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Bloomsbury Group

From Academic Kids

The Bloomsbury Group or Bloomsbury Set or just "Bloomsbury" as its adherents ("members" is probably too formal a designation) would generally refer to it, was an English group of artists and scholars that existed from around 1905 until around World War II.

The group began as an informal social assembly of recent Cambridge University graduates (four members had graduated in 1899, among them Toby Stephen, Virginia Woolf's and Vanessa Bell's brother), meeting with relatives and acquaintances, mostly of their own generation. They met at each others' homes, principally (before World War I even almost exclusively) in the Bloomsbury area of London. Instrumental in the formation of the group must have been the fact that the four children of Julia and Leslie Stephen (Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia and Adrian) had moved to a house in Gordon Square in the Bloomsbury area in 1904, after both of their parents were dead (Leslie had died in the February of that year). By the time of Thoby Stephen's untimely death in 1906, the group was established well enough not to be hampered, but rather strung even stronger together, by this adversity.

Although mainly known as a literary group (with Virginia Woolf as its most widely known exponent), its adherents were active in several fields of art, art criticism and scholarship:

  • Plastic arts were (amongst others) represented by the painters Vanessa Bell (who had married Clive Bell in 1907), Duncan Grant and Dora Carrington, and by Roger Fry (who also got name as art critic and theorist). By the end of World War I Charleston, the place where Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant lived most of their time, had in a way developed to the plastic artists' focus point within the Bloomsbury movement.

The performing arts were certainly underrepresented in the group, as if not compatible with the group's main pursuits: e.g. John Maynard Keynes's wife Lydia Lopokova, who had once been a principal dancer in the Ballets Russes, was considered a complete outsider by most of the group's adherents; also, by the time Angelica Garnett, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant's daughter, decided for a stage career the link with Bloomsbury was somehow out of the picture.

There was a large overlap between Bloomsbury and the people contributing to and supporting the (more formally organised) Omega Workshop(s), initiated by Roger Fry a few years after he entered the Bloomsbury Group in 1910: e.g. Nina Hamnett belonged to both. Bloomsbury also had strong connections with Rupert Brooke and his Neo-Pagans - the wood engraver Gwen Darwin and her French painter husband, Jacques Raverat were part of both; Gwen's sister was married to Maynard Keynes's brother Geoffrey, whose enthusiasm for William Blake led to Gwen designing a ballet based on his etchings of Job which was composed by her Wedgwood cousin, Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Bloomsbury remained a tight-knit and highly exclusive group, also referred to as the Bloomsberries. The members strongly rejected the Victorian and Edwardian eras' strictures on religious, artistic, social, and sexual issues, although, as amongst others Angelica Garnett argues in her autobiographical book Deceived by Kindness (ISBN 0-7126-6266-9), they never came completely free from these. The Bloomsbury Set could certainly be considered as a clique, including acquaintances, such as Lady Ottoline Morrell, whose estate in Garsington undoubtedly became another Bloomsbury centre, where the Bloomsberries mingled with other artists and intellectuals of their day.

Another trait characteristic of Bloomsbury was (naturally not so uncommon in the England of their days) the love of southern Europe, mostly concentrated on Italy and France, but also Greece.

The group certainly acted as a kind of safe haven for many of its homosexual, lesbian and/or bisexual members: also, almost as a rule, Bloomsberries had relations with more than one partner, mostly with partners of both sexes. It seems as if at least some flirtation with (an) other group member(s), not being their regular partner, was compulsory.

By the 1920s the group's reputation was sufficiently established that its mannerisms were parodied.

By the end of the Second World War a number of the group's residences in the Bloomsbury area had been shelled, and Virginia Woolf had committed suicide. The high days of the group were over, although in places like Charleston the Bloomsbury way of life still continued for several decades.

The group is remembered mostly for the individual artistic output of its members rather than any collaborative achievement. Since the last decades of the 20th century, the complex inter-personal relationships within the group have attracted scholarly attention.

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