Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bloomsbury Recalled by Quentin Bell

Bloomsbury Recalled by Quentin Bell is both a memoir and a collection of essays on some of the remarkable people who were a part of his life.  For those who do not know, the author’s mother is Vanessa Bell, sister of Victoria Woolf.  The two women were the core of the Bloomsbury Group, a gathering of artists and writers who discussed philosophy, politics, and more. 

Bell does a lovely job of conveying the humanity of such icons as E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, Leonard Woolf, and the others who came in and out of his life.  He does not shy away from the more scandalous realities of this remarkable community of peers.  The incest that was hidden is mentioned and not dismissed nor excused.  The homosexuality between men and women, the affairs and open relationships are all mentioned but not in a way that makes them seem remarkable or even unnatural.  Rather, he shares these many details with an accepting candor. 

This makes sense because this is the world into which he was born and raised, one where his mother’s lover lived in his home and his father raised the lover’s daughter as his own.  All of it is told with an easy objectivity even as he shares his own subjective experience.  Blatantly missing is a chapter on Virginia Woolf which makes sense because Bell had already published a biography about his famous aunt.  After reading this book, I very much want to read his biography about Woolf. 

Anyone familiar with the Bloomsbury Group and/or any of its members will be fascinated with reading this book.  Meeting these amazing larger-than-life people through Bell’s evocative memories is a remarkable opportunity to vicariously experience what life was like, for better or worse, within this group of people. An absolute must read for anyone who wants to know more about the group or any of its members. 

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