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Book Reviews Quentin Bell Recalls Quentin Bell. Bloomsbury Recalled. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. 234 pp. $25.00. Published as Elders and Betters. London: John Murray, 1995. "FROM AN EARLY age I knew that we were odd," begins Quentin Bell in Bloomsbury Recalled, a loose collection of memoirs of the Bloomsbury group. Marching with what was then considered the avant garde, he proceeds to describe in pocket biographies the group of usually amiable eccentrics—Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, Clive Bell, Ethel Smyth, Ottoline Morrell, Lytton Strachey, Desmond McCarthy— by whom he and his family were surrounded around 1920. Memorable and frivolous scenes are summoned. Maynard Keynes, famous economist in the world of war and politics, is described talking with Mr. Asquith and Mr. Lloyd George, being dropped off at Charleston and hiding a Cézanne in the hedge. Lydia Lopokova, Maynard's wife, walking over the downs is sketched reciting the poetry of T. S. Eliot: "in doing this," reports Quentin, she used to "strip bare to the waist. The late Lord Gage once met her and she, modestly seeking to cover her breasts, pulled up her skirts to her chin. Unfortunately she wore nothing beneath her skirt." E. M. Forster's visit to Monk's House during a cold winter, 1939, when the Woolfs were economizing on fuel is sketched. Forster crouching over the "cozy stove... found it inadequate even when, in his efforts to keep warm, he set his trousers on fire." Then looking at photographs of his mother, Vanessa Bell, taken in 1896, Quentin finds it hard "to imagine that chaste and decorous young lady dancing with such vehemence as to throw off her dress so that she stood up in a crowded room naked to the waist." One can almost see Quentin's clear blue eyes twinkling as he relishes being un-Victorian. The "honesty" or "unkindness" (depending upon your stance) cultivated in Virginia Woolfs Memoir Club fires the next generation as Ottoline Morrell is described as "rather stupid and decidedly dull. It was perhaps a certain incongruity between her outward appearance—which suggests stupendous dramatic possibilities and her banal pronouncements which led to confusion. One judged her, perhaps 181 ELT 40:2 1997 unfairly, as a fraud." Motivated by "genuine feeling" (the motor and justification of behavior in this group), Quentin labels Barbara Bagenal (neé Hiles) as a "hanger on" in her "search for the cultural life." She, one of the "cropheads" along with Alix Seargant-Florence and Dora Carrington (about whom Quentin says little), attended the Slade, and despite her relationship and kindness to Clive (who they generally considered "an intellectual lightweight") at the end of his life, Barbara is disliked. But what is also revealed in this memoir are the self-effacements (and de-facements) of any artistic community. Being of a literary age which respects a "plurality" of views, we suspend judgement as we read any one memoir. Bloomsbury had its silences. Despite the much vaunted "honesty" about the immoralities and infidelities that were involved in their "art," there were still, as Terence Hewett notes in the Voyage Out, "the things people don't say." For certain topics, a finger was laid to the lips: Gerald Duckworth's "inspection" of Woolfs private parts; Clive Bell's flirtation with Virginia Woolf; Julian Bell's "vie amoreuse" with Ling Shu-hua in China; Angelica's paternity. Though accentuating the "oddness" and the different values of Bloomsbury throughout most of this memoir, Quentin defends the family against the research community , notably Louise de Salvo in her account, Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse. In this case, he "normalizes" George Duckworth 's advances: "Gerald, the younger Duckworth boy, inspected Virginia 's private parts when she was about five years old. It was a horrid act, but we may doubt whether he was the first schoolboy to do such a thing." Quentin acknowledges the difficulties of research into sexual abuse and accepts the "blame" for Victorian silences, his own and Vanessa's: Vanessa, the most reliable witness, kept silent, and in fact it was many years after her death that we children knew anything...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 181-184
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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