Archive for the ‘Julian Bell’ Category

Having worked my way through Vanessa Bell’s letters to Maynard Keynes yesterday, I spent today with two of the Morgan’s rare books on the topic of the Bloomsbury pacifists.

The Morgan Library & Museum actually has five pertinent rare books on the topic in its catalogue, and originally I thought I would get through all of them today. But once I got a look at the content of the first, We Did Not Fight: 1914-1918 Experiences of War Resisters, a collection of essays edited by Julian Bell and published in 1935, I knew I would have to schedule another work day at the Morgan.

The volume includes an introduction by Julian Bell in which he answers a question that had puzzled me: Why would Julian, an advocate of pacifism, end up volunteering for the Spanish Civil War? I found the answer to that at the end of his introduction when he says that his generation will succeed in ending war–and will use force to do so, if force is necessary (xix). It’s true that Julian was an ambulance driver, not a soldier, in the Spanish Civil War. But some pacifists, absolutists, would argue that any work that supports war should be rejected.

We Did Not Fight contains other essays that illuminate the circumstances surrounding conscientious objectors during World War I. Some recount the political and social climate at the beginning of the war. Others detail the particular hardships of working class COs. And still others describe the support and comraderie provided by the No-Conscription Fellowship, organized by the Quakers and Independent Labour Party supporters, which met from 1914 through 1919.

The final essay, “The Tribunals” by Adrian Stephen, brother of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, details the ways the tribunals functioned. After the passage of the first Military Services Act in January 1916 instituted conscription of unmarried men age 19-40, local tribunals were set up to administer it. Their role was to make life and death decisions about who would be exempted from military service.

The second book I looked at was a pamphlet published by The Peace Pledge Union. Titled WarMongers, it was written by Clive Bell and published in September of 1938. My time had run so short by the time I got to it, that I resorted to taking photos of most of its pages so I could read it later. Thankfully, that is a practice the Morgan allows.

Read more about my time at the Berg for my NYPL Short-Term Research Fellowship:

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Anne Fernald posted a message to the VWoolf Listserv directing us to Sarah Funke Butler’s post on The Paris Review website that discusses a letter Woolf wrote to her nephew Julian Bell in 1929.

Patricia Laurence, author of Julian Bell, The Violent Pacifist, a monograph in Cecil Woolf Publishers Bloomsbury Heritage Series, added her insights to the listserv discussion:

“The poem that Woolf refers to in her letter is probably “Chaffinches” published in the Songs for Sixpence Series, 1929, Cambridge. Julian’s early poetry was not marked by `modernist’ or `currency’ in subject, diction, rhythms or metres. His promise in `Chaffinches’ is marked rather by his Hopkinesque description of birds:

Startled, flock after springing flock they rise
With rustle of beating wings as as each flies
The sudden coverts flicker white,
In drooping, jerked finch flight
Of rise and fall: Stray chinking call.

“Nature description and the pastoral came naturally to him in poetry and letters, and when in Paris in 1930, `his first experience of a large town’, made him not a modernist but `fiercely naturalist….sending…[him] to watch all the gulls and sparrows of Paris.” Romanticism (what he viewed as “emotionalism”) and modernism (currency) were anathema to him, and the consciousness of “the chasm in the road’ after the Great War is absent from most of his poetry–though he is of the Auden generation.

“Nevertheless, though he may not have been as talented as others in Bloomsbury, he was not given much encouragement by his family.”

The letter is part of a Virginia Woolf collection currently held by Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Inc., which features a photo titled Virginia Woolf Goes to the Beach on its home page.

Woolf items are featured in two of Horowitz’s catalogues: The Robert Reedman Collection of Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury and Virginia & Leonard Woolf. The company also offers Vita Sackville-West and T.S. Eliot catalogues.

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From reading Woolf, I knew that Tavistock Square in London had been touched by war. But until today, I didn’t realize how closely it was aligned with peace.

Tavistock Hotel, the site of where 52 Tavistock Square once stood.

First, the war connections. It was in Woolf’s Bloomsbury flat on the third floor of 52 Tavistock Square during the winter of 1936-1937 that she is said to have received a packet of photographs from the Spanish government. These were “not pleasant photographs to look upon,” she wrote in Three Guineas, for they depicted “dead bodies for the most part,” and devastated buildings, all victims of the Spanish civil war.

In July of 1937, she was once again at her Tavistock Square address when the violence of that war touched her in a more personal way. She learned that her twenty-nine-year-old nephew, Julian Bell, a volunteer ambulance driver in Spain, had been killed. It was a devastating personal loss, one she described in her diary as “a complete break; almost a blank; like a blow on the head: a shriveling up” (D5 104).

Four years later, in October of 1940, Woolf was visited by war again, this time in a more direct physical way. Her Tavistock Square building took a direct hit from a German bomb. When she viewed the devastation, she found “a heap of ruins…where I wrote so many books” (331).

War’s violence in real time
Fast forward to July 7, 2005. Woolf has been dead for sixty-four years, but Tavistock Square still exists. War strikes the location once more, when four terrorists detonate bombs in the London transport system, just as the morning rush hour comes to an end.The last of the four goes off on the Number 30 bus as it arrives in front of the British Medical Association, located on the east side of Tavistock Square, around the corner from the site of Woolf’s former flat. The blast, another incident in the 21st century “war on terror,” kills 52 persons and injures more than 770.

It is ironic that the gritty violence and destruction of war came again and again to the London location where Woolf spent 15 of her most productive years as a writer – and the place where she wrote two of her volumes most intimately connected to war and peace –Three Guineas and The YearsThree Guineas gives a creative and cogent argument that women must establish their own “Outsiders Society” in order to achieve peace. And The Years establishes unmarried matriarch Eleanor Pargiter as the character that holds the novel together and holds out hope for peace.

Peace comes to Tavistock Square
Virginia Woolf is not Tavistock Square’s only female connection to war and peace. Today I read about Rose Hacker, 101, who joined more than 100 other peace activists in Tavistock Square this week to remember the victims of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. The Bloomsbury square is the site of an annual commemoration of the Hiroshima victims.

At 101, Hacker has seen war come and go — and come again. She recalled sitting on the Tavistock Square gate and waving the Union Jack as residents flooded the square to celebrate the end of the First World War. And though she had been told by her teacher that there would be no more wars, she remembers hearing the same prediction when World War II ended.

Despite all that — and her feelings of shame that we still have nuclear weapons — she holds out hope for peace. “We must not lose hope,” she told the Camden New Journal. “If I have not lost hope in 100 years, then you young people can still have hope.”

The hope and wisdom of this longtime spokeswoman for peace inspires me. I feel the same way about a statue that I wandered across in Tavistock Square. It depicts Mahatma Gandhi, the martyred leader of the Indian independence movement who is known the world over for promoting active nonviolence.

This statue sits in the garden area of Tavistock Square on a central site donated by St. Pancras Borough Council. Since its unveiling in 1966, other peace memorials have been established in the square, and it has become a popular place for peace events.

On any given day, visitors to the quiet green space in the heart of bustling Bloomsbury can find individual candles around the statue’s base. The candles, glowing softly in the shadow of Ghandi’s statue, are lit by those who hope for peace.

Rose Harker can be counted among them. And Virginia Woolf is there in spirit.

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