Information and Quotations for Discussion: "Old Bloomsbury" (from Moments of Being)

Updated July 7, 1997
Created July 7, 1997

Bloomsbury is a district of central London (postal code WC1) notable as the location of the British Museum. Between 1904 and 1915, and 1924 and1939 Virginia Woolf lived in five different houses in this district: 46 Gordon Square (1904-1907, with Vanessa, Thoby, and Adrian Stephen), 29 Fitzroy Square (1907-1911, with Adrian Stephen), 38 Brunswick Square (1911-15 with Adrian Stephen, Duncan Grant, Maynard Keynes, and Leonard Woolf), 52 Tavistock Square (1924-39, now married to Leonard Woolf), 37 Mecklenburgh Square (Aug 1939 -Sept. 1940, when it is bomb damaged).

The "Bloomsbury group" is variously defined. According to Woolf’s biographer Hermione Lee, "Those who ‘belonged’ to it said that it was a figment, or that it was too diverse to be categorisable, or that by the time it came to be named it had ceased to exist. . . . [Loosely defined, it describes] a number of like-minded friends living in a particular area of London and involved mainly with the arts and politics" (258-59). Woolf herself first uses the phrase "Bloomsbury group" in a 1914 letter, contrasting her London friends to people she was meeting on a visit to Northumberland. Lee notes that "Leonard Woolf, in the 1960s, listed ‘Old Bloomsbury’ as Vanessa and Clive Bell, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Adrian and Karin Stephen, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Desmond and Molly MacCarthy, with Julian, Quentin and Angelica Bell, and David Garnett as later additions. Other lists might include Ottoline Morrell, or Dora Carrington, or James and Alix Strachey" (259). Others might add the economist Maynard Keynes (pronounced as in canes) and the novelist E.M. [Morgan] Forster.

"Thoby’s Thursday Evenings"

"On the 16th [of] March Miss Power and Miss Malone dined with us. Sydney-Turner and Gerald [Duckworth] came in after dinner—the first of our Thursday evenings. On the 23rd [of] March nine people came to our evening and stayed till one. . . . These Thursday evening parties were, as far as I am concerned, the germ from which sprang all that has since come to be called—in newspapers, in novels, in Germany, in France—even, I daresay, in Turkey and Timbuktu,--by the name of Bloomsbury. They deserve to be recorded and described. Yet how difficult—how impossible. Talk—even the talk which had such tremendous results upon the lives and characters of the two Miss Stephens—even talk of this interest and importance is as elusive as smoke. It flies up the chimney and is gone." (186-87)

"From such discussions Vanessa and I got probably much the same pleasure that undergraduates get when they meet friends of their own for the first time. In the world of the Booths and the Maxses we were not asked to use our brains much. Here we used nothing else. . . . The young men I have named had no ‘manners’ in the Hyde Park Gate sense. They criticised our arguments as severely as their own. They never seemed to notice how we were dressed or if we were nice looking or not. All that tremendous encumbrance of appearance and behaviour which George [Duckworth] had piled upon our first years vanished completely." (190-91)

Post-War Bloomsbury ("Chapter Two")

"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. . . . [Before the war] when all intellectual questions had been debated so freely, sex was ignored. Now a flood of light poured in upon that department too. We had known everything but we had never talked. Now we talked of nothing else. . . .

So there was now nothing that one could not say, nothing that one could not do, at 46 Gordon Square. It was, I think, a great advance in civilisation." (195-96)

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