[Vwoolf] History of the phrase "Bloomsbury Set"?

Mark Hussey mhussey at verizon.net
Tue Jul 11 16:10:35 EDT 2017

Well, I am away from all my clippings files (am in London, actually, researching some Bloomsberries!) but if this questions persists I will try to remember to take a look.  But for me, it is a kind of folk knowledge that ‘Bloomsbury set’ has a connotation quite different from ‘Bloomsbury Group’.  There has been plenty of trenchant criticism of the Bloomsbury Group, well-argued and documented.  I am not sure I could say the same of most of the writing about the ‘Bloomsbury set’, which often, IMHO, is superficial reverse snobbery.  But as Jane said, that the BG has such currency still is quite remarkable.



From: Vwoolf [mailto:vwoolf-bounces+mhussey=verizon.net at lists.osu.edu] On Behalf Of Brenda S. Helt
Sent: Tuesday, July 11, 2017 8:23 PM
To: 'Jane Marie Garrity'; Woolf list
Subject: Re: [Vwoolf] History of the phrase "Bloomsbury Set"?


I don’t think anyone was taking umbrage at Ruchi Sanghvi’s use of the phrase “Bloomsbury Set.”  Personally, I was just pointing out that its history as a phrase is British and pejorative.  As I said, “It’s not always used pejoratively now, nor only in Britain, but it does still indicate a lack of knowledge of the Group.”  Bloomsbury scholars do not ever use that phrase, nor do any of the Bloomsberries’ heirs use it, and they are all British.  Nor do the British museums or archives that house work by the Bloomsberries use it.  Those using it in a fairly neutral way may approve of the group, but their use of the phrase signals they have done very little reading about the Group and their bit of knowledge of the Group is coming from Britain—perhaps in the form of an online newspaper article about the recent BBC series, for example.  (Sanghvi is from India, but educated in the States.)  Mark Hussey posted about this topic to the list in mid-May, and I’ll quote him here:  “I usually find ‘Bloomsbury Set’ used pejoratively in Britain, echoing Arnold’s ‘What a set!’ about Shelley and his circle.  The anti-Bloomsbury line in England still has purchase, though at least most of the articles about the Vanessa Bell exhibition were serious.  But the Bloomsbury-bashing detailed by Brenda Silver and Chris Reed in the 1990s has not gone away; it just sounds a bit more tired these days.”  I think both Chris Reed and Mark have published articles in which they discuss the history of this phrase a bit, but exactly where, I do not recall.  (Mark might post; I’ll ask Chris.)  I’d not be surprised if the Leavises are not the origin, but a true origin may not be possible to find.  Nor may it matter, as how the phrase is used now and how it suggests either disapprobation or an only cursory familiarity is what I think this conversation on the list has been about (going back to May, or earlier).


Very best!





Brenda Helt


Co-editor Queer Bloomsbury





From: Jane Marie Garrity [mailto:jane.garrity at colorado.edu] 
Sent: Tuesday, July 11, 2017 11:03 AM
To: Brenda S. Helt
Cc: Laura Zander; vwoolf at lists.osu.edu
Subject: History of the phrase "Bloomsbury Set"?


Hi all,

This is a follow up to the lively conversation about the use of the phrase “Bloomsbury Set” in the article about Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Does anyone know exactly who coined the epithet, “Bloomsbury Set,” and when? 


I think rather than take umbrage at such contemporary references to Bloomsbury we might instead marvel at the fact that the group is being referred to at all! Here is another interesting reference—this one to the "silken Bloomsbury-set pajamas”—in an article titled “What Gucci Can Teach the Democrats" by the NYT chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/08/sunday-review/gucci-fashion-politics-.html. I do not believe that Friedman is using the phrase pejoratively, which suggests that its usage is much more complicated than earlier comments would allow. 


On a less controversial note (& just for fun), here is an article by Francesca Wade on the 50 Wedgwood plates illustrated with portraits of famous women from history by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in the current London Review of Books blog: 




If you click on the image you can see approximately dead center that Grant has included a portrait of himself (it is to the right of the portrait of Vanessa Bell and diagonal to the portrait of Virginia Woolf) among this pantheon of famous women. 


Happy summer everyone!





Jane Garrity
Associate Professor of English
Associate Chair and Director of Undergraduate Studies
University of Colorado at Boulder
226 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0226
Jane.Garrity at Colorado.Edu 


On Jul 5, 2017, at 10:58 AM, Brenda S. Helt <helt0010 at umn.edu> wrote:


Well, first, nobody who knows much of anything about the Bloomsbury Group calls them the “Bloomsbury Set”—that’s a largely pejorative label devised in Britain by homophobic and conservative minded folks who decided the Bloomsberries represented everything they despised.  It’s not always used pejoratively now, nor only in Britain, but it does still indicate a lack of knowledge of the Group.  Ironically, Ms. Sanghvi’s claim that this tech think tank is Silicon Valley’s answer to the B’bury Group is exactly correct, though, as point by point that think tank represents the antithesis of everything the Group valued, achieved, and has come to represent for its admirers today.


Brenda Helt


Co-editor Queer Bloomsbury

 <https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-queer-bloomsbury-13031.html> https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-queer-bloomsbury-13031.html




From: Vwoolf [ <mailto:vwoolf-bounces at lists.osu.edu> mailto:vwoolf-bounces at lists.osu.edu] On Behalf Of Laura Zander
Sent: Wednesday, July 05, 2017 8:39 AM
To:  <mailto:vwoolf at lists.osu.edu> vwoolf at lists.osu.edu
Subject: [Vwoolf] Silicon Valley's Bloomsbury? Methinks not.


"Ms. Sanghvi describes it as tech’s answer to the Bloomsbury Set.."

This is about as far from Bloomsbury as you can get, with a bunch of men staring into screens as they dream up ways to make money, but sure... go ahead and use that reference point.

 <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/02/business/tech-scene-south-park-commons-san-francisco.html> https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/02/business/tech-scene-south-park-commons-san-francisco.html

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