Most Thursday evenings, the Cambridge friends of Thoby Stephens would wander into their new place at 46 Gordon Square in the Bloomsbury district of London. It was cheap to entertain then since everyone would have had dinner already. The four Stephens' children would have much money. They would talk most of the evenings, drinking cocoa and eating buns. Then after a holiday to Greece, Thoby Stephen contracted Typhoid and died from it. Vanessa Stephen decided to marry one of his friends and one of the members of the Bloomsbury group, Clive Bell. She became Vanessa Bell. Clive's family had money and they had 2 children together, there was a third child but the child's paternity was different. The marriage became in name only after a few years though the two remained friends and were in each others' lives till the end. The twists and turns of the stories of the Bloomsbury group is fascinating. Tune in for the next installment....
Here I am writing under an apple tree in the grounds of Charleston farmhouse, the house lived in by Vanessa Bell, the sister of Virginia Woolf. Before they were Vanessa Bell or Virginia Woolf, they were Vanessa Stephen and Virginia Stephen, their father being Leslie Stephen, quite a literary giant in his day. They had two brothers and some step siblings because both their mother and father were married before and had kids from their previous marriages. Their two brothers were sent to boarding school but the two Miss Stephens were home schooled by their parents. From an early age they have already decided for themselves that Vanessa would paint and Virginia would write. So in the nursery Vanessa would spend hours standing to paint at her easel. Vanessa, being younger and not to be outdone by her older sister would stand and write for hours. Virginia would not be a celebrated author until a very later age. She spent time being nursed for a mental illness, some conjectured by the description, she was bipolar. While their parents were alive they lived in 22 Hyde Park gate, in a tall and narrow house, with dark rooms, dark furnishings and paintings. Both parents died in that house including a step sister. So the house was associated with death and gloom. Soon after they moved to the Bloomsbury area of London and here they were joined by their two biological brothers and the brothers' friends from Cambridge. They met regularly and became known as the 'Bloomsbury group'.
Charleston is the masterpiece of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, wrote one person. The source material for Bloomsbury and Charleston is so immense. If they'd only know (Vanessa and Duncan) what they mean to us faithful followers of their lives, they'd be amazed. Even the Charleston Trust, set up to oversee and fund the restoration and upkeep of Charleston could not imagine its popularity today. They expected a few visitors to drop by but hordes of people do make the trip to Charleston, some every year and others a few times a year.
I was here in May. How can ever forget this visit? A humble farmhouse in Sussex, England, the only one left with the memories of having been lived in by the Bloomsbury group. Who were they? They were a group of people, artists and writers, who lived in various homes in the Bloomsbury district of London while at the same time had various country homes. Charleston was one of them. The artists, Vanessa Bell (sister of author Virginia Woolf) and her gay partner, Duncan Grant lived and painted. The house still retained traces of their work. It was restored by the Charleston trust and now is opened to the public.
A painting of the Bloomsbury group. They met in various homes, talked, partied and worked, married each other, traveled together and their friendship lasted to the end of their individual lives. It is so remarkable and inspiring.
While photography are not allowed inside the house, I was able to scan some pictures of the interiors from various books.