The Bloomsbury Group’s Memoir Club met around 60 times over the course of 45 years. During that time, the group read about 125 memoirs, and around 80 of those have survived, a quarter of them unpublished. The Bloomsbury Group Memoir Club by the late S.P. Rosenbaum shares these details and sketches a history of the club, along with its impact on the work of its participants.
Rosenbaum, a leading scholar of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, left more than five completed chapters of the volume before he died in the spring of 2012. In them, he explains the origins of the club, details its original members and their contributions, and explores the impact of club meetings on the members’ individual work. He also links the authors and their writing with the politics and history of the early 20th century.
Chapter one in the volume introduces the Memoir Club, talks about its meeting schedule, and discusses the meaning of the term “memoir.” More significantly, it explores the significance of World War I on its members and their work, even though no one in the club was a combatant. Rosenbaum details the war-related writing of members that were relevant to their later memoirs — from Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians to Maynard Keynes’ The Economic Consequences of the Peace.
In chapter two, Rosenbaum explains the literary and discursive traditions that shaped the formation of the club after the Great War had dispersed the Bloomsbury friends. These range from the life-writing of their English tradition, such as Ruskin and Gosse to the life-writing of family members, such as Leslie Stephen and Edward Fry.
Membership in the club was exclusive and began with a personal invitation, according to chapter three, titled “Beginnings.” All 25 members were either related in some way or were undergraduate friends of the Cambridge Apostles. Membership changed over time, from Old Bloomsbury before World War I to Later Bloomsbury from the 1920s through the 1930s. This chapter also details the memoirs shared by its members, describes the reactions of listeners, and ties them to the members’ work.
Chapter four, “Private and Public Affairs: 1921-1922,” covers Clive Bell’s, Maynard Keynes’, E.M. Forster’s and Strachey’s memoirs, which dealt with the recent present and moved from impersonal childhood memories to “intimately private or controversially public affairs.” This chapter summarizes the memoirs and describes the reaction of club members to them. It also discusses the readings done by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, which Leonard Woolf described as “‘a fantastic narrative of a labyrinthine domestic crisis’.”
The last complete chapter written by Rosenbaum documents the club’s hiatus — from 1922 to 1927 — during which time The Charleston Bulletin was published. The family newspaper founded by Woolf’s nephews, Quentin and Julian Bell, included memoir writing of its own — a life of Vanessa Bell written by Woolf, anecdotes about Duncan Grant, the life of Clive Bell, and the life and adventures of the Keynes.
Rosenbaum’s work, published by Palgrave Macmillan this month, stops just before Woolf’s reading of “Old Bloomsbury,” meaning that some of Woolf’s and other members’ most significant work was yet to come. As editor James M. Haule notes in his Introduction, the task of finishing the volume “now falls on us.”
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