‘Such Friends’: 1907, March, Bloomsbury, London

In the next few weeks I will be posting vignettes about how each of the four writers’ salons came together. This is the beginning of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group:

She had finally said yes.

For months art critic Clive Bell, 25, had been proposing to painter Vanessa Stephen, 27. She had continually refused him, despite his wealthy family and connections with the group of friends who gathered around the Bloomsbury townhouse she shared with her younger siblings, Thoby, 26, Virginia, 25, and Adrian, 24.

But late last year, she had given in and accepted. Just two days after the sudden death of her beloved brother Thoby—big, strapping, healthy Thoby, who had died of typhoid after being misdiagnosed with malaria.

After a few weeks honeymooning in England and France, the new couple is now making No. 46 Gordon Square their own. Virginia and Adrian are moving a few blocks past Tottenham Court Road, over to Fitzroy Square.

But Virginia and Vanessa are planning to hold on to one important part of their old life:  Thoby’s Thursday night salons. These “at homes” had become popular with Thoby’s friends from his recent days at Cambridge University, including the irritating but charming writer Lytton Strachey, 27.

Vanessa and Clive want to use the weekly gatherings to talk about avant-garde art and literature, and the meaning of “good.” Whoever shows up can have a light meal in Gordon Square, and then stroll over to Fitzroy Square for whiskey, buns and cocoa—and conversation and cigarettes late into the night. As Virginia remembered later:

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.”

51 gordon_sq

No. 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

29 Fitzroy Square and me

Your humble author at Fitzroy Square

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, ‘Such Friends’: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

This fall, I will be teaching a class in the first semester of the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute [OLLI], ‘Such Friends’:  The Literary 1920s in Dublin, London, Paris and New York.

To read about American writers, Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

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‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 3: Fitzroy Square

A few months ago, I was thrilled to be asked by the Charleston Farmhouse to lead my walk through Bloomsbury for a group attending their Bloomsbury Revisited event in London. You can download a shorter version from the Voicemap.me website. But, if you’re not able to walk around London listening to me on headphones, I have posted the text of the walk here with photos, so you can follow along from anywhere. There are three parts, Tavistock Square, Gordon Square and Fitzroy Square. Here is Part 3:

  1. Grafton Way near Tottenham Court Road

Welcome back! But for those of you just joining us, I’m Dr. Kathleen Dixon Donnelly and I am your guide for this walk.

My research was about writers and artists who ‘hung out’ together in salons in the early part of the last century, on either side of World War I. The four groups are Irish poet William Butler Yeats and his friends who founded the Abbey Theatre; Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, of course; Gertrude Stein and the American writers in Paris, and Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table.

Yeats ended his poem, The Municipal Gallery Revisited, with the lines:

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,

and say my glory was I had such friends.’

so I have used ‘Such Friends’ as the title for all my work about ‘my’ writers and artists.

Here we are in the heart of Bloomsbury, heading towards Fitzroy Square where Virginia lived with her brother Adrian, when they were in their 20s. The Northumberland Arms pub across the street is a great spot for a pint.

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Northumberland Arms pub, Grafton Way and Tottenham Court Road

Let’s talk about one of the other Bloomsberries, writer and publisher Leonard Woolf.

After graduating from Cambridge University, Leonard joined the Colonial Service and was assigned to represent the crown in Jaffna, Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. He realized the absurdity of a 25-year-old with no experience taking charge of an entire country. Leonard spent seven years there, and, ironically, while Virginia’s brother Thoby Stephen died from a misdiagnosis of typhoid in London, Leonard was successfully treated for it in the jungle.

Leonard was not happy in the post, and in 1911 he applied to come back to England on leave. He had kept in touch with his university friends—many of whom were, like him, members of the Cambridge association, the Apostles.

Although the Apostles were then a ‘secret’ society by invitation only, they became less secret in the 1950s when it was revealed that British spies Guy Burgess and Kim Philby had been members when they were recruited by the Communist Party.

Leonard had met Virginia and Vanessa Stephen years before when they had come to visit Thoby at Cambridge. Later, Leonard wrote of his first impression of the sisters:

Their beauty literally took one’s breath away…One stopped astonished…It was almost impossible for a man not to fall in love with them and I think that I did at once.’

Even in Ceylon, Leonard had corresponded with Cambridge friends, such as Lytton Strachey, who wrote him letters about the lovely evenings he would spend in conversation with Virginia, Vanessa, Duncan Grant, Clive Bell and Maynard Keynes. So when Leonard came home, he couldn’t wait to get back in to the cultural and social life of his friends. He and Virginia became re-acquainted when he came to dinner one summer night at Gordon Square in 1911.

In the Bloomsbury group, I identified Leonard as the ‘Sponsor.’ He might not have been the most witty, or social, or rich, but he served as an administrator with Roger Fry’s art exhibits and, with Virginia’s help, bought the printing press to start Hogarth Press. The Sponsor in each group either had the money or resources—like Edward Martyn, the philanthropist behind the Abbey Theatre and other Irish institutions, or Robert McAlmon, an independent publisher in Paris—or got the money—like Leonard, or Harold Ross the founder of The New Yorker magazine.

Let’s walk down to Fitzroy Square.

  1. Fitzroy Square

Approaching Fitzroy Square, the newer building on your left is the Indian YMCA. This is one of your tips on where to eat cheap in London; they have a lovely cafeteria with great curries.

Indian YMCA Fitzroy Square

Indian YMCA, Fitzroy Square

A few years ago I attended a travel writing workshop here. It was advertised in the Guardian newspaper, and I figured it was a good omen that it was in Bloomsbury.

The writer who taught the daylong session gave us an assignment for our lunch break. When he announced what it was, I couldn’t believe my ears. He wanted us to

write about this neighbourhood.’

Seriously. I had been in training for that assignment for more than twenty years!

Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square

Like many sections of Bloomsbury, Fitzroy Square has a colourful history. Lytton’s parents had a house here in the 19th century. In the Edwardian era, Augustus John had a studio in Number 8, where Vanessa and Duncan had studios and parties in the 1920s. Painter Walter Sickert had a studio in Number 19. Vanessa studied with Sickert, and you might have read that American crime writer Patricia Cromwell has fingered him as Jack the Ripper.

Duncan and Maynard lived here together in Number 21, and in World War I, Belgian refugees were held here. None of these have plaques.

We’ll walk over to Number 29, Virginia and her brother Adrian’s house. There’s a bench if you want to sit.

  1. Number 29 Fitzroy Square

Number 29 Fitzroy Square is the one with two plaques. George Bernard Shaw’s Irish family lived here in the late 19th century.

29 Fitzroy Square and me

Your intrepid tour guide at Number 29 Fitzroy Square

In 1907 when Virginia moved in, she was 25 and living with her brother. While her married painter sister decorated Gordon Square with the latest in cubist art, Virginia and Adrian kept their interior simple. Adrian had a study full of books that looked out here onto the square.

To avoid competition, the sisters would alternate the at-homes on Thursday nights between the two locations; sometimes the guests would walk from one to the other, like we just did.

In her own home, hosting her own salons, Virginia’s confidence grew. She and Vanessa slowly realized why their brother’s friends weren’t interested in them as women—most were gay. The evenings were for conversation, and as Virginia wrote later, she would

stumble off to bed feeling that something very important had happened. It had been proved that beauty was—or beauty was not—for I have never been quite sure which—part of a picture.’

Now with

a room of her own,’

she began her first novel, Melymbrosia, eventually published in 1915 as The Voyage Out. She remembered later that she had the luxury of writing

in comparative splendour—[with] a maid, carpet, fires…’

Great parties were also held here, including one where Maynard and a topless Vanessa allegedly copulated on the floor.

But not all the evenings were a success. Virginia remembered that one had ended thus:

Adrian stalked off to his room, I to mine in complete silence.’

By the time Leonard showed up, in 1911, the lease on Fitzroy Square was up, so Virginia and Adrian were planning to move to a more communal arrangement with Duncan, Maynard and others, in Brunswick Square. They asked Leonard to join them.

However, shortly after they set up this friendly commune, Leonard decided that, instead of going back to Ceylon, he would propose to Virginia. After months of persuasion, she accepted. They married in August 1912 and moved to their own flat in Clifford’s Inn.

  1. Number 33 Fitzroy Square, the Omega Workshops

We’ll end our walk with the building to your left, Number 33.

Number 33 Fitzroy Square

Number 33 Fitzroy Square, currently undergoing refurbishment

Here we meet our last Bloomsbury, art critic Roger Fry, the ‘Link,’ where he opened the Omega Workshops.

Fry had had a studio in Fitzroy Square, but didn’t begin socializing with the others until a fateful day in 1910. He’d lost his job with the New York Metropolitan Museum, and had to commit his wife to an asylum. Fry was on the platform of the Cambridge railway station and recognized Vanessa and Clive Bell whom he’d met socially before. They chatted, and by the time they reached London, Roger was in the group!

At 43, Fry was older than the others, because each salon had a ‘Link,’ with better connections, who helped the younger ones become more mainstream. For the Irish, it was Lady Gregory, with the government connections to start a theatre; for the Americans in Paris it was Sherwood Anderson, already a successful novelist; and for the Round Table, FPA was the top New York columnist who publicized the others constantly.

Fry used inherited money to rent this building. In 1912 he opened the Omega Workshops with Vanessa and Duncan. Vanessa suggested having a Bloomsbury party to celebrate:

We should get all our disreputable and some of your aristocratic friends to come, and…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.’

During these years, Vanessa and Roger carried on quite a torrid affair, in Bloomsbury and Sussex. At one point Clive asked his wife why Roger was around so often, but beyond that, he didn’t protest. He just got on with his own affairs.

The Omega was successful for five years, but was sold off in June 1919. Despite exhibitions and conferences and parties, the Workshops never covered their costs, and Roger, like all arts supporters, spent a lot of his time fund-raising.

Customers who had bought the fashionable handmade pottery and textiles included Yeats and Shaw, but also Ottoline Morrell, HG Wells, EM Forster, Rupert Brooke, Ezra Pound and Augustus John.

The workmen here tell me that, because this is a listed building, it is being renovated back to its original fittings, to be a private residence. There is a plaque, but it’s covered by the scaffolding now.

omega roger-fry-blue-plaque

Blue plaque on Number 33 Fitzroy Square

And how did the group end?

Let’s go back to Maynard. He went to work in the Treasury department during the early part of ‘The Great War.’ His Bloomsbury friends, who were famously pacifist, were not happy about this job, which eventually contributed to the point I identify as the break-up of the group.

In January of 1915, Keynes celebrated his new role by giving himself a party at the fabulous Café Royal, near Piccadilly Circus. In-between Vanessa and Duncan he sat the infamous editor Edward ‘Bunny’ Garnett, and soon after those three were living together in a boathouse in Sussex.

Around the same time, Virginia and Leonard decided to move to Richmond. On her 33rd birthday, 25th January, 1915, they went for tea and resolved to buy Hogarth House, which they had seen out in Richmond, buy a printing press, and get a bulldog named John. Never got the bulldog.

Once one or more of the key players withdraw, the groups dissipate. Yeats stopped working with the Abbey; Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas stopped inviting people to salons; and Robert Benchley left Dorothy Parker and friends to move to Hollywood to work in the movies.

Although the Bloomsberries still saw each other frequently, the days of wandering in and out of each others’ houses, staying up late drinking whisky and cocoa, were over. As Virginia remembered that time,

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.’

Thanks for walking with me and our ‘Such Friends.’

If you missed the first two parts, you can search for ‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 1:  Tavistock Square and Part 2:  Gordon Square.

To read about American writers, Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

‘Such Friends’: John Quinn in 1904

New York City, October 1904

Ohio-born John Quinn, 34, a junior partner in a major law firm, has recently moved out of a comfortable boarding house to his own lodgings on West 87th Street.

His apartment is already cluttered with hundreds of his books and paintings he has begun collecting. He is doing well enough in the law practice to employ a valet.

But what Quinn is most excited about is his upcoming three-week vacation to Europe.

Two years ago, he made his first trip to Ireland, to connect with his Irish roots. Quinn quickly was accepted in to a circle of friends including the poet William Butler Yeats, now 39; the playwright Lady Augusta Gregory, 52; the novelist George Moore, also 52; the poet and painter, ‘AE’ [George Russell], 37; the playwright John Millington Synge, 33; and the founder of the Gaelic League, Douglas Hyde, 44. He’s been helping them with the legalities of their American tours, the American copyright of their works, and the Irish theatre company they are establishing.

On this trip, Quinn plans just a short stop in France, some time in England on the way to Ireland and on the way back, and almost two full weeks in Dublin. This will be the third year in a row that he has visited Ireland, and he hopes to continue to make it an annual occasion.

Over at the New York Evening Mail, on Broadway and Fulton Streets, a new columnist from Chicago is settling in. Franklin Pierce Adams, 23, always writing as FPA, has transferred his new wife and his column about a little bit of everything, now called ‘Always in Good Humour,’ to midtown Manhattan.

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Mail and Express Building, New York City

Up on West 44th Street, the two-year-old Algonquin Hotel has bought the carriage stables next door to expand its residential services. However, the real revenue is from short term guests.

 

Paris, October 1904

John Quinn is disappointed that he can’t spend more time in France. This morning he managed to see the Chartres cathedral, but he is back in Paris just for the afternoon before leaving for Folkestone.

Two other Americans, siblings Leo, 32, and Gertrude Stein, 30, who moved to 27 rue de Fleurus on the Left Bank the year before, from the Bloomsbury area of London, are enjoying learning about and buying paintings from the dealer Ambroise Vollard, 38. He has managed to get a room full of works by Paul Cezanne, 65, into the second salon d’automne at the Grand Palais. Leo is studying art at Academie Julian, and Gertrude has joined him on his buying trips to Vollard’s gallery on rue Lafitte. They find Cezanne particularly intriguing, but Gertrude is more focused on the writing she is doing late at night.

27-rue-de-fleurus

27 rue de Fleurus, Left Bank, Paris

Across town in Montmartre, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, 23, is settling in to his new studio and his new life with Fernande Olivier, also 23. After several visits, he has decided to make Paris his home, and his dealer Vollard is finding new buyers for his work.

 

London, October 1904

Arriving late Sunday night, John Quinn checks in to the Carlton Hotel, at the corner of the Haymarket and Pall Mall. He spends the whole day Monday visiting bookstores with a stop at the Leicester Galleries in Leicester Square.

carlton-hotel-1905

Carlton Hotel, London

Up in the Bohemian Bloomsbury section of London, the move is on. Painter Vanessa Stephen, 25, has shipped her nervous sister Virginia, 22, off to their aunt’s while she moves her and their brothers into a three-story walk up in Gordon Square. Their widowed father, editor of The Dictionary of National Biography, Leslie Stephen, 72, died in February. Vanessa feels liberated.

Her aunts and uncles are scandalized that these young people would live on their own in such a neighbourhood.

Vanessa doesn’t care. This past spring, on their way back from Italy, she and Virginia had visited Paris with friends. They smoked cigarettes and talked about art into the wee hours at the Café de Versailles. That’s what they are going to do now in London, in their own home.

 

Dublin, October 1904

After a miserable train trip across England to the port of Holyhead—he had paid for first class, but was put in a bunk bed—John Quinn is thrilled to be back in Ireland. He checks in to the Shelbourne Hotel in St. Stephen’s Green at 6:30 Tuesday morning, and finds a welcoming telegram from AE already waiting for him.

shelbourne-and-lake

Shelbourne hotel and the Stephen’s Green lake, Dublin

After a much-needed two-hour nap, Quinn is visited by his friend Yeats, and they walk over to the nearby studio of painter John Butler Yeats, 65, the poet’s father. Following a leisurely lunch at the Empire Restaurant, the men are joined by Lady Gregory who has brought fresh food from her western Ireland home, Coole Park, on the train with her. Augusta surprises Quinn by announcing that he is going to be the special guest at a reception with the actors of their young theatre company that evening, in gratitude for his generous donations in the past two years.

The Irish National Theatre Society, with its co-directors Yeats, Gregory and Synge, is becoming more stable. Having premiered Synge’s emotional one-act play, Riders to the Sea, this spring, they are getting ready to move in to their own building on Abbey Street. They should be able to start performing there by Christmas.

In addition to starting a national theatre, Lady Gregory has helped other Irish writers and artists as well. Earlier this year, she sent some money to a young writer AE had recommended, James Joyce, 22, so he could take off for Switzerland with his new love, Nora Barnacle, 20, where he had been offered a job teaching English. Lady Gregory wished him well.

For the next two weeks, Quinn’s holiday in Dublin falls in to a pleasing pattern. Breakfast with Willie and a visit to his father’s studio in the morning, lunches with fascinating writers and artists each afternoon, dinner and late night conversation about theatre with Yeats and Lady Gregory, usually at her rooms in the Nassau Hotel. What a life! This is how he would prefer to spend all his days.

 

London, November 1904

W B Yeats has come with John Quinn to London for his last week of vacation. Visiting Yeats’ rooms in the Woburn Buildings in Bloomsbury, Willie introduces Quinn into British culture, and the American appreciates the writers and painters he meets.

wobrun-buildings

Yeats’ rooms in the Woburn Buildings, Bloomsbury, London

Nearby in Gordon Square, the doctor says Virginia is well enough to visit her brothers and sister in their new home for ten days. Before she goes back to their aunt’s, they have dinner with one of their brother’s Cambridge University friends, Leonard Woolf, 23, who is back home on leave from his government job in Ceylon.

Yeats has one last breakfast with Quinn in the Carlton hotel, and then drives him to Waterloo station to see him off on the boat train to Southampton for the trip home to New York City aboard the St. Paul.

 

New York City, November 1904

While John Quinn was away, the New York City subway, under construction for the past four years, has finally opened. Theodore Roosevelt, just turned 46, has been elected to a full term as President, having first taken office three years ago when the sitting President William McKinley, aged 58, had been assassinated. With Roosevelt assured in office for four more years, there is a ‘progressive’ feel in the air.

Roger Fry, 37, editor of England’s Burlington magazine, and recently turned down for the post of Professor of Art at the Slade School, has made a special trip to the States to raise money for his magazine. Friends introduce him to J P Morgan, 67, of the board of trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 5th Avenue at 87th Street, an inveterate collector of art, books, clocks and various objets d’art. Morgan is more impressed with Fry than the Slade School was.

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Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Back home, Quinn misses the cultural life of Europe that he has enjoyed for the past three weeks. Now he is back to the old grind of his law practice. His main client, the National Bank of Commerce, has supreme confidence in his abilities. He is working with and meeting important people. There is work to do.

But his heart is with his friends in Ireland…

johnquinn

John Quinn (1870-1924)

This year I’ll be piecing together my planned biography of John Quinn. Read more about him on the link to your right: ‘I want to tell you about an amazing man.’

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

 

 

 

 

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.’

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.’