The phrase may be a cliche, but it's popular for a reason. You can’t choose your family, but you can create a substitute based on deep friendshipsby Hephzibah Anderson / October 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Charleston Farmhouse, the Bloomsbury group’s bucolic frolicking ground, has lately endured a transformation. Gone is the feeling of stopping by for a snoop while its inhabitants are out yomping on the Sussex Downs. The cottage and gardens are now ringed by gleaming exhibition spaces and a ginormous car park. Aged barns have been opened up and glassed in, the new loos are gender neutral, and the tea shop has been replaced by a restaurant named the Threshing Barn—which sounds faintly double-entendre-like given the priapic appetites of some of those bohemians.
Their allure continues to defy the varying extent of their talents. Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes made lasting contributions in their fields. Lytton Strachey showed how barbed a biography can be and EM Forster still has his fans. But what of David Garnett’s forgotten, forgettable novels, Vanessa Bell’s drab daubs, and those turgid painted screens churned out by Roger Fry’s Omega Workshop?
Altogether more fascinating is the tangled, distinctly tabloidy web of connections that bound them. Their bible was philosopher GE Moore’s Principia Ethica, which argued that “the pleasures of human intercourse” are “by far the most valuable things, which we can know or imagine.” Whether you regard them as thrilling geniuses or cliquey dilettantes, theirs is the kind of intimate circle that it’s easy to idealise—imagine the combination of gossip and smart chat, extreme truthfulness and unstinting dependability.
You can’t choose your family, but you can create a substitute based on deep friendships. “F…