The Bloomsbury Group was at its peak in the first half of the 20th century and was closely associated with the University of Cambridge and King’s College London for men and women respectively. The group did not have a defining style or a unifying ideology aside from the fact that they all believed in the importance of arts. The work of the group was incredibly influential on modern attitudes towards feminism, sexuality as well as economics, aesthetics, and more.
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Bloomsbury Group Origins
The Bloomsbury Group has its origins in Cambridge University where all but one male member of the group was educated. The vast majority of the group also belonged to the Apostles, an exclusive Cambridge group. At Trinity College, many of the members, including Leonard Woolf and Clive Bell, met and became friends. It was through the growing relationships between the initial members that the group was able to expand and include other artists and writers, like the best-known member of the group, Virginia Woolf. The Bloomsbury Group mostly came from upper-middle-class families and considered itself to be an informal network of like-minded thinkers. They promoted one another’s work and supported one another’s careers.
The name “Bloomsbury” was chosen due to the group’s location in Bloomsbury in central London. The group began meeting there in the home of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. This area is filled with townhouses and garden squares closely associated with the group today. The name was first used in reference to the group in 1912 when several of the visual arts-based members showed their work at the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition.
Bloomsbury Group Characteristics
- Shared philosophy.
- Rejection of bourgeois social rituals.
- Left/liberal stances on politics, including being opposed to militarism and campaigning for women’s suffrage.
- Rejected traditional line between fine and decorative art.
- Rejected realism and materialism.
- All came from wealthy backgrounds.
- Fostered spirit of rebellion against previous generations.
- Desired freedom for their own ideas.
Bloomsbury Group Members
Some of the most important members of the Bloomsbury Group were:
- Clive Bell
- Vanessa Bell
- E.M. Forester
- Roger Fry
- Virginia Woolf
- Leonard Woolf
- Duncan Grant
- Lytton Strachey
- John Maynard Keynes
These men and women were painters, economists, writers, art critics, and journalists. They met in their homes in Bloomsbury, London as well as in retreats in the countryside.
Examples of Bloomsbury Group Literature
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf’s best-known novel, Mrs. Dalloway was published in 1925 and describes the life of a seemingly average, high-society woman, Clarissa Dalloway. The novel describes Mrs. Dalloway preparing for a party she’s going to host and uses Woolf’s famed stream of consciousness style. The story goes forward and back in time allowing Woolf to construct a thought-provoking narration of what Mrs. Dalloway’s life is like. Here are a few lines from the novel:
She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.
These lines come into Mrs. Dalloway’s mind as she’s shopping and takes a moment to look at the buses and cars passing her. These lines allude to some of the major images of the book, like water and light, while also suggesting Clarissa’s loneliness and the prospects of the future.
A Passage to India by E.M. Forester
A Passage to India was published during the later Bloomsbury period and is considered to be an important novel on British imperialism in India. It’s set against the British Rag and the Indian Independence movement of the 1920s. The novel has been selected more than once on lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century. The story follows four characters during a trip to Marabar Caves. Here is a quote:
Were there worlds beyond which they could never touch, or did all that is possible enter their consciousness? They could not tell. . . . Perhaps life is a mystery, not a muddle. . . . Perhaps the hundred Indias which fuss and squabble so tiresomely are one, and the universe they mirror is one. They had not the apparatus for judging.
These lines come from Chapter XXIX and detail the reactions two characters had to Adela’s experiences at Marabar. They demonstrate the impossible task English rationalism has to understand and define what’s occurring in the novel, a direct connection to the broader beliefs of the members of the Bloomsbury Group.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
A Room of One’s Own is a long essay published in 1929 that explores Woolf’s primary assertion that a woman has to have “money and room of her own” if she’s going to “write fiction.” The essay is based around two lectures she gave the previous year and is considered to be an important feminist text that argues for women to be regarded as highly as men in the literary world. Here are a few lines from the essay:
One must strain off what was personal and accidental in all these impressions and so reach the pure fluid, the essential oil of truth.
This line comes from the second chapter of the essay and suggests the narrator’s intentions—finding the essential truth of writing and life and exposing it. It’s only later in the essay that the narrator comes to the conclusion that there is no essential truth that defines the world.
Related Literary Terms
- Lost Generation: a group of writers who came of age during World War I and dealt with the social changes the war brought.
- Beat Generation: a literary movement that began after the Second World War and known for its liberal attitudes towards life.
- Metaphysical Poetry: marked by the use of elaborate figurative languages, original conceits, paradoxes, and philosophical topics.
- Narration: the use of commentary, either written or spoken, to tell a story or “narrative.
- Realism: a literary movement that portrays everyday life exactly how it is.
- Watch: Why Should You Read Virginia Woolf?
- Watch: Leonard Woolf- On the Formation of the Bloomsbury Group and on Virginia Woolf
- Watch: A Passage to India (1965)