoying the early August sun

At 11 pm, after Germany has invaded Belgium, despite the British request for assurances of Belgian neutrality, Great Britain officially declares war.

What was happening 100 years ago, January 1914…

…In Ireland?

Finally. After seven months of the Dublin Lock Out, it’s over.

Although the bitter lockout of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union by the United Tramways Co. marked the first time that Irish workers were organized, the unions lost. Even their leader, Jim Larkin, about to turn 38, admitted, “We are beaten. We make no bones about it.”

Douglas Hyde, just turned 54, one of the founders of the Gaelic League as well as the Abbey Theatre, initially supported the political groups that grew out of the early months of the strike. But now he is thinking that he may have to resign from his League again, as he did last year. The League he founded 17 years before to preserve the Irish language is becoming too political for his taste, and his best option may be to leave.

This month, 100 years later in 2014, the Abbey Theatre, founded by Hyde and his “Such Friends,” is staging James Plunkett’s The Risen People, set in the time of the Lockout: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/the-risen-people/

The Abbey Theatre's current production of The Risen People

The Abbey Theatre’s current production of The Risen People

…In England?

Hyde’s friend and fellow Abbey founder, poet William Butler Yeats, 48, is spending another winter in Stone Cottage in the East Sussex countryside, with his new secretary/assistant, American student Ezra Pound, 28, delighted to be working closely with one of his literary heroes.

In the middle of the month, Yeats takes time out to attend a party in West Sussex for Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, 73. The two poets shared a friendship with Abbey founder and director, Lady Augusta Gregory, 61, with whom Blunt—but not Yeats—had an affair.

Farther west in the English countryside, at the Lacket in Wiltshire, Lytton Strachey, 34, is also writing and visiting London regularly. One of his Bloomsbury friends, Virginia Woolf, about to turn 32, married for one year to Lytton’s Cambridge buddy Leonard, 34, has volunteered to do his typing for him. For Virginia, working on her first novel, the typing is a welcome break to help her recuperate from one of her recurring bouts of mental illness.

 

Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf

Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf

…In France?

Virginia’s sister, painter Vanessa Bell, 34, along with her husband, Clive, 32, and her former lover, Roger Fry, 47, are visiting Paris to find out what is going on in art. They have struck up a friendship with the city’s foremost ex-patriate art collectors, the Stein family from San Francisco. Vanessa, Clive and Roger have seen the Stein collection in the home of Michael, 48, and his wife Sarah, 43, on the Left Bank. Michael’s sister Gertrude, 39, who lives nearby at 27 rue de Fleurus, introduces the Brits to one of her favourite artists, Henri Matisse, just turned 44.

 

Gertrude is taking them to meet Pablo Picasso, 32, in his studio. Picasso has been championed by Gertrude and her brother, Leo, 41, who recently decided to live permanently in Italy. This leaves Gertrude and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 36, also from San Francisco, on their own to continue the popular Saturday evening salons showcasing the art they are buying.

The Stein family

The Stein family

In the south of France, Lytton’s cousin, painter Duncan Grant, about to turn 29, is meeting up with their Bloomsbury friend, economist John Maynard Keynes, 30, who has come along with his mother, 52, to try his luck at the casinos of Monte Carlo.

…In America?

Finally, George S Kaufman, 24, is getting by-lines for the features he is contributing to the New York Tribune. When his family moved to New York City from Pittsburgh a few years before, he had been thrilled to get a few squibs into the most read column in the city, “Good Humor,” compiled by the already legendary FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, 32] in the Evening Mail. FPA had taken a liking to Kaufman and even secured him a full-time writing job with the Times in Washington, DC, publicly congratulating him in the Mail.

However, after Kaufman spent a year in DC, mostly playing stud poker at the National Press Club, the anti-Semitic owner of the Times had spotted him and loudly asked, “What’s that Jew doing in my city room?” Kaufman returned to Manhattan.

In addition to the free-lance pieces he is selling, in the evenings Kaufman is working on some plays with friends, and thinking it would be a good year to visit Europe for the first time.

George S Kaufman

George S Kaufman

‘Such Friends’: Britain before the War— The Irish Literary Renaissance and the Bloomsbury Group

While WB Yeats’ circle were busy organizing the Abbey theatre in Dublin, Virginia Woolf and her friends and family were reinventing art and literature in the townhouses of Bloomsbury and the country cottages of Sussex. Until The Great War intervened, the British sat in drawing rooms, talking over whisky, buns and cocoa, late into the night.

I will be giving a presentation about Britain 100 years ago, before the war, next Monday, 25th November, from 1 to 2 pm, at The Birmingham [UK]  & Midland Institute, Margaret Street, City Centre, http://bmi.org.uk/.

The BMI has agreed to waive the £2 non-member fee to anyone who uses the password ‘Such Friends’ when they arrive. So, if you’re in the area, come along and be sure to say hi. Maybe afterwards we’ll all have our own salon at a nearby pub…

In England on this date 100 years ago, July 8th, 1913,…

…The Omega Workshops open their doors. Using money inherited from a Quaker uncle, painter and critic Roger Fry, 46, along with his Bloomsbury painter friends, Vanessa Bell, 34, and Duncan Grant, 28, produce textiles, ceramics, home furnishings—a whole range of art and decoration, for sale at 33 Fitzroy Square.

#33 Fitzroy Square, home of the Omega Workshops

#33 Fitzroy Square, home of the Omega Workshops

A few doors down from the house Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf, 31, had shared with their brother, it is also convenient walking distance from where Vanessa and her husband, art critic Clive, 31, live with their two children.

Planning the opening celebration, Vanessa writes to Roger:  “We should get all our disreputable and…aristocratic friends to come, and after dinner we should repair to Fitzroy Square where there should be decorated furniture, painted walls, etc. There we should all get drunk and dance and kiss, orders would flow in and the aristocrats would feel they were really in the thick of things.” As they work together on this new art project, Vanessa is ending her affair with Roger, switching her attentions to fellow-painter Duncan, openly gay.

Invitation to Omega Workshops opening

Invitation to Omega Workshops opening

Over the six years the workshops are in business, their customers include the other members of the Bloomsbury group—Virginia’s husband Leonard, 32, writer and critic Lytton Strachey, 33, and economist John Maynard Keynes, 30—as well as Irish poet William Butler Yeats, 48, and his American secretary, Ezra Pound, 27. When Fry is away in Paris buying up art, Vanessa takes over the running of the operation, until she realizes she isn’t getting any painting done.

The Omega Workshops style still looks modern today. Here is the Roger Fry print which I bought in the gift shop of the Courtauld Gallery. It looks great in our Edwardian living room

Design for a Carpet by Roger Fry

Design for a Carpet by Roger Fry

‘Such Friends’ events in the UK and on the Atlantic Ocean

‘Such Friends’ has some upcoming events you are all welcome to find out about and join us.

Here in Birmingham, UK, on Wednesday, 6th February, I will be presenting ‘W B Yeats and the Founding of the Abbey Theatre’ to the Birmingham Irish Heritage Society, at The Irish Club, in the Digbeth part of town. It’s 7 pm for a 7:15 start, and free to anyone interested. We’ll have some books, pictures and reading lists, and a few clips from the National Library of Ireland’s excellent DVD about Yeats and the theatre. If you’re interested in coming, e-mail me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com for details.

The weekend after, 9th and 10th February, London’s Southbank center is putting on ‘Paris 1910-1930’ as part of their ‘The Rest Is Noise’ series. I’ve got my weekend pass! If anyone cares to join me, the schedule and ticket information are at http://ticketing.southbankcentre.co.uk/sites/default/files/documents/paris_full_weekend_listings_1.pdf.

Also in London, the play, Fiesta, based on Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, is at the Trafalgar Studio. Let me know if you’re game…

The Yeats presentation is a warm up for the three-lecture series I will be doing this May on board the second leg of the Semester at Sea’s Enrichment Voyage through northern Europe. In addition to Yeats, we will also explore ‘Britain Before the War—the Irish Literary Renaissance and the Bloomsbury Group,’ and ‘Happy Bloomsday! James Joyce in Dublin and Paris.’

Semester at Sea [www.semesteratsea.org] is one of my favourite ways to teach—on board the beautiful MV Explorer, sailing from LeHavre, to Antwerp, to Amsterdam, to Edinburgh, to Belfast, to Dublin to Dover. If you or someone you know is interested in joining us, check out the details at http://enrichmentvoyages.org.

As discussed in the last blog posting [see post below and the article to the right], 2013 is the centenary of the Armory Show, a seminal event which links all four of my groups of writers and artists. I have been posting what was happening 100 years ago on my ‘Such Friends’ Facebook page and @SuchFriends.

And in May the new film of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby will appear. Let’s hope it’s a great year for all of our ‘Such Friends’!