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Bloomsbury  
 
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The bearded, wiry, and bespectacled Strachey conducted several homosexual love affairs, among them a relationship in the winter of 1905-1906 with his cousin Duncan Grant. Grant's sexual charisma was famously overwhelming. "Anyone could fall in love with Duncan if he wanted to," noted Keynes. (A common quip had it that Bloomsbury could be defined as a congeries of men and women in love with Grant.) "I have fallen in love hopelessly and ultimately," Strachey wrote to Clive Bell after beginning his affair with Grant. "I have experienced too much ecstasy." Soon, however, the affair fizzled, for not only was Grant distressed by Strachey's unchecked enthusiasm, he had recently begun a relationship with Harold Hobhouse, and subsequently, with John Keynes, a romantic involvement that lasted from 1908 to 1912.

The still-smitten Strachey, meanwhile, continued to correspond with Keynes over his love for Grant. "He's a genius--a colossal portent of fire and glory," gushed Strachey to Keynes of the painter. On learning of Grant's affair with Keynes, Strachey was at first crushed and then attempted, in typical Bloomsbury fashion, to put a cheerful face on what conventional society would have deemed an impossible situation. "If you were here just now I should probably kiss you," he told Keynes, "except that Duncan would be jealous, which would never do!" The friendship between Grant and Keynes endured until Keynes's death in 1946.

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One of Strachey's strongest emotional attachments was to Dora Carrington, who, though aware of his taste in men, idealized Strachey for some seventeen years even as she conducted an affair with the Russian-Jewish émigré painter Mark Gertler. "When one realizes it is there--a part of them [homosexuals] and a small part--it is worthwhile overlooking it for anything bigger and more valuable," she wrote.

On Strachey's death, Carrington committed suicide, claiming she could not survive without her lifelong confidant. The Strachey-Carrington-Gertler triangle served as a defining myth of Bloomsbury's appeal as an enlightened, close-knit enclave open to same-sex amours. Carrington's death and Gertler's subsequent suicide before the World War II lend the affair a pathos that undermines Bloomsbury's reputation as a place of endless light-hearted mischief, much as did Virginia Woolf's suicide shortly after the outbreak of World War II.

Woolf's attenuated affair with Vita Sackville-West, wife of British MP Harold Nicholson, was a notable romantic escapade in Bloomsbury's history. "Am I in love with her?" wondered Woolf in her diary, "But what is love?" Sackville-West wrote to Nicholson, "Oh my dear, what an enchanting person Virginia is! How she weaves magic into life."

An outsider to Bloomsbury, Vita became the inspiration for the heroine of Woolf's novel Orlando (1928), the story of a time-traveler who changes sexes through different historical epochs. Woolf remained giddily taken up with the homosexual antics of her fellow Bloomsburies, a fascination that began as an ingenue's awakening to the preponderance of homosexual males in her circle. "I knew there were buggers in Plato's Greece," Virginia wrote, "but it never occurred to me that there were buggers even now in the Stephen sitting-room in Gordon Square."

To the extent that Woolf held an interest in homosexual literary themes, that interest was subsumed under the novelist's promotion of an "" creative outlook as an escape from suffocating binaries of the masculine and feminine. Other Bloomsburies were similarly absorbed with the subject of androgyny. At Cambridge, Duncan and Vanessa had decorated Keynes's rooms with a series of alternating panels depicting androgynous male and female types.

Equal in stature to Virginia Woolf and Forster, John Maynard Keynes saw enormous fame outside Gordon Square as the inventor of one of the twentieth century's most influential economic theories. Strachey, like other members of the Bloomsbury set, considered Keynes a Bloomsbury anomaly in his insufficiently evolved aesthetic sense. (Virginia complained that Keynes's Economic Consequences of the Peace "goes on influencing the world, although it is lacking in artistic worth," a remark that may have been generated by Keynes's once having suggested to Woolf that she limit her writing to nonfiction.)

Keynes's marriage to the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova in 1925 struck many Bloomsburies as a betrayal of personal allegiances. Yet of all the "Bloomsbuggers," Keynes was the least susceptible to effete malice. In his memoirs, he hazarded that "We [members of Bloomsbury] had no respect for traditional wisdom or the restraint of custom. . . . It did not occur to any of us to respect the extraordinary accomplishment of our predecessors in the ordering of life (as it now seems to me to have been) or the elaborate framework they had devised to protect this order."

Despite the close attention devoted to homosexual affairs by Bloomsbury and its inspired attacks on middle-class morality, its followers contributed few theoretical or creative insights to questions concerning same-sex eros though Forster, who claimed he was not an authentic member of the Bloomsbury set, could write powerfully on homosexual themes.

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