Jesse Wolfe. Bloomsbury, Modernism, and the Reinvention of Intimacy

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Jesse Wolfe. Bloomsbury, Modernism, and the Reinvention of Intimacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. viii + 264. 4 b/w illustrations. 14 tables. $90 (cloth)

The lens of intimacy enables Wolfe's thought-provoking and sometimes insightful readings of G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica, Freud's Dora, Forster's Howards End, Lawrence's Women in Love, and Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Even the chapter on Vita Sackville-West's anxiety of influence in All Passion Spent "distinguishes itself" through Wolfe's critical lens. Any study of the Bloomsbury Group must of necessity follow behind a multitude of "lions." Over the past several decades, major scholars have analyzed the psychological, intellectual, sexual, emotional, aural, visual and even architectural territories that members of the Bloomsbury Group colonized, traversed, inhabited, or even vaguely thought about. Cecil Woolf Publishers alone offers over 60 scholarly monographs in their Bloomsbury Heritage Series: The Life, Works and Times of the Bloomsbury Group. Significant full-length studies of Bloomsbury include such works as Partridge's Love in Bloomsbury; Edel's Bloomsbury: A House of Lions; Rosenbaum's Aspects of Bloomsbury; Quentin Bell's Bloomsbury Recalled; Todd's Bloomsbury at Home; Nicholson's Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939; Froula's Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Avant-Garde, and, more recently, Spalding's Bloomsbury Group.

Jesse Wolfe, in his "Introduction: Narrating Bloomsbury," gives a brief nod to Edel and Rosenbaum, stating that this work will "follow previous scholars including Rosenbaum in examining the group's dynamic interactions with the larger culture." Wolfe also makes mention of Raymond Williams' "The Bloomsbury Fraction" (in Culture and Materialism, 1980), rightly noting that this cultural study offers "a more critical, though balanced, analysis of the group's class allegiances" than Rosenbaum's work. However, a work that examines E. M. Forster's relationship to Bloomsbury at length, as Wolfe's does, ought also to mention--perhaps even acknowledge some debt to--Williams' essay "The Significance of Bloomsbury as a Social and Cultural Group" (in Keynes and the Bloomsbury Group, 1980). As Alex Zwerdling asserts in Virginia Woolf and the Real World, Williams' essay "ratifies Forster's sense" of Bloomsbury, but Zwerdling's work is absent from Wolfe's bibliography, as are many other significant works. Of course, as Wolfe asserts in "Chapter 3: Forster's Missing Figures," what an author does not say can also say quite a bit. Wolfe argues that "Bloomsbury's modernism--as an ambivalent response both to modernity and to Victorianism, informed by Freud--has never been explicitly formulated." The key word here, it would seem, is "ambivalent."

A variety of different authors and scholars, including Leonard Woolf, Angelica Garnett, and S. P. Rosenbaum, have made explicit Bloomsbury's "response to modernity and Victorianism, informed by Freud." The Bloomsbury Group's borders and its skirmishes at those borders are well-documented. Admittedly, as Leigh's introductory book on modernism states, the "Bloomsbury Group was a loose association of men and women brought together through a belief in the importance of the individual, of personal relationships, and of questioning the morals and conventions of their parents' generation in order ... to live as honestly as possible and for the advancement of 'civilization'" (my emphasis). Wolfe organizes this "loose" membership into a larger "Bloomsburian Cohort," one that includes a few usual suspects such as G. E. Moore, Freud, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Any study of Bloomsbury's philosophy would include some reference to G. E. Moore. Certainly Freud's influence on members of Bloomsbury is not in question, even if that influence is sometimes overstated (for example in Louise DeSalvo's biography of Woolf, as Jeffrey Berman argues). James Strachey translated Freud's works, and Hogarth Press published them. …