Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca West’

Shell Shock and Modernist ImaginationShell Shock and the Modernist Imagination: The Death Drive in Post-World War I British Fiction by Wyatt Bonikowski is just out from Ashgate Press.

It includes a chapter on Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925) titled “`death was an attempt to communicate’: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” Bonikowski, assistant profess or English at Suffolk University in Boston, presented part of the chapter at a 2008 MLA panel sponsored by the International Virginia Woolf Society.

The book looks at case histories of shell shock, along with Modernist novels by Ford Madox Ford, Rebecca West, and Woolf, to show how the figure of the shell-shocked soldier and the symptoms of war trauma were transformed by the literary imagination.

Bonikowski argues that the authors in his study broaden our understanding of the traumatic effects of war and explore the idea that there may be a connection between the trauma of war and the trauma of sexuality. All three novels are structured around the relationship between a soldier returning from and a woman who awaits him. However, according to Bonikowski’s argument, the novels do not offer the possibility of a healing effect from the reunion.

Read Full Post »

I have a fascination with spies, the real ones, especially the double agents, true events being as startling as anything fiction can come up with (John LeCarre notwithstanding). Take, for instance, the infamous World War II quartet—Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt.

Recently I came across “Cambridge Spies,” a 2003 dramatized BBC series about the foursome that stretches and embellishes the truth. They were Apostles during the 1930s with Julian Bell, who is depicted as in thrall to Communism like themselves, especially in its opposition to Fascism at a time when England’s response was benign.

Guy Burgess claims to be in love with Julian, but it’s Anthony Blunt who shares his bed. Keeping his socks on, Julian explains that Virginia gave them to him and told him not to take them off. Blunt expresses amazement that he’s in bed with Virginia Woolf’s socks.

I suspect this scene of being added for color, but it piqued my curiosity. I recalled Blunt in collusion with Harold Nicolson and Maynard Keynes in The White Garden, the Stephanie Barron novel about Woolf’s death that I reviewed Oct. 16, 2009. Although a generation removed, some connection seemed plausible among Cambridge-educated men moving in avant garde London political and cultural circles.

I turned to my own bookshelf and zeroed in on Quentin Bell’s memoir, Elders and Betters (published in the U.S. as Bloomsbury Recalled). The last chapter is about Anthony Blunt, whom Quentin met through Julian at Cambridge. Quentin believed their friendship was founded on art, not politics, and said further: “I don’t think that Julian attempted to convert Anthony to socialism. Anthony did attempt to convert Julian to homosexuality but failed utterly.”

Quentin also became acquainted with Guy Burgess and attested to his heavy drinking and outrageous behavior. After Burgess defected to Moscow and his activities were made public, Quentin expressed surprise that he could ever have been entrusted with secrets. In fact, he may not have been; Rebecca West’s The New Meaning of Treason suggests that he may have been left in place to sow discord between the English and the Americans.

Blunt spent many years as art consultant and historian for the royal family and in the higher echelons of the British art world, and Quentin had occasional contact with him over the years. When Blunt’s treasonous activities were exposed in the 1960s, Quentin expressed sympathy for the difficult double lives they lived, believing the damage they did to be negligible.

An interesting postscript and sighting: This weekend I watched “Enigma,” a 2001 movie about WWII codebreakers and internal spies. Overheard in the cafeteria at Bletchley Park, the secret intelligence headquarters: “Drowning herself was Virginia Woolf’s greatest contribution to English literature.”

I don’t know if that’s from the Robert Harris novel or Tom Stoppard’s screenplay, but someone seems to have had an axe to grind.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: