BLOOMSBURY WOMEN: Distinct Figures in Life and Art by Jan Marsh

BLOOMSBURY WOMEN: Distinct Figures in Life and Art

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the bookstores--here's another volume about Bloomsbury. For whatever reasons, we are currently in the midst of a full-blown public enthrallment with the pansexual congerie of Brits who paraded under the name of Bloomsbury (see Quentin Bell's tribute, Bloomsbury Recalled, p. 34). Almost all of them dabbled in the arts, but with a few notable exceptions such as Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey, most reserved their real talents for the art of living. Brilliant parties, frequent travels, scandalous, polymorphous affairs and m‚nages--they lived the kind of lives that make for juicy reading. And though biographer Marsh (Christina Rossetti, 1995, etc.) is ever tactful, she does not usually disappoint, at least on this account. But like an artist's sketch, while the whole picture is there, the details are invariably missing or scanted. A full study of Bloomsbury's women, in the vein of Strachey's Eminent Victorians, would have filled a useful niche, but this book is more of an ungendered and generalist survey of the entire movement. Only in its profuse and lavish illustrations, paintings, and sketches by such Bloomsbury stalwarts as Vanessa Bell and Dora Carrington does Marsh remember her supposed subject. But we all know how deep beauty runs, and it is certainly no fair substitute for analysis and research. In the slim spaces between illustrations, Marsh makes few attempts to examine how the experiences of Bloomsbury women differed from those of the men and how this might have influenced their art and ideas. She does not even particularly bother with important, individual biographical details. Virginia Woolf's death, for example, takes a mere two paragraphs. And all the beautiful, insipid, and derivative works of art are left to languish, virtually unremarked. Breezy, blowsy, this is Bloomsbury for beginners.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Henry Holt