On Or About December 1910 / Edition 1

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Overview

"On or about December 1910" human character changed, Virginia Woolf remarked, and well she might have. The company she kept, the Bloomsbury circle, took shape before the coming of World War I, and would have a lasting impact on English society and culture after the war. This book captures the dazzling world of Bloomsbury at the end of an era, and on the eve of modernism.

Peter Stansky depicts the vanguard of a rising generation seizing its moment. He shows us Woolf in that fateful year, in the midst of an emotional breakdown, reaching a turning point with her first novel, The Voyage Out, and E. M. Forster, already a success, offering Howards End and acknowledging his passion for another man. Here are Roger Fry, prominent art critic and connoisseur, remaking tradition with the epochal exhibition "Manet and the Post-Impressionists"; Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant beginning their most interesting phase as artists; Lytton Strachey signing the contract for his first book; and John Maynard Keynes entering a significant new stage in his illustrious career.

Amid the glittering opulence and dismal poverty, the swirl of Suffragists, anarchists, agitators, and organizers, Stansky--drawing upon his historical and literary skills--brings the intimate world of the Bloomsbury group to life. Their lives, relationships, writings, and ideas entwine, casting one member after another in sharp relief. Even their Dreadnought Hoax, a trick played on the sacred institution of the navy, reveals their boldness and esprit. The picture Stansky presents, with all its drama and detail, encompasses the conflicts and sureties of a changing world of politics, aesthetics, and character.

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Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

Peter Stansky makes a strong case for 1910 as a galvanizing year in which this promising but largely unknown group of friends established a decisive public identity. With a wealth of detail, Stansky fleshes out what he considers the crucial events of their year—the Dreadnought Hoax, the legendary First Post-Impressionist Exhibition and the appearance of E.M. Forster's next-to-last novel, 'Howards End'...Although 'On or About 1910' covers a period of Bloomsbury that many other writers have explored, Stansky skips the usual panoply of anecdotes and offers instead a genuine history, rich in political and social contexts for what might otherwise seem merely youthful high spirits and lukewarm middle-class rebellion. He makes it clear how Bloomsbury could subvert Edwardian materialism from a position of financial security and youthful family connections...With considerable skill, Stansky [also] places Bloomsbury's artistic and domestic rebellions against the backdrop of the women's suffrage movement, military buildup and the struggle to limit the power of the House of Lords.
— Regina Marler

Independent on Sunday

The main purpose of this book is at once to introduce the main figures—E M Forster, Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey and John Maynard Keynes, as well as Woolf herself—while setting them, and the general movement of literature and art, in a detailed historical context...The association of Forster's growing acceptance of his homosexuality with the emergence of more sensuous and violent operas, a new sense of sexual liberation in literature and the arts,
along with the reinstatement of Oscar Wilde as a cultural reference, all in that month of December 1910,
makes for stimulating reading.
— John R. Bradley

Boston Globe

Ably and diversely, [Stansky] shows that 1910 marked as distinct a turning point in Bloomsbury lives as it did in a country lit by Halley's comet and Strauss's 'Elektra'...Peter Stansky's book is a useful reminder that, for all their folly, members of the Bloomsbury group have serious claims upon posterity. Addictively, infuriatingly so.
— Christopher Hawtree

Time Out [UK
This excellent book gives a gossipy glimpse of England when, in 1910, it tottered belatedly into the twentieth century...Curious times, but then, Bloomsbury was a curious world whose aesthetes dipped more readily into each others' bodies than their fledgling quills to ink.
— Brian Davis
Choice
Woolf's much-quoted observation that 'on or about December 1910 human character changed' provides the organizing principle of this imaginative cultural study. Stansky charts the complex personal relations of early Bloomsbury...[P]atterns do emerge that give point to Woolf's sound bite about 1910 and should engage the general reader, reward advanced students, and enlighten even dyed-in-the-Woolf scholars.
Time Out [UK]

This excellent book gives a gossipy glimpse of England when, in 1910, it tottered belatedly into the twentieth century...Curious times, but then, Bloomsbury was a curious world whose aesthetes dipped more readily into each others' bodies than their fledgling quills to ink.
— Brian Davis

San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle - Regina Marler
Peter Stansky makes a strong case for 1910 as a galvanizing year in which this promising but largely unknown group of friends established a decisive public identity. With a wealth of detail, Stansky fleshes out what he considers the crucial events of their year--the Dreadnought Hoax, the legendary First Post-Impressionist Exhibition and the appearance of E.M. Forster's next-to-last novel, 'Howards End'...Although 'On or About 1910' covers a period of Bloomsbury that many other writers have explored, Stansky skips the usual panoply of anecdotes and offers instead a genuine history, rich in political and social contexts for what might otherwise seem merely youthful high spirits and lukewarm middle-class rebellion. He makes it clear how Bloomsbury could subvert Edwardian materialism from a position of financial security and youthful family connections...With considerable skill, Stansky [also] places Bloomsbury's artistic and domestic rebellions against the backdrop of the women's suffrage movement, military buildup and the struggle to limit the power of the House of Lords.
Independent on Sunday - John R. Bradley
The main purpose of this book is at once to introduce the main figures--E M Forster, Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey and John Maynard
Keynes, as well as Woolf herself--while setting them, and the general movement of literature and art, in a detailed historical context...The association of Forster's growing acceptance of his homosexuality with the emergence of more sensuous and violent operas, a new sense of sexual liberation in literature and the arts,
along with the reinstatement of Oscar Wilde as a cultural reference, all in that month of December 1910,
makes for stimulating reading.
Boston Globe - Christopher Hawtree
Ably and diversely, [Stansky] shows that 1910 marked as distinct a turning point in Bloomsbury lives as it did in a country lit by Halley's comet and Strauss's 'Elektra'...Peter Stansky's book is a useful reminder that, for all their folly, members of the Bloomsbury group have serious claims upon posterity. Addictively, infuriatingly so.
Time Out [UK - Brian Davis
This excellent book gives a gossipy glimpse of England when, in 1910, it tottered belatedly into the twentieth century...Curious times, but then, Bloomsbury was a curious world whose aesthetes dipped more readily into each others' bodies than their fledgling quills to ink.
Adam An-Tanthair-Síoraí
This is a work of scholarship that highlights the very beginnings of a group of highly individual, talented and far-sighted people...It is clear, succinct without convolutions and entertaining.
Noel Annan
Did England stagger into modernity in 1910? Few better to consider the question than Peter Stansky, a veteran connoisseur of the group.
Kirkus Reviews
For the last several decades, the Bloomsbury industry has operated at a frenetic pace, as biographies, histories, slim appreciations, ane large catalogues have streamed forth from the academic mill. So little has been left unsaid that most writers are now reduced to a desperate search for something new to say, as is the case with Stansky's (Orwell: The Transformation, 1980, etc.) disjointed chronicle of a supposedly watershed year in the life of Bloomsbury and British society.

His inspiration is Virginia Woolf's passing remark in her essay, "Mr. Bennett and Mr. Brown," that since 1910, "All human relations have shifted." Stansky's search for supporting evidence isn't much helped by Bloomsbury. Most of the figures in that extended circle had yet to shake their undergraduate habits of dilettantism. Woolf and Lytton Strachey were working sporadically on their first books. John Maynard Keynes, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant had all accomplished little of substance. E.M. Forester, however, with the publication of Howard's End, did achieve a degree of critical acclaim. Outside of Bloomsbury, 1910 saw two Parliamentary elections which led to extended suffrage (though not yet for women) and the terminal decline of the Liberal Party, but there was little else that shook the status quo. Stansky's defense of 1910's protean importance, in the end, comes down to the year- end, Postimpressionist show organized by Bloomsbury's Roger Fry and Desmond McCarthy. Featuring artists such as van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse, and Gauguin, it was enormously controversial, reviled as "savage," "crude," and "pornographic." In spite of the venomous attacks, it did serve to introduce the British to Modernism, but did that really change society?

Despite a game effort, Stansky ultimately fails to prove his thesis.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674636064
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/30/1997
  • Series: Studies in Cultural History Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 0.63 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Stansky is the Frances and Charles Field Professor of History at Stanford University, author, among other works, of Redesigning the World: William Morris, the 1880s, and the Arts and Crafts, and coauthor of Journey to the Frontier: Two Roads to the Spanish Civil War.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

Virginia Woolf I

The Dreadnought Hoax

Virginia Woolf II

Artists and Others

E. M. Forster

Quakes in British Society

On the Way to Post-Impressionism

The Exhibition

Bloomsbury Emergent

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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