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Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury

Professor Wendy Faris

This course will study the influential group of artists and intellectuals in early 20th-century London known as Bloomsbury. The force of Bloomsbury is still felt in continuing series of reminiscences, biographies, critical studies, and collections of essays. This group marks the transition from Victorian to Modern culture, from 19th century styles to 20th century ones.

The most important literary figure in the Bloomsbury group is Virginia Woolf, and so we will read several of her works. Her innovative fiction is balanced by the more traditional novels of her friend E.M. Forster, whose Howards End and A Passage to India are masterpieces of late realism and reflect contemporaneous issues concerning industrialization and colonialism.

Leading members of Bloomsbury also made important contributions to other disciplines so that as our study broadens out from these central literary figures, it becomes an interdisciplinary investigation of early 20th century British and European culture and society. Woolf's A Room of One's Own is a seminal contribution to modern feminist thought. Lytton Strachey revolutionized the art of biography. The aestheticians Clive Bell and Roger Fry introduced the Post-impressionist painters to England and theorized modern art, activities which influenced the paintings of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, as well as the fiction of Virginia Woolf. That influence will lead us to do some interartistic comparisons between modernist painting and literature. Leonard Woolf's autobiography provides a view of British rule in India during this period.

As an accompaniment to works by members of Bloomsbury, we will read Leon Edel's Bloomsbury: A House of Lions, which presents a collective biography of the group. Edel's book will help us to analyze the phenomenon of Bloomsbury, and why it still continues to fascinate so many people.

In addition to the required readings and seminar discussions, students will prepare a seminar paper on a topic of their choice in an area related to the materials studied, and present a short oral report on that paper.


Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, The Waves, A Room of One's Own, Orlando, selections from autobiographical essays in Moments of Being and Collected Essays

E. M. Forster, Howards End, A Passage to India

Lytton Strachey, selections from Eminent Victorians

Roger Fry, selections from Vision and Design

Clive Bell, selections from Art

Leonard Woolf, Growing

Leon Edel, Bloomsbury: A House of Lions