A War of Individuals: Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War

By Jonathan Atkin | Go to book overview
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Bloomsbury

What were the anti-war feelings chiefly expressed outside 'organised' protest and not under political or religious banners those attitudes which form the raison d'être for this study? As the Great War becomes more distant in time, certain actions and individuals become greyer and more obscure whilst others seem to become clearer and imbued with a dash of colour amid the sepia. One thinks particularly of the so-called Bloomsbury Group. 1 Any overview of 'alternative' attitudes to the war must consider the responses of Bloomsbury to the shadows of doubt and uncertainty thrown across page and canvas by the conflict. Despite their notoriety, the reactions of the Bloomsbury individuals are important both in their own right and as a mirror to the similar reactions of obscurer individuals from differing circumstances and backgrounds.

In the origins of Bloomsbury well known as one of the foremost cultural groups of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods is to be found the moral and aesthetic core for some of the most significant humanistic reactions to the war. The small circle of Cambridge undergraduates whose mutual appreciation of the thoughts and teachings of the academic and philosopher G.E. Moore led them to form lasting friendships, became the kernel of what would become labelled 'the Bloomsbury Group'. It was, as one academic described, 'a nucleus from which civilisation has spread outwards'. 2 This rippling effect, though temporarily dammed by the keenly-felt constrictions of the war, would continue to flow outwards through the twentieth century, inspiring, as is well known, much analysis and interpretation along the way.

The emotions of Bloomsbury mirrored to a large extent those of its mentors. For one of the 'fathers' of Bloomsbury, the older Cambridge academic and humanist Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, 3 the coming of war was disastrous. For him, as Bloomsbury patroness Lady Ottoline Morrell noted in 1916, the war came, 'like a battering ram, bruising him and knocking him permanently over he felt the Nation's calamities more poignantly and devastatingly than any private calamity of his own'. 4 Dickinson had himself referred to the time (in August 1914) when the war 'burst upon the world' in his published essay 'The Basis of a Permanent Peace'. Dickinson wrote that the effect of the war upon those who had not followed foreign affairs, and, by implication, were

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