Bloomsbury Group Inspires Literary Tourism in Britain

at Charleston
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

Edinburgh, Scotland: Best Reason to Go

Edinburgh Castle

News Editor

Theodore Koumelis has been keeping up with some statistics. In Travel Daily News, he tells us that each year, Great Britain welcomes to her shores 765,000 people. They visit film locations, hunt down the spot where their favorite music video was filmed, absorb the ambiance of a famous writer’s home, or find the scenic inspiration for some novel they’ve read. Koumelis is the founder and managing editor of TravelDailyNews International, which aspires to be always the most informative source in international tourism. In “2009 could be the year of literary tourism” he gives examples of what literary tourists are looking for:

The year witnesses the National Trust opening of Agatha Christie’s house, Greenway in Devon, where she lived as Mrs Malowan from 1936 to 1959…..A new film written and directed by The Piano’s Jane Campion, Bright Star, explores the three-year romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, cut short by Keats’ untimely death at 25.

edinburgh window

Koumelis mentions Edinburgh, Scotland, but does not mention what we see as the primary reason to go there (aside from ancestor-hunting, of course.) Edinburgh is where Ian Rankin’s detective stories are set. In the United Kingdom, one out of every ten crime books sold is written by Rankin. Not that numbers in themselves mean much, but these are really, really good detective stories with outstandingly well-drawn characters. There are also descriptions of Scotland that, for some perverse reason, some of us find alluring. (That picture at the top is Edinburgh Castle.)

In other Scottish literary travel news, Kaiya Marjoribanks reports in the Stirling Observer that next year, 2010, will be momentous in Trossachs. This is the area featured in the well-known poem “The Lady of the Lake,” by Sir Walter Scott. The lake in question is Loch Katrine. “Romantic tourism” is another name for the impulse that draws visitors to such places. It’s all about sharing cultural heritage, and we’re all for it.

Edinburgh photo courtesy of Jordan S Hatcher , used under this Creative Commons license; Edinburgh Window photo courtesy of Leithcote , used under this Creative Commons license

Beer and Cider, France Has Both


News Editor

Today’s visiting expert is Caroline Morton, who is in charge of the UK branch of the Food and Drink Department of France. In a piece called “French Trade Commission to showcase Beer and Cider from across the Channel,” Morton tells us that on July 2, 2009, her department will host a beer and cider tasting event in London. Convivial gatherings of this type often foster international understanding and accord, as well as the opportunity to set out some proud facts, such as the ones Morton cites here:

In 2007, France produced 15.1 million hectolitres of beer, of which 1.8 million were exported. Beer is produced in many regions of France, from Corsica to the Alps. French cider, on the other hand, is mainly produced in the west and north-west of France. In 2007, France exported 266,726 hectolitres of cider, of which 67,733 were sold in the United Kingdom.

How’s that for cooperation between two nations so long and so frequently at war over the centuries?

One of the trade show exhibitors, Brasserie du Mont Blanc, makes beer from Mont Blanc glacier meltwater. Another beer exhibitor is Brasserie Pietra, which creates a specialty beer tinctured with fragrant herbs from the wild vegetation called maquis that covers the Corsican highlands. Another of this brewer’s specialties is one understandably called Pietra, which is made with chestnuts along with malts and hops, but no chemicals. The chestnuts come from Corsica’s Castagniccia Forest, a beautiful place in an island full of beautiful places.

In the Columbia Basin Herald (Washington State, USA), staff writer Matthew Weaver tells us about an entrepreneur who makes dried and roasted chestnut chips available to home brewers through the mail. It’s not only that chestnut beer is considered delicious by its many fans. There’s a great social benefit in action here. In the United States today, one out of every 133 people is gluten-intolerant, and that is a real miserable condition to have. Chestnut beer can be enjoyed by the gluten-intolerant, and for that discovery, we have Corsica to thank.

By strange coincidence, Corsica is a place for which Kevin nourishes a very great fondness, as demonstrated by that region’s near-ubiquity in the pages of The Third Tower Up from the Road. He tells us of a town near his home in France, where a shop called l’Epicerie de Longeuil is “the store Ali Baba would have founded if he had been a grocer.” It’s an old family business and, although the French as a rule abhor root beer, this store carries it. He also reveals in the book that he doesn’t particularly like Corsican chestnut beer.

France makes a lot of good cider, too.

Sagres photo courtesy of *madalena-pestana* – half of me , used under this Creative Commons license

Glass photo courtesy of russelljsmith , used under this Creative Commons license