Gerald Brenan – Diaries and Journals 1925-1932

gerald-brenanFound amongst the papers of the late distinguished bookseller and publisher Joan Stevens this cutting from a catalogue. It appears to be dated in 1976, bookseller not named but it does not sound like Joan. Gerald Brenan was still alive and his reputation well established, but it has subsequently grown, especially through his strong Spanish connections and the price looks very reasonable indeed. It was probably bought by, or sold on to, the University of Texas who seem to have most of his papers. They are unpublished but were used by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy in his 1992 biography The Interior Castle: a Life of Gerald Brenan. As a dedicated Powysite Joan Stevens would have been interested in Brenan’s connection to Gamel Woolsey who had a passionate and painful affair with Llewellyn Powys. Gathorne-Hardy notes that, with typical Bloomsbury disdain, both Carrington and Lytton Strachey regarded her as a ‘bore.’ The part of Brenan was played by Samuel West in the 1995 movie Carrington.

307. Gerald Brenan’s Diaries and Journals, 1925-1932

Typescript, with manuscript corrections and additions. Two volumes, 239pp, 4to.

A document of both literary merit and literary significance. The majority of Brenan’s diary is devoted to the record of his long affair with the painter Dora Carrington. Although chronicled elsewhere (David Garnett’s “Carrington, Letters and Extracts from her Diary” 1970), Brenan’s own version of the frustration and anguish culminating in the inevitable ending of their relationship makes a fascinating counterpoint to the version found in Carrington’s letters to him, as edited by their mutual friend Garnett. Continue reading

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Harold Nicholson and Desmond McCarthy—the terrible twosome

Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough, but the only photos I’ve seen that feature Harold and Desmond have also included other Bloomsberries, notably Vita Sackville West. I’m not a fan of Bloomsbury and could only bear to watch ten minutes of one episode of the current TV drama, Living in Squares, but I don’t think either man was part of the Virginia 'n Duncan inner circle, as it were, and I don’t think the two were great friends. But there must be some reason why they were snapped together. Perhaps it was another bookfest organised by the Times or Sunday Times, as was the case with the Read and Spender press photo. This one, from the Graphic Photo Union,  bears identifications in pencil on the reverse . Desmond died in 1952, aged 75, a year after being knighted for services to the critical essay and the amusing anecdote, so the photo was probably taken around the mid 1930s.

Some of the most entertaining and scathing remarks on MacCarthy and Nicholson can be found in Virginia Woolf’s published Diaries. I have the volume for 1931 – 36. Here, for instance, are her views on Desmond:

Thursday, 3rd September 1931
‘…Oh, I was annoyed at Desmond’s usual sneer at Mrs Dalloway---woolgathering. I was inspired to make up several phrases about Desmond’s own processes, none of which, I suppose, will ever be fired off in print. His worldliness, urbanity, decorum as a writer; his soft supple ways. His audience of teaparty ladies & gentlemen. His timidity. How he wraps everything in flannel…His perpetual condescension.His now permanent stoop in the back. His aloofness---in the bad sense. I mean, he never takes a nettle by the leaves: always wears gloves…’

And Nicholson:

August 12, 1934
‘…Vita thinks Harold is getting soft & domestic, because he talks of grandchildren & wants to have a butler to brush his clothes & a spare room…’

[R.M.]
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Hope Mirrlees ‘Paris’ 1919

Hope Mirrlees. Paris. (Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, Richmond 1919-1920)

The rediscovery of the Scottish writer Hope Mirrlees (1887 – 1978) may be principally due to the merits of her one masterpiece, the long poem Paris, which the Woolfs published in 1920. Only 175 copies of the 600 line poem were produced, which means that it now belongs with Pound’s early privately printed work as a true rara avis of modernism. In 2011 a dealer had a superb copy for $8,000 which has now sold. Predictably, critics today use the modish term 'psychogeographical' to describe the poem, which is a daring, impressionistic tour in French and English through the French capital and has been described as the 'missing link between French avant-garde poetry and The Waste Land.' The stylistic parallels are obvious, and the influences of Pound and other Imagists, are noticeable too:-

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The Air of Bloomsbury 3

The last part of an article found in a Times Literary Supplement from 1954 - a very lengthy anonymous review of J.K. Johnstone's The Bloomsbury Group. This part is good on on their attitude to mysticism (see Cambridge conviction). At the time there was still a debate as to whether the Bloomsbury Set actually existed. In Clive Bell's slightly irascible article in Century in February 1954 What was 'Bloomsbury'? he continually asks whether it actually existed - as far as he could see it was just 'a dozen friends..between 1904 and 1914 (who) saw a great deal of each other...' He names these '...the surviving members of the Midnight Society -Thoby Stephen (died in the late autumn of 1906) Leonard Woolf...Lytton Strachey (who actually lived in Hampstead) Saxon Sydney-Turner, Clive Bell. There were the two ladies. Add to these Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, Maynard Keynes, H.T.J.Norton and perhaps Gerald Shove...certainly Desmond and Molly MacCarthy and Morgan Forster were close and affectionate friends but I doubt whether any of them has yet been branded with the fatal name..' Bell refers to these as the 'old gang' and names a few younger candidates: David Garnett, Francis Birrell, Raymond Mortimer, Stephen Tomlin, Ralph Partridge , Stephen Sprott, F.L. Lucas and Frances Marshall ((later Mrs Ralph Partridge). This review is anonymous but is certainly by someone who knew his (or her) stuff.

Yet as temperaments appear to run in families they retained a passionate individualist faith, though without obligations. 'We were,' says Maynard Keynes, 'in the strict sense of the word immoralists, we recognized no moral obligations on us, no inner sanction to conform or to obey.' It was this rejection of tradition, combined with 'comprehensive irreverence,' which made them suspect to the outer world. lt was 'I think a justifiable suspicion,' he says, and proceeds with admirable candour, wit and yet loyalty to show that there was something both brittle and far too narrow in their early views, and perhaps dubious about their later lives, when 'concentration on moments of union between a pair of lovers got thoroughly mixed up with the once rejected pleasure.'

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The Air of Bloomsbury 2

The second part of an illuminating article found in a Times Literary Supplement from 1954 - a very lengthy anonymous review of J.K. Johnstone's The Bloomsbury Group. This part is good on the religious philosophy of the group and what gave them such strength and separateness. As the author says they enjoyed "..supreme self-confidence, superiority and contempt towards all the rest of the unconverted world." The Maharishi to the set was G.E. Moore and his Principia Ethica is still much in demand.

THE AIR OF BLOOMSBURY

…still they were hardly a group, Mr. Bell maintains. Yes, they met often and were intimate friends. Yes, they did like each other; also they shared a taste for discussion in pursuit of truth and a contempt for conventional ways of thinking and feeling. But, he asks, is there anything specific in this? Could not as much be said of many collections of young people in many ages? Here Virginia Woolf seems to chime in with him. ln Jacob's Room there is a tenderly mocking glimpse of her hero as he sits reading in the British Museum. And Jacob surely suggests an early Bloomsbury figure ? Indeed, from the fleeting touches which convey so well the effect of his presence, those who can remember her brother Thoby,and a certain hewn grandeur in his appearance, are tempted to read him back into Jacob, thus giving Jacob an independent existence, which her characters rarely possess in their own right. "Life on the page," says Mr. Forster, she could always give her characters, "but rarely life eternal..She could seldom so portray a character that it was remembered afterwards on its own account as Emma is remembered for instance ... "

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The Air of Bloomsbury

Virginia Woolf &
Clive Bell 1909

Found in a Times Literary Supplement from 1954 this anonymous review of J.K. Johnstone's The Bloomsbury Group. Clive Bell did not agree with much of the information or opinions in this article and wrote a letter to the editor in response, which appeared a week later. Oddly he wrote later that the review "is by far the most intelligent and penetrating piece that has been written on the subject." It is obviously by someone very familiar with the group. The Bloomsbury industry did not start in earnest until 1967, the year of love, with Michael Holroyd's monumental biography of Lytton Strachey. Interesting to note that Maynard Keynes was very slightly looked down on by the set - possibly this is something Bell addresses in his letter.

THE AIR OF BLOOMSBURY

Mr. Johstone's The Bloomsbury Group is a respect-worthy book. lt often shows imaginative insight, and always long and sincere thought. Sometimes we detect a faint aroma of what Mr. Forster calls pseudo-scholarship, but this might well have been far stronger and more frequent, considering that his study of the Bloomsbury Group, as he calls it, was first conceived as a Ph.D. thesis. A pseudo-scholar, Mr. Forster explain (adding endearingly that this is what most of us are) is one who moves around books and not through them. “Books have to be read," he adds, characteristically,"worse luck for it takes a long time; a few savage tribes eat them, but reading is the only method of assimilation revealed lo the west. The reader must sit down alone and  struggle with the writer. . . ." And this Mr. John- stone has done faithfully and well, almost throughout. His book is mainly a study of the three Bloomsbury writers, Lytton Strachey, the biographer, and the two novelists, Virginia Woolf and Mr. E. M. Forster... [the reader]will surely find that Mr.J increases his insight  into their art, and their unobtrusive mastery of pattern and design. Indeed Virginia Woolf, he shows, invented almost a new novel form to express her "experience of  living,"...

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