‘Such Friends’: May, 1925

In England…

Virginia Woolf, 43, is anticipating the reviews for her fourth novel, Mrs. Dalloway, which she and her husband Leonard, 44, have just published at their own Hogarth Press, with another cover by her sister, Vanessa Bell, 45.

mrs dalloway original cover

She has been working on it for the past three years, building on short stories she had written, and experimenting with stream of consciousness. The beginning of this year was spent on the rewriting, which, she had confided to her diary, was

‘the dullest part…most depressing & exacting.’

Leonard is enthusiastic. He feels it is Virginia’s best work. But he has to think that, doesn’t he?

Last month, the Woolfs had brought out a collection of her critical essays, The Common Reader, also with a Vanessa cover. Virginia had worried that it would receive

‘a dull chill depressing reception [and be] a complete failure.’

Actually, there have been good reviews in the Manchester Guardian and the Observer newspapers, and sales are beginning to pick up a bit.

The-Common-Reader- cover 1st ed

The ten-year-old Hogarth Press is doing quite well, having survived a succession of different assistants. They had published 16 titles the previous year and are on schedule for more this year. In addition to writing their most successful works, Virginia has been closely involved with the choice of manuscripts among those submitted by eager novelists and poets, as well as setting the type. She finds it calming.

Despite the stress of a new publication, physically Virginia is feeling quite well. She and Leonard have been busy in London with Hogarth, but also getting out and about with family and friends. Fellow writer Lytton Strachey, 45, had praised The Common Reader, but thinks that Mrs. Dalloway is just

‘a satire of a shallow woman.’

Virginia noted in her diary,

‘It’s odd that when…the others (several of them) say it is a masterpiece, I am not much exalted; when Lytton picks holes, I get back into my working fighting mood.’

Virginia’s literary competition with Lytton—he has always outsold her—is motivating her to get to work on her next major novel. She’s thinking of writing about her childhood, and the summers the family spent on the Cornish coast.

In France…

Ernest Hemingway, 25, is regretting having snapped up the offer from the first publisher he’d heard from, Boni & Liveright. He’d been so thrilled to get their letter when he was skiing in Austria that he’d accepted the next day. His first collection of stories and poems, in our time, had been published last year by Three Mountains Press, a small company operating on Paris’ Left Bank. But Boni & Liveright was a major American publisher who wanted to bring it out as In Our Time and have first shot at his next work.

In_our_time_Paris_edition_1924

When he’d returned with his wife, Hadley, 33, to their Paris apartment there were wonderful letters waiting for him from Maxwell Perkins, 40, senior editor at rival publisher Scribner’s.

In addition, Ernest has just met one of Scribner’s top authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 28, who had recommended him to Perkins as long as a year ago. Fitzgerald was happy to share with Hemingway his inside info about the world of New York publishing, telling him that Scribner’s would be a much better choice than Boni & Liveright.

However, that first meeting with Fitzgerald in the Le Dingo bar hadn’t impressed Ernest much. Scott had been wearing Brooks Brothers and drinking champagne, but he kept praising the poems and stories of Hemingway’s that he had read, to the point where it was embarrassing. Then he asked Ernest whether he had slept with Hadley before they got married, turned white, and passed out. Ernest and his friends had rolled Scott into a taxi.

But on their second meeting, at Closerie des Lilas, Fitzgerald was fine. Intelligent. Witty. Interested in the Hemingways’ living conditions—in a rundown apartment without water or electricity above a sawmill on rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. Ernest decides it might be alright to take his new friend to the salon he frequents at the home of another American writer, Gertrude Stein, 51, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 48, on rue de Fleurus, near the Luxembourg Gardens. Gertrude hates drunks.

Scott had asked Ernest to come along on a trip to Lyon to recover a Renault he had had to leave at a garage there, and Hemingway is thinking of going. After all, Fitzgerald says he’ll cover all the expenses.

His latest novel, The Great Gatsby, published by Scribner’s just last month, is not doing as well as Scott and his wife Zelda, 24, had hoped. Selling out the first print run of almost 21,000 copies would cancel his debt to his publisher, but they are hoping for four times that.

great gatsby original cover

He has discovered that Perkins’ cable to him claiming that the early reviews are good had been a bit optimistic, and sales aren’t going great.

Scott is worried that he is reaching his peak already.

In America…

Perkins is writing to Fitzgerald,

‘It is too bad about Hemingway,’

regretting losing a promising novelist to a rival.

But he’s even more concerned about the mixed reviews for Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. The New York Times has called it

‘a long short story’;

the Herald Tribune,

‘an uncurbed melodrama’;

and the World,

‘a dud,’

in the headline no less. Even H L Mencken, 44, who can usually be relied on for some insight in the Chicago Tribune, has dismissed it as a

‘glorified anecdote.’

Chicago Tribune May 24 1925

And FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, 43], the most widely read columnist in Manhattan, says it is just a

‘dull tayle’

about rich and famous drunks.

However, FPA is not known for fulsome praise. Back in February he had prepared the readers of his Conning Tower column for the launch of a new magazine, The New Yorker, by saying that

‘most of it seemed too frothy for my liking.’

He didn’t mention that he had written some of the froth to help out his friends who were starting the publication. For the past couple months he’s been going weekly into the magazine’s shabby office to choose the poetry. There have been some funny pieces by one of his own discoveries, Dorothy Parker, 31, but he doesn’t give it much hope of lasting.

The New Yorker cover may 9 1925

By now, sales of The New Yorker have gone from an initially respectable 15,000 to about half that. And the founder-editor, Harold Ross, 31, has had to cut the size to only 24 pages to save money.

But FPA can’t be bothered worrying about his friends’ losing business ventures. After finishing off a bad marriage earlier this year, he’s getting married!

Parker, Ross and all the others who gather for lunch at the midtown Algonquin Hotel daily, and for poker there weekly, have ventured out to Connecticut for the wedding.

Just yesterday, Ross’s chief investors decided to pull the plug on the magazine. Why throw good money after bad?

But, discussing their decision at the wedding, Ross and his main funder, Raoul Fleischmann, 39, start thinking that it may be too early to give up. Raoul says he’ll cough up enough to keep The New Yorker going through the summer, and then they can decide.

At the end of the day, FPA and his bride head back to the city, and he goes, as usual, to his Saturday night poker game and loses the money saved up for their honeymoon.

Donald Brace, 43, co-founder of Harcourt, Brace & Co., isn’t worried about funding, but he is anticipating reviews of two books he has just published:  Virginia Woolf’s essays, The Common Reader, and novel, Mrs. Dalloway.

Mrs. D Harcourt Brace cover

They have had success with Woolf before, but this is the first time that publication is simultaneous in the US and the UK.

The New York Times has raved about both Mrs. Dalloway and The Common Reader, comparing Woolf’s essay style to that of Lytton’s.

The Saturday Review of Literature calls the novel

‘coherent, lucid, and enthralling’

and wants her to write a piece for them about American fiction.

Virginia and Leonard will be pleased.

 

 

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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.

In Bloomsbury, London, 20th February, 1909…

…essayist Lytton Strachey, 28, is reading over the letter he wrote yesterday to his friend from his Cambridge University days, Leonard Woolf, also 28, currently serving in the British civil service in Ceylon.

Leonard had written to Lytton a few days ago, excited at Lytton’s suggestion that Virginia Stephen, 27, might marry him. Leonard wrote:

Do you think Virginia would have me?…I’ll take the next boat home!”

Yesterday, Lytton responded:

Your letter has this minute come—with your proposal to Virginia…The [other] day…I proposed to Virginia. As I did it, I saw that it would be death if she accepted me, and I managed, of course, to get out of it before the end of the conversation. The worst of it was that as the conversation went on, it became more and more obvious to me that the whole thing was impossible. The lack of understanding was so terrific! And how can a virgin be expected to understand? You see she is her name…Her sense was absolute, and at times her supremacy was so great that I quavered. I think there’s no doubt whatever that you ought to marry her. You would be great enough, and you’ld have too the immense advantage of physical desire. I was in terror lest she should kiss me. If you came and proposed she’ld accept. She really really would. As it is, she’s almost certainly in love with me, though she thinks she’s not.”

Now, Lytton is relieved to add:

I’ve had an eclairissement with Virginia. She declared she was not in love with me, and I observed finally that I would not marry her. So things have simply reverted.”

Lytton Strachey and Virginia Stephen, c. 1909

Lytton Strachey and Virginia Stephen, c. 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 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 spring, 1906…

…English painter Duncan Grant, 21, is living in Paris. When his aunt gave him £1000 for his birthday in January, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it.

He has brought along his cousin and current lover, essayist Lytton Strachey, just turned 26, but the relationship is not going well. They’ve mostly spent time hanging out with English friends and relatives. Trying to make connections within the art world, Duncan is studying with painter Jacques-Emile Blanche, 45, and has visited the most talked-about art show, the Salons des Independents, but didn’t notice anything in particular.

American ex-patriate siblings, Leo, 33, and Gertrude Stein, 32, have also visited the exhibit. They were thrilled to hear about the scandal surrounding The Joy of Living [Bonheur de vivre] by their friend, Henri Matisse, 36. They started buying up his paintings last year and are planning to invite him to their salon at 27 rue de Fleurus on the Left Bank to introduce him to one of their other favourites, Pablo Picasso, 24.  She’s been sitting with him for her portrait.

 

Le Bonheur de Vivre [Joy of Life] Henri Matisse, 1905

Le Bonheur de Vivre [Joy of Life] Henri Matisse, 1905

Le Bonheur de Vivre [Joy of Life] Henri Matisse, 1905

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.’

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.

100 years ago this month, December 1914…

In Ireland…

…Poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, 49, has started selling some of his manuscripts to his Irish-American friend, collector John Quinn, 44, and using the funds to support his dad, painter John Butler Yeats, 75, living near Quinn in Manhattan. Dad refuses to come home to Dublin.

Yeats’ ‘Hostess’ for many years, Lady Augusta Gregory, 62, back from the Abbey Theatre’s third tour of America, has rented out her stately home, Coole Park in the west of Ireland, for shooting parties.

Coole Park

Coole Park

In England…

Virginia, 32, and Leonard Woolf, 34, married two years now, are celebrating Christmas in Marlborough, near their Bloomsbury friend, writer Lytton Strachey, 34. There is a big party planned at the Lackett, the cottage Lytton is renting. He has introduced his lover and cousin, painter Duncan Grant, 29, to David ‘Bunny’ Garnett, 22. They seem to hit it off.

In France…

…British King George V, 49, has recently visited the frontline troops.

American writer Gertrude Stein, 40, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 37, have taken to walking around Paris with their friend, painter Pablo Picasso, 33. On the Boulevard Raspail one night, as Alice tells it later in her Autobiography, they see their first camouflaged cannon. Picasso stops:

“He was spell-bound…It is we that have created that, he said. And he was right, he had. From Cezanne through him they had come to that. His foresight was justified”

Big Bertha cannon, used in Paris

Big Bertha cannon, used in Pari

In America…

…The New York Stock Exchange, having closed except for bond trading when war broke out in Europe, has reopened. The Dow Jones Average drops 24%, the largest one day drop in its history.

Recently married, and recently fired from his personnel job, Harvard University alumni Robert Benchley, 25, has given the speech at the dinner following the Harvard-Yale game. His parody translation of a description of football from the Chinese earns him the reputation as ‘the greatest humourist of all time at Harvard.’

In New Jersey, Rev. Sylvester Beach, 62, has been the subject of gossip, even in New York publications, for having an affair with one of his parishioners. His wife Eleanor, just turned 53, preferring to live apart from her husband, tells him that she’ll take their daughters back to Europe, where they had lived before, to benefit from the travel experience. Her only regret, she writes, is that her daughter Nancy, 27, who prefers to be known as ‘Sylvia,’ will be ‘lost to this country.’

Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach

 

 

 

All are looking forward to 1915, feeling that the war will be over soon…

Almost 100 years ago…

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]

1916

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

Birmingham Remembering 1914-18

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.