‘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’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 2: Gordon Square

Recently, 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 2:

  1. The corner of Gordon Square

Welcome back! But for those you just joining us, I’m Dr. Kathleen Dixon Donnelly, 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.

When the creative people known as The Bloomsbury Group lived in this area, they spent their days writing and painting, and their evenings in drawing rooms—or salons—where they ate, drank, argued, fell in and out of love, and talked. The group initially lived, worked, and socialised here in Gordon Square when they were just starting out, before Virginia became well-known.

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Gordon Square

Although now it is quite a posh area of London, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bloomsbury was considered to be really seedy, a cheap place for students and artists to live because the rents were low. Not anymore! According to the estate agents Foxtons, the average recent ‘sold’ price for a house around here is—any guesses?—£1.8m.

But in those days, middle class people didn’t own the homes they lived in—Virginia’s sister, painter Vanessa Bell, never even owned Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex which she is most associated with. The land and buildings were usually the property of the aristocracy, living somewhere else; the inhabitants just rented.

Let’s walk up to Number 46.

  1. Number 46 Gordon Square

46 Gordon Square, Londres, Royaume-Uni

Number 46 Gordon Square

Standing here, you can see most of the buildings that the Bloomsbury group lived in during their years in Gordon Square. Straight ahead, Number 46, with the black door and plaque, is where Vanessa Stephen, then 25, moved with her brothers in October 1904, after their widowed father had died. Vanessa saw this as a release from the dark old house they had been brought up in, just off Hyde Park. Their sister Virginia, 22, didn’t join them until November, because Vanessa had wisely sent her to live with one of their aunts during the whole moving process.

You’ll notice that the plaque here is about just one of the Bloomsberries, economist John Maynard Keynes. There has been a lot of controversy with English Heritage because there are so few plaques with women’s names on them. I recommend that you nominate Vanessa for a plaque by clicking here.

keynes blue plaque

Keynes’ blue plaque

In February of the next year, 1905, Thoby Stephen started having ‘at homes’ on Thursday evenings, when his friends from Cambridge University would know that he would be ‘at home’ for them. His sisters would sit quietly while university men like Lytton Strachey and Clive Bell, also in their 20s, would knowingly discuss ‘the nature of good.’

In the summer of 1906, living here, Virginia wrote her first short story, ‘Phyllis and Rosamond,’ about two young women coming to an evening in Gordon Square. It was not published in her lifetime.

And then, in November of that year, big, strong, athletic, strapping Thoby…died. Aged 26. The Stephen siblings had all been on a disastrous trip to Europe, and everyone had gotten sick. Thoby’s typhoid was misdiagnosed, and in a few days, he was gone. They were all devastated.

Two days after Thoby’s death, his friend Clive proposed—again—to Vanessa. And this time she said ‘yes.’ When they married, in spring 1907, Clive moved in to Number 46, and Virginia and her other brother, Adrian, moved over to Fitzroy Square, which we’ll visit in Part 3 of our walk.

For my research, I had to determine a specific time when each group started and ended. For Bloomsbury, I timed it from Vanessa and Clive’s marriage. The Bells continued to hold salons on Thursday evenings here, but now, after dinner, the party would often move to Virginia and Adrian’s living room, probably walking the same route that we will be walking today.

They were young, they were embarking on creative careers in writing and art, they were able to live on family money and small commissions, and they were enjoying their newfound freedom. Later, Virginia wrote that the whole world changed in one moment in Gordon Square in 1908. Here’s how she described the now infamous ‘semen scene’:

‘It was a spring evening. Vanessa and I were sitting in the drawing room…Suddenly the door opened and the long and sinister figure of Mr. Strachey stood on the threshold. He pointed his finger at a stain on Vanessa’s white dress. “Semen?” he said. Can 1 really say it? I thought, and we burst out laughing. With that one word all barriers of reticence and reserve went down. A flood of the sacred fluid seemed to overwhelm us. Sex permeated our conversation. The word bugger was never far from our lips. We discussed copulation with the same excitement and openness that we had discussed the nature of good. It is strange to think how reticent, how reserved we had been and for how long.’

After the first world war, the Bloomsbury group played musical chairs with the houses in Gordon Square. Vanessa was mostly out in Sussex with her kids, so their friend Maynard, took over the lease on Number 46. Back in the Victorian era, Keynes’ father had lived in Gordon Square as a university student.

Vanessa’s husband Clive hosted many of his mistresses here. The group gave lots of parties, such as a celebration when the Armistice was announced in 1918—over 100 years ago!—and a soiree for the visiting Russian ballet and Picasso the year after.

But by the time she was planning to move permanently out to Charleston, Vanessa wrote to Lytton,

‘We are so much overcome by the country as compared with London that I doubt if I shall ever return to Gordon Square…no telephone, no crowd to tea.’

Let’s walk down to the end of the block to see two more houses.

  1. Numbers 37 and 41 Gordon Square

In the second half of the 1920s, Vanessa lived in Number 37, with her lover, fellow painter, Duncan Grant, a few years younger than she, and gay.

37 and 41 gordon square

Numbers 37 and 41 Gordon Square

In Number 41, many members of the Strachey family, including Lytton and his mother, made their home here, mostly in the 1920s.

Now we will head back to the street and stop at the corner for the last two Gordon Square addresses.

  1. Numbers 50 and 51 Gordon Square

When the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova and Maynard were carrying on their affair in the early 1920s, she hid out from her husband here. Keynes wrote to Vanessa:

‘If Lydia lived in Number 41, and Duncan and I lived in 46, you and family in 50, and we all had meals in 46, that might not be a bad arrangement…We all want both to have and not have husbands and wives.’

When Clive lived in Number 50 in 1926, Vanessa and Duncan decorated his rooms. A decade later, the farewell party for the Bell’s son Julian was held here, before he went off to fight—and die—in the Spanish Civil War.

50 and 51 gordon square

50 and 51 Gordon Square

Let’s talk a bit about the people who lived in these houses.

In my research I found that in every group there were certain roles:  There was always a ‘Star.’ Not a fiery leader, but the one they all knew was the most talented, like Virginia Woolf, Yeats, Stein and Parker.

Each ‘Star’ had a ‘Hostess,’ like Vanessa, who took care of everyone in the group. She was the Earth Mother, similar to Lady Augusta Gregory, Alice B. Toklas, and…Robert Benchley!

Maynard, as an economist, was the ‘Bridge’ to another field, which, according to my theory, is the role that kept the groups from becoming cults. The Irish group had the politician Douglas Hyde; the Paris group, the painter/photographer Man Ray; and the Algonquin Round Table, the union organizer Heywood Broun.

The Bridge is important because he brings a different point of view. A bunch of writers sitting around talking about writing isn’t very creative. I think it is the presence of someone who looks at the world from another angle that makes these salons so creative. That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.

51 gordon_sq

51 Gordon Square

Lytton lived here in Number 51 on the ground floor around 1928. Every group had an ‘Irritant’—annoying Irishman George Moore, pugnacious Ernest Hemingway, and flaming peacock Alexander Woollcott. But there was no one more irritating than Lytton. He was a true British eccentric, with his high-pitched voice and long red beard. He drove them all nuts—but they loved having him around. Don’t we all have people like that in our groups of friends?! He had affairs with his cousin, Duncan, and Duncan’s lover, Maynard, and even proposed to Virginia once. But thought better of it the next day.

You can see why the Bloomsbury group has been described as those who

‘loved in triangles and lived in squares.’

If you want to see an excellent depiction of Lytton, I recommend Jonathan Pryce in the film Carrington, about his long-term relationship with the painter Dora Carrington, played by Emma Thompson. That’s your video tip for the week.

Gordon Square continued to be a hub for creative people, even after the 1920s. Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lancaster lived here in the thirties and gave parties with the Bloomsberries. Maynard would hold meetings here and in 1940 land mines were found buried here.

We’ll stop for a minute at the entrance to Gordon Square before heading over to Fitzroy Square for Part 3.

  1. Entrance to Gordon Square

Here is where the National Literary Trust placed the Mrs. Dalloway bench a few years ago. Along with 50 other literary benches around the city, it was auctioned off in 2015.

mrs dalloway bench 1 (2)

The Mrs. Dalloway Bench, entrance to Gordon Square

Let’s take a minute to talk about Duncan. To balance off the Irritant, every group also had an ‘Angel,’ someone who everybody just loved. In the case of Bloomsbury, it was Duncan. They all loved him. Most of them even slept with him. As one of the Fitzroy Square housemaids said,

That Mr. Grant gets in everywhere.’

He was a bit younger than the others, and had a certain innocence about him. Duncan also lived, at Charleston, until he was 93.

Having read numerous biographies of all of my writers, I have a piece of advice for those of you who are lucky enough to be in a group of creative people:  Outlive them. Because biographers have to suck up to the last living members, they get good write ups—artist/poet AE [George Russell] for the Irish and playwright Marc Connelly for the New Yorkers. Unfortunately, the Paris ‘Angel,’ novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, didn’t live long enough. He died at age 44 in 1940, the exception that proves the rule.

gordon square gardens from entrance

Gordon Square Gardens

Go straight ahead through Byng Place, and cross over Gower Street at the pedestrian crossing. Careful! Turn right and walk up to Grafton Way. I’ll tell you about Clive’s role in the group when we get there.

  1. Foundling Hospital, Grafton Way

 

This large hospital ties in nicely with a Bloomsbury story.

Virginia and Vanessa’s relatives were quite scandalized when they found out the young Stephens were moving to this part of town, to live on their own! And have their university friends visit! And stay overnight! Vanessa was so glad to be rid of her other relatives, she told one shocked aunt,

‘It will be all right. And the Foundling Hospital is nearby, in any case.’

This is actually the University College Hospital; the Foundling Hospital was on the other side of Bloomsbury. But the story works well here, don’t you think?

univ coll hospital gower str

University College Hospital, Gower Street and Grafton Way

Back to Clive. Whereas the others would be considered middle class, Clive came from a wealthy family. He became an influential art critic, with his most famous book called Art. A bit pretentious I’ve always thought.

Clive was the ‘Observer’ in this group. All the ‘Observers’ were definitely part of the group, but a bit to one side, watching what was going on. They usually were active in lots of other social circles as well, and this was true of Clive—also playwright John Millington Synge in the Irish group, composer and music critic Virgil Thomson in Paris, and playwright George S Kaufman in New York.

When Vanessa married Clive and started a family, the still single Virginia was a bit jealous. She even started a flirtation with Clive at one point. Virginia described her sister and brother-in-law in a letter to a friend:

‘[They] live…much like your ladies in a French salon; they have all the wits and poets; and ‘Nessa sits among them, like a Goddess.’

After the birth of their two sons, Clive and Vanessa had an ‘open’ marriage and he had many affairs, while still keeping a room of his own at Charleston.

Now we will walk down Grafton Way and cross Tottenham Court Road. Be careful!

You can pick up the walk in the next blog, ‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 3:  Fitzroy Square. If you missed the beginning, just search for ‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 1:  Tavistock 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’: 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.

 

 

‘Such Friends’: February, 1922

New York City, February, 1922

 

John Quinn, 51, has received a cable from James Joyce, just turned 40, in Paris:

Ulysses published. Thanks.

Bit of an understatement.

joyce pound ford quinn

James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and John Quinn in Paris

 

Quinn has been supporting Joyce financially, legally, and sometimes emotionally, while he was writing the novel. He’d even gone to court for the right of The Little Review to publish ‘obscene’ chapters. Quinn didn’t win that legal battle, but felt that getting the publishers off with a $100 fine was itself a victory.

He cables back right away,

Congratulations publication Ulysses. Best wishes. Write soon.

Then he starts composing an angry letter to the woman who had taken the risk to publish Ulysses, American ex-patriate Sylvia Beach, 35, owner of the Left Bank bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. He is a bit annoyed that she has written to him about Joyce:

If Joyce wants to write to me at any time it is open to him to do so and not through you.

Joyce and Beach at Sh and Co

Sylvia Beach and James Joyce in her bookshop, Shakespeare & Co.

But what has made him even angrier is that in her most recent letter she has asked whether Ulysses’ US copyright is covered by the publication of the chapters in The Little Review.

Quinn reminds her that he has already told Joyce, often, that it is. However, her advertisement for the novel in the magazine might set off the censors again! Now the customs authorities will be watching all the post from Paris to New York.

Quinn paid for his own 14 copies in advance, telling Beach,

They will become my property and then I must be consulted as to how they are to be sent here…[Set them aside] carefully wrapped up, and held subject to my order.

He then suggests ways copies might be smuggled into the US via Canada.

Now Quinn has to focus on his problem right here in New York:  John Butler Yeats, painter and father of his friend, poet William Butler Yeats, 56, whom he has been supporting for the past 14 years of his self-imposed exile in Manhattan, has died, aged 82. Quinn’s ‘assistant’ (and lover), Mrs. Jeanne Foster, 42, has been watching over JB in his lodgings on West 29th Street the past two days, and he succumb in the night.

William_Butler_Yeats_by_John_Butler_Yeats_1900

W B Yeats by his father John Butler Yeats, 1900

john butler yeats self portrait

John Butler Yeats’ self-portrait

Quinn and Foster have to deal with the doctor, the friends, the visitors—and what about the funeral? New York or Dublin?

***

Downtown from Quinn’s 11-room Central Park West apartment, lunch is on at The Algonquin Hotel. For the past three years, the writers and freelancers who work for nearby newspapers and magazines—Life, Vogue, the World—come by to have lunch and trade quips.

Dorothy Parker, 28, nee Rothschild, is trying to calculate if she can afford a half-order of the eggs. Her friends are carefully avoiding discussing her recent suicide attempt. The fact that she had ordered dinner to be delivered from the nearby Alps Restaurant just before she tried to slit her wrists with her husband’s dull razor, makes it more drama than tragedy.

hirshfield alg

The Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld

Parker’s main supporter, fellow free-lancer and former Vanity Fair writer, Robert Benchley, 32, is one of the few who had come to see her in the hospital. Bench had told her,

Go easy on this suicide stuff. First thing you know, you’ll ruin your health.

parkerbenchley cartoon

Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley

***

Farther down in midtown, in Scribner’s offices on Fifth Avenue, editor Maxwell Perkins, 37, is planning to have a discussion with his current star author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 25.

Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, is about to come out. Perkins feels it is a good follow up to his first, The Far Side of Paradise. Now the editor thinks Fitzgerald could take a different turn, and, discussing the advertising for Damned, Perkins tells him,

We ought to…get away altogether from the flapper idea.

fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Maxwell_Perkins_NYWTS free to use

Maxwell Perkins

***

Farther down Manhattan, at JB Yeats’ rooms in Chelsea, Quinn and Foster are beginning to sort through the late painter’s belongings, waiting for instructions as to whether JB should be sent to Ireland or laid to rest here in his adopted home, New York.

Quinn is composing a telegram to the Yeats sisters in Dublin:

Regret your father passed away this morning 7 o’clock…The end came in sleep without pain or struggle. After conference please cable desires about burial…Everything was done for his comfort and peace of mind and he had best possible medical attention.

Next, he sends the details to the painter’s son, Willie, currently in Oxford, adding,

He fought bravely for life but it was almost hopeless since Wednesday. His mind was unclouded and his spirits buoyant until the end.

440px-Jeanne_Robert_Foster,_by_John_Butler_Yeats

Jeanne Foster by John Butler Yeats

johnquinn

John Quinn

 

Dublin, February, 1922

 

In Dundrum, south Dublin, Lily, 55, and Lolly Yeats, 53, read the telegram they had been dreading from their American friend, John Quinn.

Lily and Lolly Yeats

Lily and Lolly Yeats

They knew that Quinn had worried that the old man would die ‘on his watch.’ Right now, they feel nothing but gratitude for all Quinn has done for him.

Of course, they will need to check with their brother Willie in Oxford, but agree that it is best to advise Quinn to handle the funeral arrangements in New York.

 

London, February, 1922

 

Everyone has the flu.

The Times reports that 13,000 people in England and Wales have died since Christmas. They caution that one of the symptoms is a ‘tendency to “feel the heart”—ie., to palpitations,’ and that anyone suspecting they have contracted the disease should take to their beds at once. Just last month they had reported that Pope Benedict XV, 67, had died from influenza that turned into pneumonia.

Pope Benedict xv

Pope Benedict XV

***

T. S. Eliot, 33, is trying to get his new long poem published. As soon as he returned home last month, reinvigorated by a three-month leave spent in Switzerland, he had been laid low with the influenza for a good ten days. At least that meant time away from his dreaded office at Lloyds Bank so he could work on finishing off The Waste Land.

Eliot has been corresponding with The Dial magazine in the States, but is leery about the deal on offer. He feels he had been burned a few years ago by a contract with Alfred Knopf that John Quinn had negotiated for him. Now he is using his friend Ezra Pound, 36, as a go between.

T.S.-Eliot-and-Ezra-Pound

T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound

***

In the southwest suburb of Richmond, Virginia Woolf, just turned 40, is devastated that she is spending the first months of this year as she had the previous summer—in bed. She confides to her diary,

 I have taken it into my head that I shan’t live till 70…Suppose, I said to myself the other day[,] this pain over my heart wrung me out like a dish cloth & left me dead?

The flu had hit her just a few weeks before her 40th birthday, which made her acutely aware of the passage of time:

I feel time racing like a film at the Cinema. I try to stop it. I prod it with my pen. I try to pin it down.’

Her husband Leonard, 41, however supportive, insists on following the doctor’s instructions that she must stay in bed. But Virginia wants to be out in the cold air, walking, which means writing, because she works out her sentences in her head as she makes her way through the London streets.

Va and Leon

Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Virginia is thinking of experimenting with a tale of a woman walking through the city while preparing for a party, the passage of the hours marked by Big Ben’s bongs.

Her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, 42, hasn’t let her children’s flu keep her from her work. She is in Paris, again, for a painting holiday. Virginia writes to her,

For Gods [sic] sake make friends with Joyce. I particularly want to know what he’s like.’

She’d read parts of Ulysses when it had been submitted to her and Leonard for publication by their Hogarth Press. She can’t imagine what kind of working class man could write like that.

Va and V in Firle Park 1911

Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell

 

Paris, February, 1922

 

Newlyweds Hadley, 30, and Ernest Hemingway, 22, are back from a Switzerland skiing trip and settling in to their new fourth floor walk-up apartment at 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine.

Hadley and Ernest Hemingway

Hadley and Ernest Hemingway

Ernest has taken an office on the Rue Mouffetard, a pleasant five-minute walk away. Going there on a regular schedule is the only way he is going to get any writing done.

After all, that’s why they came at the end of last year. Paris is so cheap, the exchange rate so good, and between his salary as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star, and his wife’s family money, they can afford an apartment, a studio, and dinner at local cafes every night. Great French food is 50 US cents for a meal; the wine only 60 centimes for a whole bottle.

Ernest is eager to get started on his writing career, and is planning to make good use of the contacts he had been given last summer back in Chicago by Sherwood Anderson, 45, author of the hit novel, Winesburg, Ohio.

Sherwood anderson and wife

Sherwood and Tennessee Anderson

Anderson and his wife, Tennessee, 48, had just come back to the States from Paris and encouraged the young Hemingways to follow in their footsteps. He gave Ernest an all-important letter of introduction to fellow American writer Gertrude Stein, celebrating her 48th birthday. Ernest and Hadley are gathering the courage to visit Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 44, soon.

Gert and Alice with the paintings

Alice B. Toklas and her partner Gertrude Stein with Picassos

 

***

Another expatriate, Kansas-born Robert McAlmon, 25, is in Paris, also with his new wealthy wife, Bryher, 27. As well as supporting himself as a writer with her inheritance, McAlmon intends to use her family money to publish other writers on the Left Bank.

McAlmon and Bryher

Bryher and Robert McAlmon

Soon after he came to Paris two years ago, McAlmon had struck up a close friendship with an Irishman, James Joyce. McAlmon had supported his new friend while he was struggling with his big novel, both financially and practically by helping with the typing of the manuscript.

But now that publication day—and Joyce’s big birthday—is nearing, McAlmon chickens out. He takes off for the Riviera. He figures he’ll just buy Joyce a present.

***

Standing on the platform at the Gare du Lyon, Sylvia Beach is waiting for the Paris-Dijon Express, due in at 7 am.

When she’d told Joyce that her printer in Dijon guaranteed to put the parcel in the post on 1st February, Joyce was not pleased. He insisted that the package be put on the train so the conductor can hand deliver it to Sylvia personally.

As the train approaches, Beach is working out her next steps in her head. She will get a taxi to Joyce’s apartment, to give him the 40th birthday present that he wants the most, the first copy of Ulysses. There is a small party planned for tonight at one of Joyce’s favorite restaurants, Ferraris. He and his partner, Nora Barnacle, 37, and a few friends will be celebrating his accomplishment, seven years in the making, the result of his relentless vision and the support of his family, Sylvia Beach…and John Quinn.

jas joyce sylvia beach

American Sylvia and her Irishman on rue de l’Odeon

K and T at rue de l'Odeon

American Kathleen and her Irishman on rue de l’Odeon

 

‘Such Friends’:  Dallowday, Blogging Woolf, and me

I said I would buy the lunch myself.

As I recommend to all my visiting American friends, time your train trip so you can take along some lunch from M&S Simply Food, ubiquitous in train stations here. My preference is carrot sticks with reduced fat humous and salmon pasta salad. Yum.

So I stocked up and took off for London a few Saturdays ago to take part in my first ‘Dallowday,’ commemorating the day on which Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, is set. The Irish all over the world have been celebrating ‘Bloomsday’ based on James Joyce’s Ulysses for over 50 years. Now it’s Virginia’s turn.

mrs dalloway original cover

Original cover of Mrs. Dalloway, designed by Vanessa Bell

The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain has sponsored this day, which includes a walk through some of the novel’s settings, a discussion of the book, and a 1920s party at the Bloomsbury Waterstones. I signed up for the whole package.

On one of the hottest days of the year, I took the train from Birmingham New Street to Euston station, and then the Underground to the appointed meeting place, outside the Regent’s Park Tube.

Waiting for the Underground lift, literally a breath of fresh air came wafting through. The woman next to me, about my age, said, ‘Oh! That feels great. It’s so hot.’ I nodded in agreement.

Watching her walk up the stairs in front of me, I realized she was wearing a blue flower print dress and lovely straw hat. Aha. Another Dallowday participant, I surmised.

As we reached the street at the top, we both laughed. Standing just a few feet away was a gaggle of Dallowday fans. About 20 women ‘of a certain age’ in flowered dresses or skirts, straw hats—they all looked just like me! No trouble finding this group.

The walk was led by Jean Moorcroft Wilson, who obviously was a lot more familiar with the book and Virginia than I am, having read it years ago as part of my research. I actually have much more vivid memories of the Vanessa Redgrave film, which I’ve used in my presentations.

Jean was dressed in the full Dalloway, including a vintage dress and hat, complemented by darling low-heeled black shoes with straps. Very 1920s. She’d obviously done this many times before.

Jean pointed out that there is debate as to when Dallowday actually is. Whereas Joyce clearly set Ulysses on 16th June, 1904, the day of his first date with his eventual wife, Nora Barnacle, Woolf ‘s novel says ‘mid-June.’ However, by lining up events in the book with cricket games and the Ascot races, most scholars have settled on June 20th. But—this year, it’s Saturday, 17th June. So more of us can come.

The unusually warm weather—it’s actually been hot; Miami hot, not just England hot—didn’t slow us down a bit. After a stop in Regent’s Park, Jeanne walked us over to Fitzroy Square, where Virginia lived from 1907 until 1911 with her brother Adrian. Their sister Vanessa had married art critic Clive Bell and kicked the siblings out when the newlyweds took over the Gordon Square house, where we headed next.

My own Bloomsbury walk actually takes the reverse route, starting in Gordon Square and then over to Fitzroy Square.

Here’s me pointing out the house at #29 where Virginia lived:

29 Fitzroy Square and me

At Waterstone’s, we sat in a circle, sipping refreshing flavoured ice water. Jean and Maggie Humm of the Woolf Society led us through an interesting discussion of the book. My research was on the relationships among the creative people in the Bloomsbury group, but wasn’t focused on their works—books, paintings, etc. This discussion brought new insights about the connections for me to incorporate into my future presentations.

And I learned that there is a website that maps all the walks of the characters in the book—Clarissa, Peter, Septimus and Rezia—showing how they interconnect.

For the 1920s party, I was planning to switch to Dorothy Parker mode, and so had tucked my red feather boa into my travel bag. But not many others were quite so dedicated to the flapper look, so I decided to stay in Bloomsbury garb.

Just this past week, I had another tax-deductible reason to go to London. Paula Maggio, better known to many of you as ‘Blogging Woolf’ was visiting from the States to attend the 27th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. We made plans to meet up and she wanted to try the Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel. We had a fabulous lunch of pasta and prosecco, treated ourselves to dessert, and took a peek at the 1920s-style Bloomsbury Club downstairs.

Dalloway Terrace at Bloomsbury Hotel

Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel, photo by Paula Maggio

Paula had also heard about a life-size statue of Virginia at Kings College, where Woolf had studied classics in her early days. A bit of Googling and walking led us to the Woolf Building. A sign said it was locked due to increased security, but when the guard saw our noses pressed against the glass, he let us in.

There she was, encased behind plexiglass, big as life, holding a copy of A Room of One’s Own, in a wardrobe that was, as Paula said,

a closet of her own.’

Surrounded by large quotes from Virginia’s works, and photos of her, it makes a fitting entrance for the College’s School of English.

Virginia Woolf statue Kings College

Virginia Woolf statue, Kings College, photo by Paula Maggio

I would definitely add both of these places—Dalloway Terrace and the Kings College statue—to my Bloomsbury walk. Here’s a review of the restaurant by one of last year’s conference participants..

Heading back towards Euston station, Paula and I stopped by Woburn Walk, where the poet William Butler Yeats lived at the same time that Virginia and her siblings were moving into Gordon Square, just a few blocks away.

These intersections of time, place and characters are what interest me most. I can picture an aerial view of north London in 1907, as the Irish poet walks past the Stephens sisters, on their way over to enjoy a stroll through Regent’s Park.

Might make an interesting structure for a biography. Watch this space.

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

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’:  Vanessa Bell’s Six Rooms of Her Own

Back in 2002, I went to see the fabulous Picasso Portraits exhibit at the Tate Modern. While eating the brownie with ice cream and fudge sauce in the café, I filled out the museum’s feedback card, which asked,

‘What other events would you like to see at the Tate?’

Always seizing the opportunity for shameless self-promotion, I wrote something to the effect:

‘Why don’t you have me give a talk about my early 20th century writers and artists?’

and

‘Why don’t you have an exhibit of Vanessa Bell’s fabulous paintings which are mostly locked away in a Tate Liverpool basement?!’

Still waiting for answer to the first, but the Dulwich Picture Gallery has answered the second. The third question is now, why did it take so long?!

My research into writers’ salons exposed me to creative people I had not been familiar with before, and one of my favorites is Virginia Woolf’s painter-sister, Vanessa Bell. Partly because of the excellent biography by Frances Spalding—Vanessa Bell:  Portrait of the Bloomsbury Artist—who discovered her while researching the art critic and Vanessa’s one-time lover, Roger Fry.

So finding my way from Birmingham to Dulwich to see this exhibit has been high on my to-do list this year. As part of our new-found freedom of semi-retirement, My Husband Tony and I set aside last Tuesday for a London jaunt. Road trip!

First, we had to figure out how to get to Dulwich. Not as difficult as we thought. Train to Euston, Victoria Line to Victoria station, train to West Dulwich, lovely well-marked walk from the station thanks to the glorious weather.

How posh! The Dulwich Gallery is one of the few museums which was actually built as an art gallery, to house a private collection back in the early 19th century. It’s not terribly big, but most rooms are fantastically well lit with the skylights built in.

My timed ticket to the exhibit was for 2:15, but we got there early to have lunch in the crowded but excellent café. The woman in the box office said that the ticket timings were ‘very strict.’ Tony planned to have a look at the museum and then head off to explore nearby Dulwich.

The building itself is well worth a look, but we also spent some time in the related free exhibit, Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith. Singer/artist/photographer Patti Smith, 71—who, I confess, I remember most from Gilda Radner’s impersonation of her on Saturday Night Live—is a big Virginia Woolf fan, and has recorded a video at Vanessa’s Sussex home, Charleston Farmhouse. [Also a must see. Trust me. Go.]

This exhibit juxtaposed Smith’s photos over quite a few years with Bell’s photo albums of her life—a very interesting idea. Smith’s were artistically small, mostly black and white Polaroids, and a bit dark. Unfortunately, the room itself was a bit dark, and we found ourselves squinting quite a lot.

I sent Tony off—What did you think of Dulwich, honey?

‘Beautiful. I want to live there’—

with a reminder to meet up at the Tate Modern so we could take in the exhibit of Sir Elton John’s photography collection, which includes quite a few by Man Ray, from my Paris group. A doubly deductible trip.

This gave me plenty of time to explore the six rooms at Dulwich devoted to Vanessa’s work. All on her own.

Vanessa bell dulwich poster

Poster for Vanessa Bell exhibit at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

The first room, ‘Among Friends’ [missed a trick there, didn’t they?!], showcases her portraits of those in and around the Bloomsbury Group, including her own self-portrait which is the poster for the exhibit. The room has the same attraction as London’s wonderful National Portrait Gallery—all eyes are looking at you.

Here is Vanessa’s take on her friend and lover of her husband Clive Bell, Mary Hutchinson:

bells por of mary hutchinson

Mrs. St. John Hutchinson (1915)

In the ‘Design and Experimentation’ room are some of Vanessa’s early attempts at abstraction, influenced by the Post-Impressionists Fry was championing around the same time. I got the feeling Vanessa wasn’t as comfortable with abstract painting as she was with recreating the feeling of the real world and people around her—her sister, her children, her lovers, her flowers.

This room also includes fantastic examples from the Omega Workshops which Fry and Vanessa directed from 1913 to 1919. As the exhibit’s wall explanation states, the Workshops represented the pre-World War II hopes that were ‘dashed’ on the battlefields of Europe.

Screen by bell and grant

Tents and Figures (1913), painted folding screen

The ‘Still Life’ room has one of my favorites, Iceland Poppies.

iceland poppies

Iceland Poppies (c. 1908-09)

Doesn’t it look like the pattern for a Norwegian ski sweater? [To those in charge of the gift shop—you can have that idea for free. You’re welcome.]

‘At Home’ demonstrates Vanessa at her best, photographing and painting her family in their natural environments.

Angelica reading

Interior with Artist’s Daughter (1935)

Although some of the playful photos of her two sons would probably get her arrested today.

The fifth room, ‘Landscape,’ shows an interesting juxtaposition of her first painting of the pond at Charleston, done in the fall of 1916, when she had first moved there,

pond at charleston 1916

The Pond at Charleston, East Sussex (1916)

and a more chaotic version of the same scene three years later when the communal life had developed its own complications.

view-of-the-pond-at-charleston-1919

Charleston Pond (1919)

The finale, the sixth room, ‘Pictures of Women,’ includes one of my other favorites, A Conversation, which I’ve always thought would make a nice cover for ‘Such Friends.’ Girls night!

A conversation

A Conversation (1913-1916)

And doesn’t this 1913 portrait look like Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars?!

The model 1913

The Model (1913)

In addition to the paintings, one of the other highlights of this room is a letter Vanessa wrote to her daughter-in-law, Anne Olivier Bell, on the birth of her baby girl,

‘How clever of you to produce a daughter…’

After walking back and forth through the six rooms a few times, I headed back to Dulwich train station, back to Victoria, on to Blackfriars, to walk over the bridge to Tate Modern.

Along streets and through Tube stations that Vanessa, her sister and their ‘Such Friends’ would have used over 100 years ago. And probably, some days, the weather was just as good as well.

The exhibit, Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), is at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until June 4, 2017, and I would have no problem making the journey again if you would like to have your own personal tour guide. And my offer to give a talk is still open…

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

‘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 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.

mail_and_express_building_01

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.

metrop-museum-of-art

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 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.