STRACHEY (LYTTON) AND CLIVE BELL Series of over one hundred autograph letters and cards by Clive Bell to Lytton Strachey, Gordon Square, Garsington and elsewhere, 1906-1931

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Lot 183
Series of over one hundred autograph letters and cards by Clive Bell to Lytton Strachey, Gordon Square, Garsington and elsewhere, 1906-1931; 'I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR VIRGINIA'S LATE MADNESS, AND I WANT TO MAKE HER MAD AGAIN' -- THE HITHERTO LOST LETTERS BY CLIVE BELL TO LYTTON STRACHEY.

Sold for £ 35,000 (US$ 42,290) inc. premium
The Remaining Papers of Giles Lytton Strachey
Sold by order of the Strachey Trust
Series of over one hundred autograph letters and cards by Clive Bell to Lytton Strachey, comprising 59 letters, 44 cards, 7 telegrams and an autograph poem, upwards of 200 pages, gummed glassine filing-guards, minor foxing and light dust-staining or discolouration in places, but overall in good sound condition, mostly 4to, others 8vo, Gordon Square, Garsington and elsewhere, 1906-1931



    There can be few, if any, comparable treasure-troves of Bloomsburiania remaining to be discovered. With the exception of one letter (described below), this archive of Clive Bell's letters to Lytton Strachey has remained in private hands and unknown to modern scholars. Not only does the archive shed further light on the complexity of their friendship and the fluidity of relationships within the Bloomsbury circle, but it also offers a richer view of Clive himself. He was something of the odd man out among the group, in that he was naturally athletic, ample in stature, full of boyish high spirits and abundantly heterosexual. But it was to the very different Lytton Strachey that he owed his entrée into Bloomsbury, their friendship dating back to their time as undergraduates at Trinity College, Cambridge. When Clive was being his breezy, booming self 'Lytton was swept off his feet and thought him splendid'; but when he chose to 'play the part of the literary gentleman, he struck Lytton as more than slightly ridiculous' (Holroyd). He may have lacked the intellectual dazzle of his Cambridge friends, such as Leonard Woolf, Maynard Keynes, or Rupert Brooke, but he had a strong and unusual knowledge of modern art, an interest he shared with Vanessa Stephen, whose brother Thoby had been another Trinity contemporary. He was almost the only eligible bachelor among the set of young men who spent time at 46 Gordon Square, where Thoby lived with his brother Adrian and sisters Vanessa and Virginia, and in 1906 he proposed to Vanessa. They married in 1907 and their first son, Julian, was born the following year.

    Our correspondence opens in December 1906, with Clive's announcement: "I hope that we shall be married before the end of February, in a registry office, without much friendly and family emotion or commotion or whatnot". From 1910 the letters are full of news of friends, family, musical parties at Garsington. But there are also complications, and his unmarried sister-in-law Virginia is in a fragile state: "Could you let me know anything of the party which, according to Norton, is going to read at Studland Bay this Easter? As we are taking Virginia there simply in order that she may not see any of the people who tend to interest or excite her in London, should interesting or exciting people be of the party, and should it be impossible to keep them at a great distance, it would be necessary for us, at any cost, to take her elsewhere". From Studland he reports that Virginia is getting better but Adrian [Stephen] "is not mellowed; and Vanessa is over-worked and worried. Family life in lodgings, my dear Lytton, is not what it used to be in the old days ... When Adrian observes in his best style to (say) Vanessa – 'I think you are often callous, brutal, and obtusely inconsiderate; I could easily prove it by examples, but will not, as I don't want to grovel' – it is difficult to see what advantage is gained by the omission which might, at least, have relieved the tense and painful silence... If, in a few days, I come to the conclusion that I am doing Virginia positive harm, I shall go".

    Strachey had proposed marriage to Virginia the previous year, and she had accepted. But the following morning they both knew it would be a mistake and rapidly retreated. Their friendship, however, survived. This history possibly underlies the astonishing letter Clive wrote Lytton on 17 April 1910. This is, so far as we are aware, the only letter that has hitherto been known to scholars, surviving elsewhere in a typescript: "Your arrogant manners, your condescending attitude, the things that you are in the habit of saying to our common acquaintances, leave no doubt as to your feelings. You are painfully alive to the fact that I was trained outside that mystic circle of cosmopolitan culture wherein alone a young man may hope to acquire the distinguished manner. My manners you find florid and vulgar, over-emphatic and under-bred... That vanity of yours more than balances your acuteness; it blinds you cruelly to others' feelings, and mercifully to your own absurdity. When you sit gloomily asserting your individuality, like some small Chateaubriand or lesser Byron, or waiting for a chance to astonish the simple with a squeaky whim or an esoteric paradox, you are not impressive".

    The rift however was somehow healed. A brief letter written four months later sends news, perhaps requested by Lytton, of Virginia: "After four weeks of idleness in Kent, Virginia was dispatched for six of rest-cure to Twickenham. She bore it well; and the horrors were mitigated, I believe, by the adulation of her attendants". The correspondence then resumes, with Clive begging him not to "throw me over, Lytton, if you can help it, for I'm down in the world and sensitive, and to see you would be a joy". By July 1913 he is again concerned with Virginia's health: "Virginia retired to the mad-house on Saturday but is coming out again tomorrow I believe. Some say she worried herself in, wondering what we should all say about her novel... Naturally, poor Woolf has been pretty wretched and if only I could like him a little better I should be intensely sorry for him. But he has changed a great deal... You're not one of those people who suppose I'm jealous, are you?"

    After the birth of Julian Bell in 1908, and Vanessa's preoccupation with the demands of motherhood, Clive and the then unmarried Virginia engaged in a serious flirtation. This strained the relationship between the sisters and five years later Leonard Woolf, always concerned for his wife's mental health, may have discouraged Clive's further attentions. On at least one occasion Strachey made matters worse by showing Clive's letters to Leonard Woolf and others: "And now, Lytton, be careful of this and all my other letters. Did you hear of the scrape you got me into? No thanks to you I didn't have to hold out my iron, or let myself be pistolled by that pestilent jew [Leonard Woolf]. It seems that in one of those sheets you so thoughtfully allow your guests to study... I had told you, gaily enough no doubt, that I was half in love with Virginia's letters and must certainly start an affair with her the moment she came out... Into my study strides my beau-frère, in that old arsenical covert-coat of his, takes position before the mantelpiece, and says 'I have something very unpleasant to speak to you about'. Follows a passage of suppressed rage ending with the alternative of giving my word of honour that I will never again in word or deed attempt to excite Virginia – or agreeing never to see or write to her again. I protest faintly that I don't want to make love to Virginia and that my beau-frère is barking up the wrong tree: all the same I'll make no promises. 'I thought as much' says the stern man of action; and then comes the grand tirade. I'm entirely and solely to blame for Virginia's present state: it's all along of my love-making... And so I am responsible for Virginia's late madness, and I want to make her mad again, that fat's in the fire, and it's all your doing mon cher".

    As a conscientious objector Clive Bell spent the war years working on the land at Garsington under the wings of Philip and Lady Ottoline Morrell, along with Duncan Grant and the pacifist Mark Gertler. The war letters often complain of boredom ("...there's nothing doing here..."), interruptions, intense cold, smoking fires and his irritation with Lady Ottoline's "twin familiars", Mark Gertler and Brettie [Dorothy Brett]. They also offer an intimate view of the comings and goings at Garsington and a stream of visitors, including Keynes ("...I expected him to be full of tall talk about President Wilson and Lord Northcliffe, but what he felt to be really impressive was his having won forty pounds on the boat from the champion piquet player of the U.S.A. who – it seems almost too good to be true – turns out to be either a Polish count or Aleister Crowley the necromancer. The way that dear man come up to sample is amazing; he had of course analysed the count's play – quite dispassionately – and had discovered that the weak spot was in his discards and that it made a difference of just 2.63 per cent a rubber so, as they played 1079 games..."). There is news of Bertie [Russell] "who comes out of prison shortly and people are beginning to wonder what will happen then. What will? I rather hope we shan't be asked to put down any more money on his account; Bertie is becoming an expensive pleasure to his friends".

    References to art and artists pepper the correspondence, such as a meeting with Wyndham Lewis ("...We had a most affectionate and intimate scene this afternoon when I became the confidant of his hopes and fears – purely artistic. I was deeply touched and I hope I was nice...") and an attempt by Henry Lamb to get him to buy a Stanley Spencer ("...I tried to explain in a very friendly way why I thought £60.0.0 too big a price... Duncan asks 20 or 25 pounds for his. My Picasso cost 14; Roger [Fry] and I bought a recent Picasso the other day for 32..."). When Strachey's Eminent Victorians is published to great acclaim, Bell is full of praise and arranges "a little dinner to fête your success" at the Café Royal.

    With the end of the war Bell is once again at 46 Gordon Square seeing friends. He lunches at the Savoy with Massine and Diaghilev ("...really very bright, with disobliging anecdotes about our eminent contemporaries and quite sensible comments..."). He continues seeing "something of Virginia – at the top of her form; of course I was bowled over, but I picked myself up smartly and looked as though nothing had happened. No more wallowing for me – that is the one advantage of growing old". In the following years there are more cards than letters, but there are still visits and exchange of gossip and news of Virginia: "The Woolves are always with us – Virginia in a pretty bad temper, partly because Chatto is publishing some poems of Julian's and Tom has paid him a compliment, partly because she feels that the general fall in Nicholson stocks in some way reflects on her – and then it is disagreeable to have to admit that the Hogarth Press has had a financial success – and from that and from another angle Vita's success appears vexatious". Two of the late cards in the collection were sent from Venice in the autumn of 1931. One asks simply "Are we still alive?" while the message in the final one is "Resurgam".
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