A group of artists, creatives, who left their privileged, ‘classically British’ upbringing and high-class society to live together at Charleston in East Sussex. Their modernist home became a studio, gathering many of the early 20th century’s most radical authors, thinkers, painters, and artists, many of whom were queer women and men who lived and worked to redefine society and ‘normality’ that was rapidly changing in the inter-war years. Their personal relationships were private, public, scrutinised, gossiped about, and cheered from all angles and today they are among the many important figures in LGBT history.
I am a historian passionate about shedding light on little-known stories, female history, domestic life (the good, the mundane and the areas rarely considered important), art, design, culture, love, gossip and a little sex and scandal all mixed together. The Bloomsbury Group bring together many of these areas, while look at them from a wide gaze, I hope to share a brief overview of why these people “lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles”, as American Poet Dorothy Parker, from the Rothschild family, describe the group as. Dorothy also wrote the original script for ‘A Star is Born’ (1937), which has been re-made 4 times!
Today the group of men and women is admired as change-makers. The Bloomsbury Group was a bunch of friends, though really, they are a collective of some of the most gifted and talented people of the early 20th century in Britain. Among their creative, literary, and academic ideas and values, they collected in their mutual liberalism and ideals for love, sex, relationships, and friendships. They supported young, up-and-coming artists and left a legacy of 30 years.
This article, I’m aware, reads like a gossip column of who was with who, who liked who, who kissed who etc. though I hope to show that a century ago people loved who they wanted regardless of the law, and as with now, anyone and everyone should be able to love who they love, be friends with who they want, have fun with their group. As long as you’re safe, happy and consenting mutually, you do not need anyone else’s approval or opinions about what you do either side of a closed door. Numbers and names come and go, or grow, and that is alright. As with privacy today, I’ve kept to names that are known and tried not to allude to any acts or actions that are not needed to know or factually known. Whatever age you are and whoever you love, it is your own choice to share intimate information about you, especially when it comes to matters of the heart, mind and soul.
Among the Bloomsbury Group were two iconic sisters – Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. You may know Virginia Woolf for her literary achievements including her infamous novel Orlando published in 1928. Orlando is seen as a slight biography of Woolf’s life and the family of friend and lover Vita Sackville-West.
*Spoiler* Orlando is essentially a history book about the aristocracy in England, yet as a novel, it is satirical, with Orlando (the main character) living for centuries, changing genders externally from male to female. They meet a variety of famous characters including King Charles II and Alexander Pope and the novel ends in an interestingly abrupt way, into Virigina’s lifetime. *If you haven’t read it yet, it has been published nearly 100 years, so get reading!!
In 1917, Vita escaped to Europe for two years with a lover Violet Trefusis, causing gossip and scandal in high society. In 1922, Vita and Virginia met, and it’s said Vita was attracted to Virginia’s genius, leading to the very passionate and actively sexual relationship.