On or about December 1910 human character changed, Virginia Woolf remarked, and well she might have. The company she kept, the Bloomsbury circle, took shape before the coming of World War I, and would have a lasting impact on English society and culture after the war. This book captures the dazzling world of Bloomsbury at the end of an era, and on the eve of modernism.
Peter Stansky depicts the vanguard of a rising generation seizing its moment. He shows us Woolf in that fateful year, in the midst of an emotional breakdown, reaching a turning point with her first novel, The Voyage Out, and E. M. Forster, already a success, offering Howards End and acknowledging his passion for another man. Here are Roger Fry, prominent art critic and connoisseur, remaking tradition with the epochal exhibition “Manet and the Post-Impressionists”; Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant beginning their most interesting phase as artists; Lytton Strachey signing the contract for his first book; and John Maynard Keynes entering a significant new stage in his illustrious career.
Amid the glittering opulence and dismal poverty, the swirl of Suffragists, anarchists, agitators, and organizers, Stansky—drawing upon his historical and literary skills—brings the intimate world of the Bloomsbury group to life. Their lives, relationships, writings, and ideas entwine, casting one member after another in sharp relief. Even their Dreadnought Hoax, a trick played on the sacred institution of the navy, reveals their boldness and esprit. The picture Stansky presents, with all its drama and detail, encompasses the conflicts and sureties of a changing world of politics, aesthetics, and character.
Peter Stansky makes a strong case for 1910 as a galvanizing year in which this promising but largely unknown group of friends established a decisive public identity. With a wealth of detail, Stansky fleshes out what he considers the crucial events of their year—the Dreadnought Hoax, the legendary First Post-Impressionist Exhibition and the appearance of E. M. Forster’s next-to-last novel, Howards End… Although On or About 1910 covers a period of Bloomsbury that many other writers have explored, Stansky skips the usual panoply of anecdotes and offers instead a genuine history, rich in political and social contexts for what might otherwise seem merely youthful high spirits and lukewarm middle-class rebellion. He makes it clear how Bloomsbury could subvert Edwardian materialism from a position of financial security and youthful family connections… With considerable skill, Stansky [also] places Bloomsbury’s artistic and domestic rebellions against the backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement, military buildup and the struggle to limit the power of the House of Lords.
Ably and diversely, [Stansky] shows that 1910 marked as distinct a turning point in Bloomsbury lives as it did in a country lit by Halley’s comet and Strauss’s ‘Elektra’… Peter Stansky’s book is a useful reminder that, for all their folly, members of the Bloomsbury group have serious claims upon posterity. Addictively, infuriatingly so.
The main purpose of this book is at once to introduce the main figures—E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey and John Maynard Keynes, as well as Woolf herself—while setting them, and the general movement of literature and art, in a detailed historical context… The association of Forster’s growing acceptance of his homosexuality with the emergence of more sensuous and violent operas, a new sense of sexual liberation in literature and the arts, along with the reinstatement of Oscar Wilde as a cultural reference, all in that month of December 1910, makes for stimulating reading.
This excellent book gives a gossipy glimpse of England when, in 1910, it tottered belatedly into the twentieth century… Curious times, but then, Bloomsbury was a curious world whose aesthetes dipped more readily into each others’ bodies than their fledgling quills to ink.
This is a work of scholarship that highlights the very beginnings of a group of highly individual, talented and far-sighted people… It is clear, succinct without convolutions and entertaining.
Woolf’s much-quoted observation that ‘on or about December 1910 human character changed’ provides the organizing principle of this imaginative cultural study. Stansky charts the complex personal relations of early Bloomsbury… [P]atterns do emerge that give point to Woolf’s sound bite about 1910 and should engage the general reader, reward advanced students, and enlighten even dyed-in-the-Woolf scholars.
[Stansky] brings together the many strands of personal, literary, social, and artistic history that were to form the core of the modernist movement. Although much of this information can be gleaned from the individual biographies, this intense focus on a single, eventful year, rather than on the personalities, is quite successful. Stansky is able to give a vivid and immediate understanding of an era important to students of 20th-century culture.
Did England stagger into modernity in 1910? Few better to consider the question than Peter Stansky, a veteran connoisseur of the group.
- 300 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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