BLOOMSBURY: A House of Lions by Leon Edel
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BLOOMSBURY: A House of Lions

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What was Bloomsbury?"" That's a famous old question--and Edel answers that the Woolfs, the Bells, Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, et al., were ""a house of lions. . . a group of rational liberal individuals with an arduous work ethic and an aristocratic ideal."" In other words, Edel has nothing much new to say about Bloomsbury as a collective early-20th-century force in art, literature, and politics. But, by narrating the rise of Bloomsbury ""in biographical form, as if it were a novel,"" Edel has brought the textured psychological technique of his epic Henry James biography to bear on nine fascinating personalities--and if this approach doesn't lead to any stunning thesis, it does provide a gorgeously spinning pinwheel of psyches in fierce communion and collision. With much emphasis on childhood backgrounds, we watch as vulnerable, Jewish Leonard encounters squeaky pederast Lytton (""a human pastiche"") at Cambridge; as level-headed, inquiring Clive shares a rail-carriage with dark hedonist Desmond McCarthy; as the Stephen sisters, haunted Virginia and hearty Vanessa, go from family death to family death, from rivalry to rivalry; as bisexual painter Duncan Grant links up with homosexual Maynard Keynes. Exciting encounters--and soon the group is meeting on a regular basis, espousing causes, pairing off, trading partners, feuding, and adding a father figure--art critic Roger Fry. Soon, also, it becomes apparent that Edel has taken on rather too much, trying to cram in the philosophy of G. E. Moore, the post-Impressionists, and Keynesian economics along with the intensely personal crossfire. But, if the issues of the day seem slighted, the emotional fabric remains deep and rich. It falls apart only toward the end, when it becomes impossible to follow all nine, as each grows more and more complex, colored by contact with the others; and the book ends frustratingly, with the Bloomsburyites at mid-life, all those developing psyches left in mid-air. Still, though unsatisfying on all counts at the close, Edel's dense interweavings offer a hundred or more delicate resonances and provocative musings along the way--but really only for those who already know at least some of the Bloomsbury material in depth.

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1979
Publisher: Lippincott