LOVE IN BLOOMSBURY: Memories by Frances Partridge


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In the late 1920s, before Frances Marshall became Frances Partridge, she was Ralph Partridges unwed beloved--and therefore a witness/participant in the sad, much-annotated goings-on at the country house called Ham Spray: Dora Carrington worshiped homosexual Lytton Strachey; Strachey adored Ralph Partridge; Ralph adored Carrington, who halfheartedly married him, then fell in love with someone else; Ralph then fell in love with Frances; but the Carrington/Strachey/Ralph symbiosis was maintained throughout, with difficulty, until Strachey died . . . and Carrington committed suicide. So Frances' version of that classic psychodrama--the second half of these reminiscences--will be of interest to Bloomsburyites. But, strangely, it's the book's least readable sequence, perhaps because it's presented largely through letters and excerpts from Frances' diary at the time: an undeniably immediate, but unfocused and undramatic, source. A pity--because in the book's first half, Partridge (A Pacifist's War) shows herself to be a crisp, witty, youthful memoirist: Edwardian childhood with literary, musical, liberal but ""rigorously undemonstrative"" parents (mama was a Suffragist); education at a progressive, co-ed prep school (with a headmaster who coached the nude girl swimmers: ""Legs should be closer together! Get it right, man!""); dancing days at Cambridge; assisting at the Francis Birrell/David Garnett bookshop, a center of Bloomsbury chat. And then the romance with Ralph, starting circa 1923, with initial hostilities from Ham Spray: ""I couldn't see why they should suppose I wanted to seduce him away from his dearest friends . . . not only did I always respect Ralph's loyalty to Lytton and Carrington, but it was part of what I most loved about him."" Once Frances starts living with Ralph, however (""in 'open sin' with a married man""), those diary excerpts and letters dominate, and much of the narrative energy is lost. Still the diary digressions are sometimes Waugh-ishly amusing (at a party ""a crowd of truculent Lesbians stood by the fireplace, occasionally trying their biceps or carrying each other round the room""). And the Carrington tragedy delivers its customary pathos, though with no new illumination. (Frances' own motives, too, remain a bit blurred: ""I was leading a life with no choices. . . . All I cared about was to see Ralph happy and himself again. . . ."") Uneven and slightly disappointing, then, but--at its best--a dry, smart, unsentimental evocation of a still-fascinating era.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown