Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism by Mark Hussey - review by Frances Spalding

Frances Spalding

Aesthete of Gordon Square

Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism


Bloomsbury 600pp £30 order from our bookshop

The Bloomsbury industry is not as hectic as it once was, but it continues every now and then to deliver a really interesting book. This one offers a missing piece in the familiar Bloomsbury jigsaw. Today it can be assumed that readers do not need to be told that Vanessa Bell was Virginia Woolf’s sister or that Duncan Grant was a painter and the cousin of Lytton Strachey. But with another member of this group, Clive Bell, many may still feel a little uncertain as to who he was and what he did. Before this biography appeared, there was very little readily available information on his life or work. Yet this was the man who occupied a uniquely privileged position within the Bloomsbury Group, having the guts and determination to marry one of the two famous sisters and to flirt outrageously with the other, while also offering her tutorials on how to write a novel.

Bell’s central position within the Bloomsbury Group is additionally surprising given how much, as a young man, he aroused distaste. The young Leonard Woolf, while writing a roman à clef, based a character on Bell: he tosses around his ‘fat, round little body and his little, round, fat mind’. Strachey,

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