A bad case of group dynamics

ON OR ABOUT DECEMBER 1910: Early Bloomsbury and its Intimate World by Peter Stansky, Harvard pounds 18.50

When Virginia Woolf wrote, in Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown (1924), that "human character changed on or about December 1910", she was, as she hinted a little later in the same paragraph, only half serious. Peter Stansky, the author of the latest study on the Bloomsbury circle, has decided nevertheless to take the comment literally, even tracing what he considers to have been its origins in Woolf's life. By December 1910, she was in the middle of her first novel The Voyage Out, had acquired a country home, and had begun to feel healthier than for some considerable time. "These were good reasons," Stansky comments, apparently without irony, "why Woolf came to the conclusion that it was then that human character changed." Not only in her immediate environment, it seems, but also in the rest of Britain, and for that matter in the rest of Europe as well.

The main purpose of this book is at once to introduce the main figures - E M Forster, Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey and John Maynard Keynes, as well as Woolf herself - while setting them, and the general movement of literature and art, in a detailed historical context. "These were young people," Stansky writes, "not willing automatically to accept the conventions and received opinions of the day."

As far as the history is concerned, Stansky's debt (which is generously acknowledged) is to George Dangerfield's classic The Strange Death of Liberal England, from which he lifts what have come to be seen as the major historical events of 1910: the death of King Edward VII, the appearance in the sky of Halley's Comet, two general elections, increasing calls for votes for women, the London exhibition "Manet and the Post-Impressionists" (organised by Fry), the appearance of Forster's Howards End, as well as the coincidental forming of friendships between the individuals who would go on collectively to embody the Bloomsbury ethos.

Of course, this interweaving of the social, political and artistic events of the pre-war years is not exactly new. At the time of the exhibition, the Daily Herald remarked: "The Post-Impressionists are the company of the Great Rebels of the World. In politics the only movements worth considering are Woman Suffrage and Socialism. They are both Post-Impressionistic in their desire to scrap old decaying forms and find for themselves a new working ideal."

The Dreadnought hoax provides an easy way for Stansky to link the personalities of the Bloomsbury circle with these larger social tensions. HMS Dreadnought was the first in a new class of powerful naval battleship, and there was much popular debate in Britain as to whether significant sums of money should be spent on others like it. It was an issue which had partly caused the first General Election of 1910. Six of the Bloomsbury group, including Grant and Woolf, posed as the Emperor of Abyssinia and his suite and boarded the ship on a mock-official visit. Stansky refuses to view this, as most critics before him have, as simply part of a series of jolly games played out by larking toffs fresh from Cambridge. Indeed, he goes so far as to state that "in their irreverent fashion [they] were striking a blow in February 1910 ... for private values and against war". Leaving aside such dissenting (and largely unconvincing) commentary, and a remark that correctly places the hoax on 7 February (as opposed to 10 February, as is stated in most accounts), Stansky has little to add to what is already widely known about the episode.

The chapter on Forster is the most successful. In December 1910 he took Syed Ross Masood, his first love, to see the London premiere of Richard Strauss's Salome. The association of Forster's growing acceptance of his homosexuality with the emergence of more sensuous and violent operas, a new sense of sexual libera- tion in literature and the arts, along with the reinstatement of Oscar Wilde as a cultural reference, all in that month of December 1910, makes for stimulating reading, and provides Stansky with some much-needed justification for taking Woolf's jocular aside to obsessive, though nevertheless interesting, scholarly extremes.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project