‘Such Friends’: Woolf Works

When the Royal Ballet premiered Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works last year, I left it too late, and by the time I tried to book it was sold out. Bummer.

So when it came around again, I was determined to get in early. Got tickets for the first matinee, first day. Off to London.

Having never been to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, I allowed plenty of time to get there. And it’s a good thing because the refurbishment construction leads to signs and arrows pointing you to the main entrance, outside Covent Garden.

Once I found it, the search for lunch began. It’s usually best to head away from the theatre, but right next door was a lovely French-looking restaurant, La Ballerina, with a set price menu that included salmon. Sold.

Lunch doesn’t usually start until 1 pm over here, so when I poked my head in ten minutes before noon, I had the place all to myself. But the closer it got to show time, the more it filled up.

After a lovely light but filling lunch, I joined the queue to find my way to my seats up in peanut heaven. Thank God there was a lift.

Part of the attraction of this trip was a chance to see the Royal Opera House for the first time. I can report that it looks exactly like a very royal opera house. More surprisingly, my cheap seats turned out to be relatively comfortable, and gave a clear view of the ornate ceiling, the filled seats and, most important, the stage.

royal-opera-house

The Royal Opera House from the other side

Although about half the audience was the usual stale, pale and female arts matinee crowd—including me—I was thrilled to see so many who didn’t fit any of those demographics. On either side of me were Asian university-age students. A quick scan of the house showed a younger average-age crowd than I had expected. Was the attraction Virginia Woolf’s works? Or the original score by Max Richter? Or was this the usual Royal Ballet Saturday afternoon audience?

Although everywhere I had been on this London weekend was freezing cold, inside and out, here, settling in for a three-hour ballet with two long intervals, the theatre was a bit warm. And you who know me know, I’m never too warm.

The first piece—I Now, I Then—was based on Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, one of my favorites. As in the novel and film The Hours, Clarissa and Virginia were merged into one. The movement between the younger and older versions of Virginia in print dresses and her husband Leonard in tweedy suits visually echoed the novel.

leonard-and-va-woolf-works

I now, I then, Act One of Woolf Works

During the 30-minute interval—intermission to my fellow Americans—I tried to read the detailed program [£7; you can order ahead with your tickets]. Was the tiny type another way to attract a younger audience? Because anyone over 40 wouldn’t be able to read that in any light.

The middle piece—Becomings—based on Orlando, Virginia’s 1928 tribute to her lover, Vita Sackville West, started off quite darkly. And stayed that way. I could see the dancers who were downstage in spotlight, but there were others back in the shadows. Not waiting to come on dancing, but dancing. Why, if we can’t see them? This was contrasted with the amazing laser effect at the very end. Could have spread that illumination out a bit more, if you ask me.

Between the warmth and the darkness, I could feel my eyelids doing that dip they do when you’ve been driving too long. The second interval allows 30 minutes to get up and walk around. A chance to see the building and have a shot of that standard British theatre-accompaniment, a yummy, tiny tub of ice cream.

Back in our seats a half hour later, the young ones around me were pulling up reviews of the ballet on their phones. Thank God they haven’t been looking at them during the show.

The final section—Tuesday—based on The Waves, opens with a huge video mural across the length of the stage of…waves. It’s quite effective, but the waves seem to stop waving after the first few minutes.

the-waves-woolf-works-dance-009

Tuesday, Act Three of Woolf Works

In this piece, the dancers are much better lit. And the voice of Gillian Anderson gives an emotional reading of Woolf’s last writing, the note she left behind for Leonard before walking into the River Ouse in Sussex:

…You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came…’

But if you are that happy, why take your own life? Why? I’m sure Leonard asked the universe this same question when he read that note. Now we can understand this as an indication of how mental illness is indeed a ‘terrible disease.’

As the dance ends, the audience bursts into applause. Unlike the earlier pieces, the finale includes bows from all involved. First the young kids. Bow. Then the members of the company. Bow. Then the principals. Bow some more. Then everybody! More bowing. More clapping. A bit more bowing. Did we forget anyone? More bowing.

Done.

A lovely afternoon in a beautiful theatre, with enthusiastic companions, and beautiful art.

Woolf Works is going to be broadcast to theatres in the UK later this month. But I highly recommend taking in real, live, theatre.

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

woolf-works-poster

Woolf Works poster

 

‘Such Friends’: John Quinn and the Armory Show

New York City, Spring, 1913

 

All the buzz is about the Armory Show.

From mid-February to mid-March cars and carriages pull up in front of the 69th Regiment Armory at Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, loaded with people eager to see America’s first International Exhibition of Modern Art. Office girls come on their lunch hours; working class families come on weekends, and the social elite come again and again. They stare and laugh at the horrors they have read about in the press. Is it Nude Descending a Staircase? Or Staircase Descending a Nude? Who can tell?

Those more sophisticated, who think of the Impressionists as the latest thing, are surprised to find that indeed the Post-Impressionists are all the rage in Europe. One of the most well represented artists is the late Paul Cezanne, in Paris considered an old master by now; the most talked about is Henri Matisse, 43; and that “Paul” Picasso, only 31? Just plain crude.

John Quinn, 42, is ecstatic. He has worked closely with the American Association of Painters and Sculptors [AAPS] in the build up to the show—asking for lends of paintings from his art collecting friends, testifying before Congress to lower the taxes on art coming into the US from Europe, and promoting the exhibit every chance he gets.

He comes to the show almost every day, and buys paintings almost every day as well.

Uptown, 20-year-old Dorothy Rothschild

“No, we’re not related to those Rothschilds”

—is living on her own in her hometown of New York City for the first time. Her father died this year; her mother had passed away when she was three. She has a job using the skills she learned at finishing school—playing the piano at a dancing academy. When she was younger, Dottie and her father had written nonsense poems back and forth to each other. Now she is trying light verse, sending it to The Evening Mail newspaper column, ‘All in Good Humor’ by FPA, 31, that publishes that sort of filler, hoping to get her name in print.

Nude

Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912

Paris, Spring, 1913

 

The art dealers in Paris are awaiting the verdict from New York. How will the wealthy American collectors react to the paintings in the Armory Show? Will they really pay US$48,000 for a Cezanne? Hundreds of dollars for drawings by the young Spaniard, Pablo Picasso? And the Show organizers are going to send some of the most valuable paintings off to other cities—Chicago! Boston! What are they thinking? The few Americans who come to Paris to buy are shocked by what they see in the dealers’ galleries. How will they react when they see the same scandalous works lined up with the latest by their own American artists?

Quinn himself had been to Paris the previous autumn for a quick trip. He had encouraged Walter Kuhn, 35, and Arthur B. Davies, 50, from the AAPS to go abroad and pick up all they can for their show, sending introductory letters to all his European contacts.

Seven of the Armory Show’s paintings have been lent by American collectors living in Paris. Gertrude Stein, just turned 39, and her brother, Leo, 40, ex-patriates from San Francisco, have used their family money to put together quite a collection of works they personally feel connected to—Matisse, Picasso and his friend, Georges Braque, 30. They enjoy meeting the painters and talking to them in their salon at 27 rue de Fleurus. Late at night, Gertrude sits at a desk in front of Madame Cezanne with a Fan and tries to create in words what Cezanne created on canvas. A few of her attempts at translating Cubism into prose have been published in the States recently and are being publicized as part of the Armory Show.

Another San Franciscan, Alice B. Toklas, 35, had come to visit a few years before and then moved in with Gertrude and Leo. She had quickly taken on the role of handmaiden to the writer, cooking, cleaning, typing. Their relationship has grown so close that Gertrude’s brother feels he has to move out. Soon.

mme-cezanne-with-a-fan

Paul Cezanne’s Mme. Cezanne with a Fan, 1904

London, Spring, 1913

 

This spring, Gertrude and Alice are visiting London. They have come to find a publisher for Stein’s work, and spend time socializing with artists and writers there.

Kuhn and Davies had come to London the previous year to see the Second Post-Impressionist art show put on by Roger Fry, 46. They requested so many paintings that Fry had been forced to close his show early. The Second show had a better reception from the average Brit than the first, just two years before. Once the English had gotten used to Cezanne, they were more open to Matisse.

The Second show has been organized by Fry’s friends, artists and writers who live in the bohemian Bloomsbury section of London. They had come together in the homes of two sisters, Virginia Woolf, 31, married less than a year before, and Vanessa Bell, 33, a painter whose work was included in the London show. The family had decided early on that Vanessa would be the artist and Virginia would be the writer. Neither had traditional schooling, although Vanessa had attended art school and Virginia had had the run of her father’s library. Some reviews and small pieces of Virginia’s had been published in local papers, but now she is working on her first novel. The only person she would show it to, and not until she feels it is finished, is her new husband, Leonard, 32.

Virginia’s Bloomsbury friends are encouraging her. They get together most Thursdays at Vanessa’s house in Gordon Square to have dinner, then whiskey, buns and cocoa—and conversation and cigarettes late into the night.

Matisse room in the 2nd post imp exhibit by V

Vanessa Bell’s Matisse Room, 1912

Ireland, Spring, 1913

 

In Ireland all the talk is of the recent passage of Home Rule in the British House of Commons. Will this be the first step towards complete independence for the restless colony?

A strong Irish nationalist movement had been agitating for years, through political organizations to keep the language alive, like the Gaelic League, and cultural organizations to keep Irish folk arts alive, such as the Abbey Theatre. The Abbey presents plays in English, but based on Irish folk tales and legends gathered in the west of Ireland.

Quinn had met the founders of the theatre on his first trip to Ireland 11 years ago. Since then, he has supported their theatre with legal advice as well as cash. When any of his Irish friends visit New York, they stay with Quinn and his paintings in his Upper West Side apartment.

One of the theatre’s founders, the poet William Butler Yeats, 47, is still involved in the operations of the Abbey, but most of the work now falls to his original collaborator, Lady Augusta Gregory, 61.

This spring, Augusta is touring the United States with the Abbey for the second time. Two years ago when they performed the late JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, they had legal trouble in Philadelphia, but it was nothing compared to the riots that had broken out in Dublin when it premiered there four years before. Quinn had argued their case in Philadelphia and gotten them out of jail so they could continue their tour.

But now her trip is almost over. She is in New York, staying with Quinn, and is looking forward to taking in the Armory Show, where some of her friends’ works are exhibited.

Quinn has offered to escort Augusta around, pointing out the paintings he is most proud of.

Mostly, she wants to see what all the fuss is about.

armoury show poster

Poster for the original Armory Show, 1913

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

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

 

 

 

 

‘Such Friends’: John Quinn, Librarians and Me

Last year, I decided to get serious about my research into John Quinn, and actually start on the biography that I want to write about his intriguing early 20th century life.

During my tax-deductible trip to the States, as you know if you have been following this blog, my wonderful brother drove me around Ohio where Quinn grew up.

But before Ohio I squeezed in one full day in Manhattan to spend at the New York Public Library [NYPL], where all of Quinn’s papers are carefully kept.

I have a Ph.D., but my research has been almost all secondary—books, articles, more recently, the internet. However, I stress to my students the importance of primary research—not all of life is on line! I have made a point of visiting many of the places where my ‘Such Friends’ writers hung out [Dublin, London, Paris, New York—life’s a bitch], and interviewed the president of Scribner’s, Charles Scribner IV, when researching editor Maxwell Perkins.

But archives? Original letters, papers, documents?! Ha. Never touched ‘em.

My first step in preparation for my day in the NYPL was to contact my academic researcher friend Kath who teaches art history at St. Andrews. I know–St. Andrews! Can’t get more academic than that. She spends many of her days locked away with medieval manuscripts. Any tips, Kath?

‘The librarian is your new best friend.’

So I made sure to contact the librarians at the NYPL who handle the Quinn archive, and they were indeed quite helpful right from the start.

I also called on Carol, our faculty librarian at my university, who has always been helpful in teaching my students how to do market research on line. Sure enough, she came through with a bunch of articles about Quinn that I hadn’t found. This lead me to Kerrie, an American art historian who had written a glowing piece about him in New Criterion. Thanks to Google and email I was able to make a lunch date with her to break up my day in the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room for Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Back in the 1970s I worked on Revealing Romances magazine [I have stories–buy me a beer] right in midtown Manhattan. On my lunch hour I used to sit in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th or walk up the steps on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street between the two big lions to wander the New York Public Library. Little did I dream I’d be back to both forty years later as a researcher.

NY Public Library

One of the lions guarding the New York Public Library

Pat, my librarian email pal, had laid down the rules and prepared me for the security I would have to go through. From their website, I was able to figure out which boxes of Quinn detritus I wanted to see most.

As an offering to Pat and her fellow librarians, I brought signed copies of my book, Manager as Muse: Maxwell Perkins’ Work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe [available on Amazon.com, #shamelessselfpromotion] and small boxes of Cadbury roses. She seemed pleased, but not overly surprised. I guess most academics have figured out the advantages of bribery.

The day went quickly, and I was glad for the lunch break with Kerrie. She was very encouraging about my planned biography. Reading her article, I was concerned she might be planning one herself, but phew…A good contact, not a threat.

Yummy, yummy. A whole day to go through boxes. I made notes on my laptop and took pictures of documents. In addition to letters and diaries of Quinn and his traveling companion [and more!] Mrs. Foster, there were bills for the large quantities of books that he bought, from publishers all over the world.

What a treat! Invoices from Three Mountains Press, which must have handed billing for Robert McAlmon’s Contact Press, publisher of Hemingway’s first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems. Quinn paid $1.50. Can only imagine what it goes for at auction now.

An invoice from Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press for five copies of T. S. Eliot’s Poems but only one of Virginia’s Kew Gardens. Could that be Leonard’s handwriting?!

A letter from W B Yeats on stationery from New York’s National Arts Club—definitely his handwriting.

Search the web all you want, there is nothing better than touching the pieces of paper that your heroes from the past have handled.

This year, I decided that I need to learn more about how to do archival research, and find a tax-deductible way to get back to New York. Are there workshops? Could I hire a Ph.D. student to tutor me? Please don’t tell me to look for a tutorial on YouTube.

Searching through the site for my university’s English Department, I discovered that we hold the archives for the British publisher John Lane. He’s another character who popped up all the time in my research. A Hogarth Press competitor, he published Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Joseph Conrad, and many others who orbit Quinn’s circle. And right under my nose in the library I used to pass by every day. ­

John_Lane_(Publisher) 1896 Catalogue.jpg

The cover of John Lane’s 1896 catalogue

So my new BFF is Fran, who showed me all the boxes of the Lane files, explained the more obscure abbreviations, and pointed me in the right direction to get started.

‘Do I get to wear white gloves?!’ I asked enthusiastically. ‘No. There’s some question whether it helps to be fiddling with this old paper when you’re wearing gloves.’ So much for Who Do You Think You Are?

I’ve made a start, but now have to do more preparation to be ready to dig in again when Fran comes back from holiday in September. Any tips from you academic researchers out there?!

Oh—Quinn’s relationship with Charles Foster’s daughter Annie. Next time. Promise.

PS Some names in the above have been changed. But you know who you are.

This year I’ll be piecing together my planned biography of John Quinn (1870-1924). 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.’

At the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, the Grafton Galleries, London, 16th November, 1912…

…Exhibition secretary, newlywed Leonard Woolf, about to turn 32, is glad to have this job.
Returning last year to his native England after a seven-year stint with the British civil service in Ceylon, Leonard had married Virginia Stephen, 30, the sister of one of his Cambridge University friends. It took a lot of persuading, but Virginia had finally said yes.
While they were on their extensive honeymoon, the Woolfs’ friend, art critic Roger Fry, 45, had sent an urgent message asking if Leonard would act as secretary for this major art show Fry was mounting, as soon as the they got back to London. Leonard agreed to do it at least until the end of the year, as he had no other job waiting for him.

Catalogue cover, Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, by Duncan Grant

Catalogue cover, Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, by Duncan Grant

Now Leonard is sitting at his table in the second room of the gallery, ready to help any potential buyers. Mostly, he has been disgusted by the reactions of the British middle-class to the modern art on the walls, writing later:

The whole business gave me a lamentable view of human nature, its rank stupidity and uncharitableness. I used to think, as I sat there, how much nicer were the Tamil or Sinhalese villagers who crowded into the veranda of Ceylon Kachcheri than these smug, well dressed, ill-mannered, well-to-do Londoners. Hardly any of them made the slightest attempt to look at, let alone understand, the pictures, and the same inane question or remarks were repeated to me all day long.

Today, however, two New Yorkers have spent quite a lot of time here, asking lots of questions about the art. They are excited to hear that Fry’s show is going so well, because they’re scouting for a similar exhibit they plan to present in New York City next spring. Although they say that the art is not as impressive as what they have just seen in Paris, the Americans feel work by the late Paul Cezanne is the best in the show. And they are telling their Paris representative to get as many paintings by Henri Matisse, 42, as he can.
Leonard is pleased that at least somebody understands what Fry is trying to do, even if they are American.

A Room at the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, Matisse Room, by Vanessa Bell, Leonard’s sister-in-law, 1912

A Room at the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, Matisse Room, by Vanessa Bell, Leonard’s sister-in-law, 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.