Reading Bloomsbury

Dora Carrington, portrait of Lytton Strachey, 1916

Dora Carrington, portrait of Lytton Strachey, 1916

Dates: Sunday 23 July–Friday 28 July 2017
Venue: Homerton College, Cambridge

Bookings now open.

Reading Bloomsbury will explore some of the literature, art, and ideas developed by a lively group of intellectuals, many with strong Cambridge connections, who lived in Bloomsbury in London from about 1904. The course offers itself as an antidote to some current views of Bloomsbury; we will focus on the work and ideas (rather than the love affairs) of these very interesting people, from whom we can still learn a great deal.

The loose grouping of people around Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster, and others, were serious writers, artists, and thinkers. They were people who engaged seriously with the pressing political and social issues of the day. We will study the intersections as well as the differences between Bloomsbury and Cambridge, focusing on the period from about 1910 to the 1930s. We will explore their thinking on some of the most important issues of the period, such as the First World War and the peace settlements, international relations, the franchise, the problems of an unreliable press, rights for women, freedom from sexual repression, the emergence of fascism.

A number of the Bloomsbury circle were much involved in the Labour Party. How did their political thinking and action intersect (or not) with their aesthetics in literature and art?

Reading Bloomsbury takes place in the week following our first summer course, Woolf's Rooms.

Lectures

Lecture topics, one per day:

• Bloomsbury and Cambridge
• Sexual Politics: Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster and others
• Vanessa Bell and Bloomsbury art
• Virginia Woolf
• Bloomsbury and Politics: Maynard Keynes, Leonard Woolf

 We will also explore some of the historical context, and will undertake 'close readings' in the traditional Cambridge manner. We will study key writings alongside some Bloomsbury visual art. The Bloomsbury course will include some writing by Woolf, but it won't repeat material from the Woolf course. 

Vanessa Bell, Interior with Table, 1921

Vanessa Bell, Interior with Table, 1921

We are delighted to confirm that Frances Spalding will lecture on Bloomsbury and Cambridge. Frances is a leading expert on Bloomsbury art and ideas and is author of several outstanding biographies. Website here.

Other teachers include Alison Hennegan, Claire Nicholson, Claudia Tobin, Peter Jones and Trudi Tate.

There are no pre-requisites, but you will get most out of the course if you do some reading in advance. See preliminary reading list below.


Supervisions

Supervisions last for one hour and take place on four days of the course. Students meet in very small groups (usually 3 students) with a Cambridge supervisor for a detailed discussion of the text of the day. Weather permitting, some supervisions can take place in Homerton's beautiful gardens.

Every day there will be time to spend reading, to reflect upon the work covered so far, and to prepare for the next day's work. A rare chance to immerse yourself in Bloomsbury ideas and writings and to take the time to read and think.


Activities

The course includes an excursion to Bloomsbury in London with expert guide Claudia Tobin, a guided visit to Cambridge colleges with close Bloomsbury links, plus a talk and afternoon tea at the Orchard Tea Room at Grantchester.

Some free time is included in the schedule, so you may want to visit other Cambridge colleges, museums, and Heffers bookshop, or go punting.

Evening activities include talks, readings, and a formal Cambridge college dinner. Some evenings will be free for you to pursue your own interests, or spend time with other participants.


Accommodation and meals

Our students stay in good quality student accommodation in Homerton College, living as Cambridge students do. The main buildings are lovely Victorian gothic, while the bedrooms and bathrooms are comfortably modern, all single and ensuite. The accommodation is a short walk from the lecture room, on the same site.

There is a college café/bar on site to buy light lunches and snacks, and a number of nearby restaurants and cafés, including the award-winning Cambridge Cookery School café just across the road. Or you can venture a bit further into the city centre, to explore a wider variety of culinary options.

Communal meals are an important part of our course. A welcome dinner, a traditional afternoon tea, and a formal college dinner are all included in the course fee.


Suggested preliminary reading:

Vanessa Bell, Portrait of Leonard Woolf, 1940

Vanessa Bell, Portrait of Leonard Woolf, 1940

Victoria Glendinning, Leonard Woolf: A Life (2006)

Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey: A Critical Biography (1994)

Robert Skidelsky, ed., The Essential Keynes (Penguin, 2015)

Frances Spalding, Vanessa Bell: A Biography (1983; republished 2016)

Frances Spalding, The Bloomsbury Group (2013)

Frances Spalding, Roger Fry: Art and Life, 2nd edn (1999)

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)

Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry: A Biography (1940)

Links:

• Ian Sansom article in the Guardian on Bloomsbury (2011): here.

• Extract from Glendinning biography of Leonard Woolf in the Guardian (2006): here.

• Paul Levy review of Glendinning's biography of Leonard Woolf (2006): here.

• Paul Levy on Lytton Strachey in the Guardian (2002): here.

• Art UK on Vanessa Bell: here.

• Art UK on Dora Carrington: here.

• Art UK on Roger Fry: here

• Other Bloomsbury links: here.


Vanessa Bell, Memoir Club, c. 1943

Vanessa Bell, Memoir Club, c. 1943

Comments from students who attended our 2016 summer course:

• I have really enjoyed my week here. Being a 'common reader' I was nervous I would be outnumbered by university academics, but there has been a great mix of people attending. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the planning of events.

• Inspirational experience of academic supervision.

• An inspirational and well-delivered course that has more than fulfilled my expectations. It has been a real privilege to have had stimulating lectures and supervision by such esteemed academics. And having a small supervision group was an absolute treat.

• I would like to thank the whole team of their considerable efforts, expertise and thoughtfulness.

• Terrific mix of intensity and rest. I appreciated the variety of readers, range of speakers, choice of texts.

• It has been a fab week, and I look forward to joining you next year. Thank you!

• I think the course was fantastic, and organised very well. The lecturers were extremely interesting.