The two groups of people had two important elements in common. They all lived in London or the South Eastern counties. And they were all born between 1879-1895:
The Bloomsbury Group: Vanessa Stephen Bell (1879–1961) and Clive Bell(1881–1964), Lytton Strachey (1880-1932), Virginia Stephen (1882-1941) and Leonard Woolf (1880-1969), Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Dora Carrington (1893-1932), David Garnett (1892–1981)
The First World War Poets: Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), Rupert Brooke 1887-1915, Robert Graves (1895-1985), Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918), Wilfred Owen 1893-1918.
But the Bloomsbury men seemed to have met each other at Cambridge University while the poets tended to be from Oxford. So it did not occur to me to ask if the two groups of creative, intellectual types knew each other and even socialised together.
The Morrells' hospitality in Oxford
Lady Ottoline, Maria Nys, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.
photo credit: National Portrait Gallery
photo credit: National Portrait Gallery
I was reading Frank Prochaska’s history of Somerville College for women at Oxford during WW1. The War Office had requisitioned Somerville as a military hospital as early as April 1915 and the female students were moved instead to Oriel College. Quite accidentally I found links between injured soldier poets brought back from the Front, female undergraduates at Oxford who could fulfil their intellectual ambitions, and support from some of the Bloomsbury Set.
Two of the great poets of the war, Siefgried Sassoon and Robert Graves spent time recovering from injuries in Somerville College hospital. During his time there in August 1916, Sassoon wrote his Somerville poems, including The Stretcher-Case, The Father, The Hero and The One Legged Man. When he was fit enough to walk into the town, Sassoon called on the society hostess and socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell at Garsington Manor Oxford.
Even before the war, Lady Ottoline had been sharing the Bloomsburies' Thursday evenings in Fitzroy Square where she met Lytton Strachey and the other regulars. So important was she to the Bloomsbury Set that Roger Fry’s second Post Impressionist exhibition in 1912 was patronised (and financially backed?) by Ottoline, with whom Fry had a fling.
Ottoline was herself a pacifist during the war. This had two implications for today’s post. Firstly she found jobs on her estate so that conscientious objectors from the Bloomsbury Group like Duncan Grant could gain court exemption from serving in the army. Secondly it may have been her politics that attracted Sassoon to her home. Sassoon, who wanted to make a stand against the immorality of total war, found himself amongst like-minded people such as Bertrand Russell. It was Russell who encouraged Sassoon to write his Soldier’s Declaration.
Siegfried Sassoon soon met several other members of the Bloomsbury Group, including E M Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey and the critic Desmond McCarthy. These friendships, started in the misery of war, lasted for many years afterwards.
Later, when Robert Graves was being treated for shell shock in Somerville Hospital in 1917, he too often visited the Morrells at Garsington. It was in their home that Graves met Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey and Bertrand Russell, all frequent guests of the generous hosts.
Virginia Woolf and Rupert Brooke (right) and friends
Friends and Apostles: Correspondence of Rupert Brooke and James Strachey 1905-1914 and the blog The Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship tell more stories of the connections between the Bloomsbury Group and the War Poets. David Garnett and Rupert Brooke went for a holiday in the Norfolk Broads and shared a cabin in 1911. From then on, their friendship remained very intense and mutually rewarding.
Rupert Brooke was also well-acquainted with Virginia Woolf, so much so that he once invited her to go skinny-dipping with him. Brooke, despite or because of his angelic appearance, had relationships with many women and some men before his untimely death. Like most of the writers who met and socialised with the Bloomsbury Group, he also had a nice line in satire. So Sassoon wrote a poem that attempted to emulate Brooke’s satirical style.
Armistice Day ended WW1 on the 11th November 1918. Each year on this day Australians observe one minute’s silence at 11 am, in memory of those who died.