2006, October, Bloomsbury, London
I can’t believe it. I’ve been preparing for this assignment for practically my whole life.
When signing up for this travel writing workshop, I felt it was a good omen that the venue is in Bloomsbury. My research for my Ph.D. was on early 20th century salons—‘writers who hung out together’—including Virginia Woolf and her friends who lived around the corner.
Before the lunch break, Peter, the workshop leader, gives us this brief:
‘Write about this neighborhood.’
You’ve got to be kidding.
I indulge myself by wandering around Gordon Square, Fitzroy Square, the streets that Virginia and her siblings walked, refreshing my memory of the stories from that era.
Peter calls on me to read out what I wrote.
‘You’re not going to believe this…’
1907, October, Bloomsbury, London
On a clear autumn evening, a door opens at #46 Gordon Square, and a group of young people come out, chatting, laughing, heading down the steps towards the road.
Newlyweds Vanessa, 28, and Clive Bell, 26, lock the door of their house and follow the others towards Gordon Street.
Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Stephen, 25, and their brother, Adrian Stephen, 24, lead the way as the small group crosses Tottenham Court Road. The evening that has started in the Bells’ house, as always on Thursdays, is moving over to the Stephens’ drawing room, at nearby #29 Fitzroy Square.
The siblings scandalized their family by moving to the unfashionable Bloomsbury section of town after their widowed father, Lesley Stephen, died in 1904. Virginia and Adrian moved over to Fitzroy Square earlier this year, when their sister’s new husband moved in to Gordon Square.
The habit of Thursday evenings was started by their other brother Thoby, down from Cambridge, to open Gordon Square to his friends once a week. Sadly, after an ill-fated European trip, Thoby died suddenly from typhoid at age 26. Two days later, Vanessa accepted Clive Bell’s wedding proposal.
For the next eight years, Thoby’s Cambridge friends, including writer Lytton Strachey, 27, and Lytton’s cousin, painter Duncan Grant, 22, will come regularly to the Bells’ and Stephens’ drawing rooms, mostly to talk. As Virginia later described it:
“Talking, talking, talking—as if everything could be talked—the soul itself slipped through the lips in thin silver discs which dissolve in young men’s minds like silver, like moonlight.”