The Bloomsbury Group was a small, informal association of artists and intellectuals who lived and worked in the Bloomsbury area of central London. Most prominent of these was novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf. In all, only about a dozen people at any one time could have called themselves members of the group. Beginning shortly before 1910, the Bloomsbury Group gathered at irregular intervals for conversation, companionship, and the refueling of creative energy. The members of Bloomsbury, or “Bloomsberries,” would more or less maintain allegiance to their mutual philosophy of an ideal society, even through a World War and three decades of tectonic shifts in the political climate. They had no codified agenda or mission. They were not political in the ordinary sense of the word. Most importantly, there was no application or initiation required to become a member. Bloomsbury was an informal hodgepodge of intellectual friends, and one either merited inclusion to that circle or one did not. No rules of order, as in a committee, governed the way in which Bloomsbury managed their interactions. Instead, they held impromptu dinners and gatherings where any number of topics was the subject of serious discussion and contemplation. These intellectual exchanges served as the main influence on later work by individual members. By no means were all members in full agreement on all subjects. Some of Bloomsbury’s most stimulating ideas and writings were borne out of internal disagreement and strife. One can safely say that each member of Bloomsbury was leftist in his or her politics, although as individuals they expressed their politics in very different ways.
A significant fact about the Bloomsbury Group is that the members, for the most part, did not achieve their greatest fame until later in life. The Group held its discussions and parties while all the participants were still virtually unknown. The men of Bloomsbury were students at King’s College and Trinity College, constituents of Cambridge University. They were almost all high achievers and active in student life, yet one must imagine that they didn’t quite fit in as well as other students. Many of the Bloomsberries held particular ideas on human society which at the time seemed beyond radical. For example, the noncritical assessment of homosexuality, however appropriate today, was considered a serious moral error in the early twentieth century. Indeed, many of the Bloomsberries called into question the idea of traditional monogamous marriage. Several advocated for and practiced polyamory – multiple, consensual romantic partners. The idea of this level of sexual liberation in Edwardian England was unspeakable. In a sense, they made it very easy for their generation to dismiss them as quacks and deviants. However, none could deny that the Bloomsbury Group brought a great deal of intellectual clout to bear on any issue of the day.
The de facto leader of the Bloomsbury Group was Virginia Woolf, born Adeline Virginia Stephen, who descended from an eminently Victorian and moneyed household. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was an accomplished writer, and most certainly a powerful influence on his daughter’s intellectual development. Upon his death in 1904, Woolf and her two brothers, Thoby and Adrian, moved into a dwelling in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, and thus the foundation of the Group was firmly in place. Woolf was a gifted writer from her earliest years. Her essays, such as A Room of One’s Own, are cornerstone pieces in the history of feminist literature. She also wrote extensively on more strictly literary topics, and her theories on fiction have continued to draw the attention of critics. The novel, though, is where Virginia Woolf found her truest and most natural form of expression. Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, showcases the full range of her talents, as well as demonstrating the effervescent stream of consciousness style for which she was famous. Without a doubt, the writings of Sigmund Freud made a profound influence on the artist Virginia Woolf, but she gave her creative outputs a vitality entirely her own. There is poignancy to Woolf’s characterizations that raw psychoanalysis does not achieve.
Members of the Bloomsbury Group:
- Woolf, Virginia (1882-1941)
- Forster, E. M. (1879-1970)
- Strachey, Giles Lytton (1880-1932)
- Bell, Clive (1881-1964)
- Keynes, John Maynard (1883-1946)
- Fry, Roger (1866-1934)
- Grant, Duncan (1885-1978)
- MacCarthy, Desmond (1877-1952)
- Bell, Vanessa Stephen (1879-1961)
- Woolf, Leonard (1880-1969)
- MacCarthy, Mary (1882-1953)
- Stephen, Thoby (1880-1906)
- Stephen, Adrian (1883-1948)
- Carrington, Dora (1893-1932)
- Sydney-Turney, Saxon (1880-1962)