Bloomsbury Group Inspires Literary Tourism in Britain

at Charleston
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Disclaimer: we here at The Blog of Kevin Dolgin have no connection of any kind with the travel entrepreneurs described in this piece by Jeremy Seal in the Telegraph. But what they do is just so cool . Seal, by the way, writes extensively on travel, and his many articles can be found via the search box at the Telegraph as well as in many other publications. In “Sussex: on safari in the South Downs” he tells us about a vacation that is more unique than 99% of the things that are described as unique in this mixed-up old world. Are you ready for this? Okay, Damien the guide shows up with a bag of dead rabbits for dinner. Seal’s story continues:

Our eldest daughter, Anna, who happens to be sporting a fluffy bunny on her T-shirt, takes this in surprisingly good heart. She even maintains a fascination, albeit appalled, as Damien takes a hatchet to Flopsy in preparation for the evening’s pot. “Be sure to remove the scent glands,” he cautions, pulling something pink from the creature’s posterior. “They give a sour taste.” Not something you would learn at your average campsite.

But here’s the thing. The campsite is only a stone’s throw from Charleston, the one place in the world that your blog news editor would go, if she went someplace. Charleston is the old, beautiful farmhouse and grounds where Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant created a home and a way of life fantasized about by artists everywhere. They, Bell’s sister Virginia Woolf, and several others were known as the Bloomsbury Group. (The picture on this page is part of Charleston Pond).

Gerald Brenan was a peripheral member of the Bloomsbury Group. He published several excellent books and is also noteworthy for the tormented, unrequited love he felt for painter Dora Carrington, who preferred instead to spend her life with gay writer Lytton Strachey. This is the kind of dish that keeps scholars so interested in the Bloomsbury Group, by the way. When it came to experimental lifestyles, those folks were off the charts. Helen Anrep, companion of the brilliant writer, artist, and activist Roger Fry, left behind 700 letters when she died, from such luminaries as Virginia Woolf. This collection, expected to net at least £80,000 (around $130,000 USD), is to be auctioned on September 3 by a firm in East Sussex, which is also not very far from the Safari Britain campsite.

By strange coincidence, £80,000 is the identical sum recently paid by an anonymous buyer for a certain bay in Cornwall. This portion of landscape inspired Virginia Woolf’s very significant novel To the Lighthouse. As Ben Hoyle tells us in The Times:

To the Lighthouse is one of the key novels of the 20th century, exploring the potential of a stream-of-consciousness prose style to examine the connections between the physical world and individual memories.

Woolf said that her childhood summers spent at nearby St. Ives were “the best beginning to life conceivable.” The property includes three miles of wild Cornish coastline called Upton Towans beach. Since the new owner is forbidden to build on the land or dig for minerals, perhaps he will commercialize it as a prime literary travel destination.

Anyway, we were talking about Gerald Brenan. When he was 17, he and a friend decided to walk to the Orient. Brenan got himself a knife-grinder’s cart, figuring that everybody needs their knives sharpened, and he could make enough money to pay their way as they went along. The boys crossed the channel and set out from France with a good-sized chunk of hashish and a few books to solace their journey. They were arrested in both Italy and Austria, although not because of the hashish. This was in 1911. The authorities probably didn’t even know what it was. Later in life, Brenan settled in Spain and wrote extensively about his adopted country.

At PressConnects, Luke Z. Fenchel acquaints us with “A Room of Their Own,” a touring exhibit of works by Bloomsbury artists. And meanwhile, The Oxford Times takes a look at “Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19″ which is currently showing in London. This was Roger Fry again. He started the Omega Workshops as a way to help some of his artist friends support their food and shelter habits. But for a real in-depth examination of both those exhibits, one on either side of the Atlantic, we recommend Eve M. Kahn’s great article in The New York Times.

You’re not going to believe this, but a group called Princeton released an EP record, described by Luftmensch at My Old Kentucky Blog:

How’s this for high-concept? Each of Bloomsbury’s four tracks examines a single member of London’s influential and controversial Bloomsbury Group. Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes all get the deluxe treatment here…

This musical ensemble also performed at the recent Virginia Woolf Conference, an annual event that draws scholars and book-lovers from all over the world.

Duncan Grant was an innovator in the combination of music and visual art. Decades before we had animated fractal patterns as screensavers on our computer monitors — about a hundred years ago, in fact — Grant invented a device that was basically a 15-foot-long, thin painting rolled up like a scroll, housed in a box with a viewing window. By grasping the handles on each side and turning them, the colored designs flowed past the window, a moving symphony of color that was meant to be accompanied by music. The Tate Museum eventually acquired the Abstract Kinetic Scroll and Richard Morphet made a film of it in action, accompanied by a piece of music by Bach. Unfortunately, nobody has yet posted this film on YouTube, but Bloomsbury lives on in all sorts of ways.

photo courtesy of Prince Heathen, used under this Creative Commons license

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