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Although pacifist in outlook, Bloomsbury harbored no politically activist impulses of the kind that animated the contemporaneous Fabians and that might have given their self-confident advocacy of bisexuality resonance beyond the self-preening confines of Gordon Square. Although Leonard Woolf was a socialist and Virginia's Three Guineas became a landmark of feminist thought, Bloomsbury was too remorselessly and independently skeptical to embrace a "homosexual cause"--or, for that matter, any cause.

The group's intellectual affiliations partly stemmed from the philosopher G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica, an influential text for the youthful Strachey, Bell, Forster, and Keynes as students at Cambridge. In a passage that could have constituted Bloomsbury's credo, Moore asserted that "by far the most valuable things which we can know or imagine" are "certain states of consciousness, which may be roughly described as the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects."

The Fabian thinker Beatrice Webb called Moore's book "a metaphysical justification for doing what you like and what other people disapprove of." Webb's criticism suggests the fissures between the activism of Fabian socialism and the hedonism of Bloomsbury philosophy, suggesting, too, why Bloomsbury retains the reputation of a largely apolitical Edwardian idyll.

With the exception of Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury was more anti-Victorian than pro-modernist, its followers more the heirs to Paterian aestheticism than participants in the unfolding modernist awakening inspired by Joyce, Lawrence, Eliot, and Stein. Moreover, Bloomsbury grew to distrust any hint of sincerity or philosophical utilitarianism. "Were all truths equally good to pursue and contemplate?" asked Keynes in his recollection of Bloomsbury before the Memoir Club. "We were disposed to repudiate very strongly the idea that useful knowledge could be preferable to useless knowledge."

Enemies of Bloomsbury usually cast it as a site of homosexual self-indulgence and self-preening snobbery. The writer Wyndham Lewis called Duncan Grant "A little fairy-like individual who would have received no attention in any country except England." D. H. Lawrence, who inserted a portrait of Duncan into Lady Chatterley's Lover as a "dark-skinned taciturn Hamlet of a fellow," complained that Bloomsbury members "talk endlessly, but endlessly--and never, never a good thing said. They are cased each in a hard little shell of his own and out of this they talk words."

Taking an instant dislike to David Garnett's friend, the emphatically homosexual Francis Birrell, Lawrence wrote to Garnett, "You must leave these friends, these beetles, Birrell and Duncan Grant are done forever."

Lawrence's own insecurities as a working-class artist with homosexual inclinations, a graduate of Nottingham University and not Cambridge, undoubtedly fed his disgust. Bloomsbury paid him and other critics little mind, however. Garnett would later take Grant as a lover, and, in an astonishing development, Vanessa Bell's and Grant's out-of-wedlock child, Angelica, became at age twenty-three Garnett's wife.

Perhaps the most devastating critique of Bloomsbury came from Angelica Garnett. In 1984, she published a memoir, Deceived with Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood, in which she detailed her shock at discovering as an adult the identity of her real father and her realization that her husband had been her father's lover. The book's note of mournful betrayal in the face of what Garnett termed Bloomsbury's "precarious paradise" of damaging ambiguities provided a sobering coda to what had become a much-burnished myth of 46 Gordon Square.

A sun-dappled Brook Farm for bisexual transcendentalists, Bloomsbury stands as an alluring if rarefied instance in the history of personal relations.

Richard Kaye

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literature >> Overview:  Aestheticism

A theory of art and an approach to living that influenced many European and American gay male and lesbian writers at the turn of the twentieth century, aestheticism stressed the independence of art from all moral and social conditions and judgments.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cambridge Apostles

The Cambridge Apostles, founded in 1820 as a secret society at Cambridge University, is significant for the glbtq cultural legacy because it fostered frank discussions of homosexuality, promoted Platonic love, and helped establish Bloomsbury.

literature >> Overview:  Camp

Combining elements of incongruity, theatricality, and exaggeration, camp is a form of humor that helps homosexuals cope with a hostile environment.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Twentieth-Century

Homosexuality, both male and female, has a rich, divergent, and increasingly open expression in the literature of the twentieth century.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Kingdom I: The Middle Ages through the Nineteenth Century

The United Kingdom has a rich and vibrant legacy of queer cultural expression despite a long history of severe legal sanctions against male-male sexual acts and other manifestations of sexual and gender deviance.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present

Twentieth-century efforts to reform British law and public opinions about homosexuality met with mixed results, but at the beginning of the twenty-first century the United Kingdom has emerged as a leader in recognizing the rights of its glbtq citizens.

arts >> Carrington, Dora

English painter, designer, and decorative artist Dora Carrington is best known for her long relationship with gay writer Lytton Strachey, but she had affairs with both men and women, and her work has recently gained recognition.

literature >> Dickinson, Goldsworthy Lowes

Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, a Cambridge classicist and friend of E. M. Forster, is significant for the glbtq legacy as the author of an immensely popular book on ancient Greece and a posthumously published, surprisingly frank autobiography.

literature >> Eliot, T[homas] S[tearns]

Although Eliot tried to suppress the fact, The Waste Land is an elegy for a young Frenchman whom he met and loved in Paris and who died in the Great War in 1915.

literature >> Forster, E. M.

One of the finest English novelists of the twentieth century and a tireless defender of humane values, Forster deserves a special place in the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

arts >> Grant, Duncan

One of the major British artists of the twentieth century, Duncan Grant was also the sexual catalyst of the Bloomsbury Circle.

social sciences >> Keynes, John Maynard

The thought of John Maynard Keynes, the most influential economist of the twentieth century, was influenced by his experience as a homosexual.

literature >> Lawrence, D. H.

For his time, D. H. Lawrence was a maverick in his open and adventurous discussion of all sexual issues and especially homosexuality, both male and female.

literature >> Lehmann, John

One of the most distinguished and discerning British men of letters of the mid-twentieth century, John Lehmann is best known as an editor and publisher.

social sciences >> Nightingale, Florence

Famous as the mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale was a tough reformer who fought for her right to a career and an individual identity in the stifling atmosphere of Victorian England.

literature >> Plato

Among Greek writers on homosexual themes, Plato is preeminent not only as a major philosopher but also as the greatest master of Greek prose.

literature >> Sackville-West, Vita

Best known for her relationship with Virginia Woolf and for her scandalous love affairs, Vita Sackville-West was a prolific author of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

literature >> Stein, Gertrude

In addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

literature >> Strachey, Lytton

The English biographer and essayist Lytton Strachey spoke openly of his homosexuality to his Bloomsbury friends, but his openly gay works were published only after his death.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.

literature >> Woolf, Virginia

Passionate friendships with women were essential to the life and work of novelist Virginia Woolf.


Bell, Quentin. Virginia Woolf. 2 vols. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968, 1972.

Edel, Leon. Bloomsbury: A House of Lions. New York: Lippincott, 1979.

Gadd, David. The Loving Friends: A Portrait of Bloomsbury. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974.

Garnett, Angelica. Deceived with Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.

Holroyd, Michael. Lytton Strachey: A Biography. New York: Penguin, 1971.

Rosenbaum, S. P., ed. The Bloomsbury Group: A Collection of Memoirs, Commentary and Criticism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975.

Skidelsky, Robert. John Maynard Keynes: Volume I, Hopes Betrayed, 1883-1920. New York: Penguin, 1986.

_____. John Maynard Keynes: Volume II, The Economist as Saviour, 1920-1937. New York: Penguin, 1994.

Stansky, Peter. On or About December 1910: Early Bloomsbury and Its Intimate World. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kaye, Richard  
    Entry Title: Bloomsbury  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 10, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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