‘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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

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‘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.

 

 

In mid-town Manhattan, fall, 1924…

Harold Ross, 31, is working on the prospectus for his new project, a weekly magazine for New Yorkers.

For the past year or so, he and his wife, reporter Jane Grant, 32, have been badgering everyone they know with a dummy of their proposed first issue, trying to scare up some funding. Finally, Harold’s friend from The Stars & Stripes newspaper in France during the war, New York World writer Alexander Woollcott, 37, has finally come through with an introduction to Raoul Fleischmann, 38, heir to the yeast fortune.

Now he’s got to pitch the idea. Really pitch it. Ross knows what he wants to say. But to give the project credibility, he has been advised to make use of the writers he lunches with at the Algonquin Hotel almost every day.

He can’t include Robert Benchley, just turned 34, because he is on contract to Life magazine. He really shouldn’t list his other Stars & Stripes buddies, columnist FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, about to turn 43] and sports writer Heywood Broun, 35, because their employer the World newspaper, would not be happy.

Who’s left? Are they really his ‘advisors’? Can he claim that? Ross decides to take a risk:

Announcing a New Weekly Magazine:

The New Yorker:

The New Yorker will be a reflection in word and pictures of metropolitan life.

It will be human. Its general tenor will be one of gaiety, wit and satire,

but it will be more than a jester.

It will not be what is commonly called radical or highbrow.

It will be what is commonly called sophisticated,

in that it will assume a reasonable degree of enlightenment

on the part of its readers.

It will hate bunk…

The New Yorker will appear early in February.

The price will be:  $5 a yr.

15 cents a copy

Address:  25 West 45th Street, New York City

Advisory Editors,

Ralph Barton

George S. Kaufman [34]

Heywood Broun

Alice Duer Miller

Marc Connelly [34]

Dorothy Parker [31]

Edna Ferber

Laurence Stallings

Rea Irvin

Alexander Woollcott

HW Ross, Editor”

Original_New_Yorker_cover

The first cover of The New Yorker

Again this year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ during and after their times together.

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. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’