Tag Archives: England

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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Great British Butterfly Hunt

black swallowtail

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

“The butterfly only visible at 1500 ft.” Now, there’s a headline to make a person sit up and say, “Huh?” This butterfly can only be seen from a spy satellite? A balloon? A plane? What goes up so high, anyway? But that isn’t what Michael McCarthy means. He means, you have to climb up a mountain to spot this creature. As he tells us in The Independent,

The mountain ringlet is our one true montane or Alpine butterfly, for it is restricted to mountainsides in the Lake District and in the Scottish Highlands…We were fortunate in that we had a series of precise grid references where mountain ringlets had been seen in the past, and we based our search on them.

Mountain ringlets are hard to find, because they pretty much blend in with the foliage, especially if the weather is overcast. No sun, no mountain ringlets. During their climb, McCarthy and his companions saw other kinds of butterflies, and some very nice birds.

Finally, there was one mountain ringlet, and then others. The butterfly’s brown wings are decorated with orange spots, so when the wings are in motion, there’s a blurring effect. McCarthy describes it as “a little whirring ball of black with an orange halo around it.” The team returned with the impression that these particular butterflies are doing pretty well, and are not in danger.

Not surprisingly, it’s all part of a larger mission: The Independent‘s Great British Butterfly Hunt. As a very specialized type of travel writer, McCarthy set out to track all the species of butterfly in Britain, of which there are 58, and clap eyes on each and every one of them, in the space of one summer. He’s been keeping readers posted with regular reports, like this one on the swallowtail, which is one of Britain’s rarest butterflies.

It was a similar butterfly, by strange coincidence, that set Kevin on the travel writing path. In “The Corsican Swallowtail: Corsica, France,” he says:

This was my first attempt at travel writing. It was originally published in Hobart magazine. Ever since writing it, I have kept an eye out for the Corsican Swallowtail whenever I’m in Corsica, but I have yet to see one (I think).

The picture on this page is of a Black Swallowtail. We’d love to see a picture of a Corsican Swallowtail. Any volunteers?

photo courtesy of tlindenbaum , used under this Creative Commons license

Literary Tourism: Jordison Visits Haworth

Haworth Parsonage

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Like many other lovers of English literature before him, Sam Jordison recently made the pilgrimage to West Yorkshire, England, to experience the ambiance of Haworth Parsonage, home of the incomparable Brontë sisters. Unlike many others, though, he has written about the experience for The Guardian‘s Books Blog.

In what Jordison calls “a curious form of literary tourism that seeks to find a concrete source for imaginary locations,” Jordison pokes around in not only the house itself, but the whole surrounding area, looking for traces of the landscape that helped Emily Bronte conjure up her unforgettable characters. He says,

Every other street and building bears their stamp: Heathcliff Mews, The Brontë Bridge, Brontë Cottage B&B…the apothecary where bad brother Branwell bought his laudanum. The Black Bull where he drank away his best years. The school where Charlotte taught. The church where their father preached. And, of course, The Parsonage where they all lived.

The Brontë kids, three girls and a boy, grew up next door to a graveyard, and not some picturesque abandoned one, but a cemetery in everyday use, complete with gaping freshly dug graves, funeral processions, weeping villagers, and polluted ground water. The Parsonage still contains, Jordison reports, such artifacts as paintings made by the doomed genius brother, the tiny little books the sisters crafted as children, and the sofa where Emily died.

Charlotte and Anne wrote some books, sure, but it was Emily who wrote Wuthering Heights, the greatest of all Gothic novels. This tale of demented and deathless love is all the more remarkable for the absence of explicit sex. Its power comes from the psychological nakedness of the characters. Compared to the evocative magic of Emily Brontë’s over-the-top romance, the current bodice-rippers are but a pale shadow.

Wuthering Heights has been filmed several times, with at least two of those movies shot in Haworth, as well as a TV series and a couple of movies about the Brontë family. Strangely, a version of Wuthering Heights, titled Abysmos de Pasion and with the ending changed, was even made by one of the world’s most esteemed directors, Luis Bunuel, during a period he spent in Mexico making B movies under an assumed name.

SOURCE: ” The Brontës are alive and unwell in Haworth ” 06/10/09
photo courtesy of jim.middleton123, used under this Creative Commons license