The Bloomsbury Group

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)


Five principles of good writing according to George Orwell

Five principles of good writing according to George Orwell:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Peter Watson

On this date in 1943, author Peter Watson was born in Birmingham, England. An intellectual historian and investigative journalist, he was educated at the universities of Durham, London and Rome, later living in the United States. He has written for The Observer, The New York Times, Punch and The Spectator, and is the author of fiction, as well as many books on art history, biography, psychology, and true crime. His books include: The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums (2006, with Cecilia Todeschini), Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud (2005), Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century (2001) (also published as A Terrible Beauty), Sotheby’s: The Inside Story (1998), Landscape of Lies (1989) and The Caravaggio Conspiracy (1984). In Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, Watson seeks a new way to tell the history of the world from prehistory to modern day, asserting that human knowledge is divided into two realms: inward (philosophy and religion) and outward (observation and science). His stance supports the latter. Twins: An Uncanny Relationship? (1982), explores behavior patterns shared by identical twins, “to offer a rational alternative to mumbo jumbo for explaining many of the coincidences reported in twin studies, ” according to a Los Angeles Times review. “A few saints and a little charity don’t make up for all the harm religion has done over the ages,” he has said (CBC News, May 5, 2007).

When asked about the good that religion has done in the world in an interview by The New York Times Magazine (December 11, 2005), Watson replied: “I lead a perfectly healthy, satisfactory life without being religious. And I think more people should try it.” He went on to say, “I do not believe in the inner world. I think that the inner world comes from the exploration of the outer world–reading, traveling, talking. I do not believe that meditation or cogitation leads to wisdom or peace or the truth.” Since 1998, Watson has been a research associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, at the University of Cambridge. He lives in London, England.

“Religion has kept civilization back for hundreds of years, and the biggest mistake in the history of civilization, is ethical monotheism, the concept of the one God. Let’s get rid of it and be rational.”
~ Peter Watson interview, CBC News (May 5, 2007)

Samuel Johnson’s “A Dictionary of the English Language”

Today in 1755 Samuel Johnson’s “A Dictionary of the English Language” was published in London. It was a mammoth undertaking, requiring almost a decade of work and it remained the definitive authority until the Oxford Dictionary was completed nearly two centuries later. It had been deliberately commissioned as pre-existing dictionaries were relatively poor and incomplete. Johnson’s dictionary is a little different from the relatively dry descriptions and meticulously researched etymologies that we are used to today, for example:

Cough: A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity. It is pronounced coff

Excise: a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid

As it was, Johnson’s dictionary was so large and expensive that it cost more to print than Johnson’s entire remuneration on the project and sold at around 200 copies per year for the next three decades. Although it was hardly without flaw or error, it was hugely influential for more than a century.

#SamuelJohnson #Dictionary

Christopher Hitchens

On this date in 1949, writer and columnist Christopher Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England. He attended Cambridge and graduated from Oxford in 1970, reading in philosophy, politics and economics. From 1971-1981 he worked as a book reviewer for The Times. In 1981 he emigrated to the United States. Hitchens wrote “Minority Report,” a column for The Nation, from 1982-2002. He then wrote for Slate, The Daily Mirror, as a contributing editor to The Atlantic Monthly and Vanity Fair, and also wrote for Harpers and many other U.S. newspapers and journals. As a foreign correspondent, he covered events in 60 countries on all five continents. Hitchens wrote a host of books, but is best-known in freethought circles for authoring God Is Not Great (2007). His criticisms of Clinton and pro-Iraqi war views made Hitchens increasingly controversial among progressive readership, but he remained a stalwart atheist and iconoclast. In “Papal Power: John Paul II’s other legacy” (, April 1, 2005), Hitchens pointed out that the pope “was a part of the cover up and obstruction of justice that allowed the child-rape scandal to continue for so long.” Hitchens became a U.S. citizen in 2007. D. 2011.

“Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life—except religion . . . Why are we praised by godly men for surrendering our ‘godly gift’ of reason when we cross their mental thresholds? . . . Atheism strikes me as morally superior, as well as intellectually superior, to religion. Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”

~ Christopher Hitchens, “The Lord and the Intellectuals,” Harper’s (July 1982), cited by James A. Haught in 2,000 Years of Disbelief (1996)