British and Irish Literature Bloomsbury Group
by
Derek Ryan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0185

Introduction

While there was no official “membership” of Bloomsbury and debate continues over whether it is best described as a group, set, coterie, or clique, most scholars agree that its core figures included Clive Bell, Vanessa Bell, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, Maynard Keynes, Desmond McCarthy, Molly McCarthy, Lytton Strachey, Adrian Stephen, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Leonard Woolf, and Virginia Woolf. Its origins are generally considered to be twofold: the Cambridge Apostles, or Conversazione Society, which counted many future Bloomsbury figures as members; and their meetings with the Stephen sisters, Vanessa and Virginia, in legendary Thursday evening gatherings initiated by Thoby Stephen. In the period between 1904 and 1914, known as “Old Bloomsbury,” these friends and their associates congregated at 46 Gordon Square, 29 Fitzroy Square, and 38 Brunswick Square. This period also saw the notorious 1910 Dreadnought hoax, in which Adrian, Virginia, and Duncan Grant were among a small group who dressed up as Abyssinian royals and gained entry to what was at the time the world’s largest and most powerful warship. The end of that year saw the first of two Post-Impressionist exhibitions organized by Roger Fry at the Grafton Galleries in London, which introduced the English public to the art of Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso among others, while in 1913 Fry, Grant, and Bell opened the Omega Workshops that would design furniture, ceramics, and textiles up to the end of the decade. During and after the war, many of the group remained close, even as they moved between Bloomsbury, Richmond (where the Woolfs lived between 1915 and 1924 and set up the Hogarth Press in 1917), and Sussex (where Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved into Charleston Farmhouse in 1916, and where the Woolfs set up a home at Monk’s House, Rodmell, from 1919). In the interwar period, a new generation of intellectuals and artists became involved with the group, including music critic and novelist Edward (“Eddy”) Sackville-West, sculptor Stephen “Tommy” Tomlin, psychoanalyst Alix Strachey, who with her husband James Strachey would go on to translate The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth Press, 1953–1974), and poet and editor John Lehmann, who worked at the Hogarth Press from 1931 and was managing director between 1938 and 1946. The term “Bloomsbury” is now understood to encompass not only the district of London in which various members lived, but a certain artistic, intellectual, social, and political outlook that was shared, albeit often loosely, by these figures. Their contributions to British culture cross disciplines, including painting, decorative arts, economics, political theory, and literature (the main focus of this bibliography). Scholarship has often been divided between long-standing views of Bloomsbury as gatekeepers of high culture and more radical proponents and practitioners of experimental aesthetics and unconventional lifestyles. Much recent criticism has taken a balanced approach to their critiques of imperialism and complacencies of class, while they are increasingly situated not in a narrowly British context but as part of transnational networks of modernism and the avant-garde (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article Modernism). Though necessarily selective and mostly concerned with the group’s literary output, this bibliography is intended to indicate the key developments in Bloomsbury’s reception since the end of the Second World War that led to them becoming the celebrated group that they are today.

General Overviews

Bloomsbury’s reputation suffered in the decades immediately following the Second World War as a result of stinging criticisms, traces of which are still detectable in their public image. Numerous commentators attached the label of elitism to a group they viewed as a clique. The earliest critical work in the 1950s and 1960s sought to defend Bloomsbury from this criticism, though the fact that some of this renewed interest was fueled by insiders such as Vanessa and Clive Bell’s son, Quentin Bell, only reinforced the sense of Bloomsbury as self-congratulatory. Subsequent work has tried to steer the discussion toward the work they produced, considering not only the relationships between various members but also how their activities and careers reached outside of their circle. There are many fine introductory or general studies of Bloomsbury’s two most widely read writers, Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster, including The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf (2nd edition, 2010), edited by Susan Sellers, and The Cambridge Companion to E. M. Forster (2007), edited by David Bradshaw. Both contain informative chapters specifically on Bloomsbury, by Andrew McNeillie and David Medalie, respectively. This selection, however, focuses on extended studies of the group that are inclusive of its many key figures.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Article

Up

Down